Election Endorsements

Fix Sacramento’s local election map with Measure L

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson saw his “strong mayor” initiative defeated in 2014, but one element of the plan is being revived. Measure L would create an independent panel to take redistricting power away from the City Council.
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson saw his “strong mayor” initiative defeated in 2014, but one element of the plan is being revived. Measure L would create an independent panel to take redistricting power away from the City Council. Sacramento Bee file

The push to make Sacramento city government more open and accountable has had more than its share of drama and division. But there’s one proposal with widespread support – taking the drawing of City Council districts away from politicians and giving it to an independent citizens panel.

It’s now on the Nov. 8 ballot as Measure L – and it’s an easy call to vote for it. In fact, no opposing ballot argument was submitted.

The measure would change the City Charter so that a new Sacramento Independent Redistricting Commission would have exclusive power to determine district lines, starting after the 2020 Census. The panel would have 13 members, one from each of the eight council districts, picked by a screening panel and the other five by the chosen eight.

The commission would still have to follow laws on the basics of redistricting – that the districts should be of equal population and geographically contiguous – and it would consider neighborhood boundaries and communities of interest.

Measure L is designed to take local incumbents’ political interests out of the equation.

But it’s designed to take any council member’s political interests out of the equation.

Voters followed the same principle in approving a statewide independent redistricting panel. After ballot measures passed in 2008 and 2010 to take the power away from the Legislature, the California Citizens Redistricting Commission drew legislative boundaries and congressional districts used in the 2012 election.

Bringing the idea to the local level was always a good idea, but the redistricting mess in Sacramento after the 2010 Census proved it beyond all doubt.

The council appointed a citizens commission to help vet new districts. The panel spent hours looking at 37 maps submitted by the public, held several public hearings and eventually recommended four plans.

But the panel was purely advisory, so nothing legally prevented council members drawing their own maps to protect their political futures. That’s exactly what some did, despite vehement protests from many residents.

The proposed independent redistricting panel, along with a sunshine ordinance and a stronger ethics code, was part of the “strong mayor” measure sought by outgoing Mayor Kevin Johnson. After voters rejected it in 2014, citizen groups took up the reforms.

They’re all underway, and the City Council should see them through. Sacramento should make a big one official by approving Measure L.

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