The hold out county, San Mateo, which was the only county to not elect its supervisors in the district, will now join the rest of California beginning 2014.
The issue of district elections versus at-large has come and gone for over 30 years, but reached another boiling point over the past three years with the combination of a threatened lawsuit against the county for violations of the Voting Rights Act, an advisory letter issued by the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury recommending such a possible change and a recommendation from the County’s Charter Review Commission - an ad hoc advisory board impanelled every eight years to review the county charter. Despite such calls from many corners, the Board of Supervisors staunchly fought such a reform for months but finally relented to at least allow San Mateo County voters to consider the option.
As part of a settlement to the lawsuit filed against San Mateo County over the at-large system of elections for County Supervisors, San Mateo County must empanel a commission to draw new district lines in which supervisors will run beginning in 2014.
Last November, San Mateo County voters approved Measure B which ended at-large or countywide elections in San Mateo County and established district based elections. The measure was placed on the ballot by the Board of Supervisors in response to the lawsuit brought by several civil rights organizations seeking to end an at-large system viewed as an obstacle to the possible election of underrepresented communities. Prior to the passage of Measure B, San Mateo County was the only California County to use an at-large system to elect county supervisors.
Under the terms of the settlement, an independent committee will conduct a series of public meetings around the County to explain the district system and to receive community input as to where the boundaries of each district should be placed. At the conclusion of that process, perhaps by the end of the summer months, the committee will offer possible recommendations to the Board of Supervisors for consideration for new district lines.
The committee charged with drawing the new supervisorial lines is tasked with taking input from the community and work with a county-hired redistricting expert to ensure that the integrity of neighborhoods and communities of interest are protected. To add a layer of confusion, San Mateo County Supervisors do actually have districts already. Under the County Charter prior to the passage of Measure B, supervisors were required to live in one of five residential districts but were elected at-large. A map of the current districts can be found here.
The committee, according to the settlement, will be comprised of nine San Mateo County residents, four of which will be elected officials. According to news reports, two county supervisors, including Adrienne Tissier and Warren Slocum, may serve on the committee. The remaining five seats will be reserved for members of the public who will be vetted by the San Mateo County League of Women Voters for nomination and subsequently appointed by the Board of Supervisors. The application for the committee opened on February 25 and all candidates must submit their completed applications by March 15. Application is open to all registered voters resident in the county.
Members of the public who are interested in sitting on the committee can obtain an application from the County Manager’s Office, located on the First Floor of the Hall of Justice, 400 County Center, Redwood City, CA 94063 or online at: www.smcgov.org/districtlines. The redrawing of district boundaries is the final step in a multi-year effort to change the system of election for county supervisors and could be key to opening the door to otherwise underrepresented communities to elect a representative to the county board. In 157 years of existence, only one African American and one Latino has ever been elected to the Board of Supervisors and no Asian American. This is despite the fact that since 1982, San Mateo County is a majority minority county with Asian Pacific Islanders and Latinos comprising nearly half of the resident population.
The committee will present its recommendations in time for consideration by the Board of Supervisors at its October 8, 2013 meeting. Following that meeting, the Board of Supervisors will make a final decision on district configuration.
With these changes, will Asian and Latino minorities actually run for office now? Let’s see if this becomes a reality in San Mateo County.
Contact Bruce Balshone at email@example.com