The recent U.S. Census data promises to dramatically change current state and federal legislative districts, making re-election more challenging for local representatives who can no longer take their historic support for granted.
Already, many office holders are preparing.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), whose district stretches from Burbank to Temple City, could see his voter pool change dramatically. The latest 10-year census figures showed California has grown by more than 3 million in the last decade to 37 million, with most of the growth in the Central Valley and the Inland Empire. As a result, political power is expected to shift east and away from Los Angeles and the Bay Area.
It is possible that the neighboring district of Rep. David Dreier (R-San Dimas) will be pushed east, or that parts of Dreier and Schiff’s districts will be blended together, forcing the two incumbents into a showdown.
In a recent fundraising letter, Schiff said his next re-election bid may be his most difficult.
“I will undoubtedly have many tens of thousands of new constituents unfamiliar with my work,” Schiff’s letter states. “And with Republican communities all around me, the new district will be even more challenging.”
Most of state Sen. Carol Liu’s constituents live in Glendale, Burbank and Pasadena, but her legislative district has a long, skinny tail that points west all the way to Reseda.
In four months, that nearly 20-mile tail may be cut from Liu’s territory as a result of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission’s redrawing of the state’s congressional, state Senate and Assembly maps.
“The lines are really configured to protect me,” Liu (D-La Cañada) said. “But it is a very funny-shaped district.”
In 2008, state voters passed Proposition 11, taking mapping decisions for the Assembly and state Senate out of the hands of lawmakers — who were blamed for creating politically safe districts to help incumbents — and creating a citizen’s redistricting commission.
Last year, voters approved Proposition 20, giving the commission the additional task of redrawing congressional boundaries.
“This area has some of the most gerrymandered districts found anywhere in the state,” said Douglas Johnson, a Glendale resident and redistricting expert with the Rose Institute of State and Local Government at Claremont McKenna College. “The commission is going to profoundly redraw those.”
The baseline rule is that legislative districts be of equal populations. Other priorities include keeping cities intact in a single district where possible, and drawing lines that respect “communities of interest” based on economic and other factors.
The commission is slated to reveal its preliminary maps on June 10, host another round of public meetings and then publish its final boundaries on Aug. 15.
The federal and state legislative districts will likely expand in Burbank and Glendale because the current boundaries include fewer people than the new Census calls for.
Experts and elected officials watching the process emphasize that it is impossible to know the shape of the new districts before the June 10 preliminary reveal.
“This is the most troubling and challenging time for elected officials, because they really don’t know what their districts will look like,” said Dario Frommer, a former 43rd District assemblyman.
Some politicos speculate that the commission will reunite Burbank — which is split along congressional boundaries — or eliminate mapping oddities in La Cañada Flintridge and La Crescenta based on the priorities in Proposition 11.
“I would think that Burbank would be unified again and not split off,” Lou Barnett, a longtime Republican Party official and the husband of current Los Angeles County Republican Party Chairwoman Jane Barnett, said. “Glendale already is whole except for the La Crescenta area, and I would hope that is added back in.”
Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) recalled when his valley district was drawn to include Malibu. He said he expects to see his district change again, though he wants to see the communities in the San Fernando Valley placed together as much as possible.
“I hope the commission does recognize the valley is the valley,” Sherman said. “God put those mountains there for a reason.”
Despite the commission’s directive to keep cities and communities of interest intact, the need to meet population proportionality will make the process messy.
“It all depends on what districts you draw first,” Sherman said. “The first 20 you draw will probably be logical.”
After that, he said, the effort to draw a straight line will be difficult, even if politics is out of the equation.
“If a committee of angels were to meet, in order to get it right, some cities are going to get split,” Sherman said.