Mayor, sore losers make a redistricting power grab

by Cosmo Garvin

Three years ago, Sacramento City Council member Jay Schenirer and Mayor Kevin Johnson were on the bitter losing end of a redistricting fight involving the UC Davis Medical Center. The majority of the City Council voted to move the Med Center out of Schenirer’s District 5 and into Kevin McCarty’s District 6. 

City Council boundaries—just like congressional districts, school board and state legislative districts—have to be redrawn every 10 years, following the decennial Census. The last redistricting exercise in Sacramento was more controversial than usual—though a lot of that controversy was ginned up for political reasons.

People acted surprised that the City Council didn’t adopt as is the maps drawn by a volunteer Redistricting Citizens Advisory Committee. Well, that’s what happens with citizen advisory committees that have no real power. Lesson learned. 

And the boundary change around UC Med Center was made out by Johnson and Schenirer to be nothing short of the rape and pillage of Oak Park.

Please. Anyway, Team KJ couldn’t get the votes, and they lost. Now in 2014, six years before the next Census, they want to start redrawing district lines, because only now do they have the votes to get their way. 

Whatever you think of the 2011 redistricting process, mid-decade do-overs is a terrible precedent. It opens the door for shifting council majorities to re-open the redistricting process whenever they see the chance to reverse past losses or settle old political scores. 

And it’s another example of how Team KJ figures the regular rules just aren’t good enough for them.

And look, maybe the rules really aren’t good enough for Sacramento. The idea of an independent redistricting commission, with real power to draw political boundaries, has a lot going for it. It’s something we should consider as part of a serious discussion about ethics and governance reform. Bites is frankly a little skeptical that a citizen group will, in reality, draw electoral boundaries that make any more sense than those drawn by a bunch of self-interested politicians. But the idea of getting backroom politicking out of redistricting has obvious appeal.

Funny thing is Johnson and Schenirer pay lip service to the idea of an independent redistricting commission, for the same reasons. They complain the 2011 redistricting process was driven by politics and backroom deals. Johnson said at the time, “It’s the council putting self-interest above all else.” 

Well, whose interest is really served by changing the lines again now? Many observers remark on Schenirer’s desire to create some sort of “medical district” in the area. (And Bites wouldn’t be surprised if there wasn’t a little action for Schenirer’s WayUp nonprofit organization in that deal.)

So, Johnson and Schenirer are happy to put their interests above all else. It’s not really the process they object to, just the outcome. 

And of course they waited until the guy who beat them on redistricting—McCarty, just elected to the California State Assembly—was halfway out the door.

McCarty will join the Assembly in early December, so the seat will be vacant until a special election is held to pick his replacement, likely sometime in April. That’s four months that Team KJ can use to move this scheme forward, with no representative on the council around to look out for the interests of District 6.

Bites caught up with two possible future District 6 representatives—Bruce Pomer and Eric Guerra—last week. Both have announced their intention to run for the seat, though it may be a crowded field. 

Pomer is the recently retired executive director of Health Officers Association of California and served 21 years on the Los Rios Community College Board. Guerra is 36-year-old Capitol staffer, former president of the Tahoe Park neighborhood association and a member of Sacramento County Planning Commission.

Pomer says “it is unnecessary” right now to start changing the boundaries of District 5 and District 6. “You don’t do this in the middle of the decade.”

Guerra, who was active with the Latino Redistricting Working Group at the time, agrees, and says the hospital belongs in District 6 because of the hospital’s traffic impacts on District 6 neighborhoods of Tahoe Park and Elmhurst. 

It’s worth noting that residents around UC Davis Med Center voted overwhelmingly for McCarty in his council re-election after the redistricting changes. The timing of UC Med Center grab ensures District 6 residents won’t have any representative on the council when the vote goes down. How is that legal?

If Johnson and Schenirer really cared about putting people above politics, they’d support creation of an independent redistricting commission and they’d make their case to the commission at the appropriate time.

What they’re doing now is just another power grab.

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