As the year comes to a close, so does SLO County's redistricting process that has spanned many months and thousands of pieces of communication from concerned citizens. The Board of Supervisors majority gaveled a decision on Dec. 14, adopting a map defining the new county district boundaries to be drastically different than those that currently stand. I have shared my fears and hopes about this decision many times in this space over the last many months as we have watched this day approach, and though unsurprising, the reality and weight of their decision has left the community shocked and confused.
The adopted "Patten map" is legally and morally wrong, and you don't have to look hard to see its flaws. The worst of which is that the Patten map undermines our democracy. Though our county has more registered Democratic voters, these new districts remove competitive elections for each district, giving Republican voters a clear and overt voting advantage, leaving the minority group in charge of the majority of the county. With these new districts, partisan advantage widens in every district, allowing candidates for office to win by pandering to the fringes of their base instead of doing the work to win votes from a broad base of support across the community. It's not just undemocratic, it is also clearly unfair. Across our nation we have watched similar efforts unfold at all levels, but this one is personal, this one is an assault on our home and our neighborhoods and the community we love.
These new districts wrong us in many ways countywide. Along with being blatantly partisan, the new map divides the community of Oceano from Nipomo, which in turn breaks up the vote of the Latino population and dilutes the voices of South County Latino voters.
As a Los Osos resident, the impact is multifaceted and extreme. The Patten map breaks apart the North Coast communities of Los Osos, Morro Bay, and Cayucos that share a 10-mile coastline of the same roads, schools, and services. Now, our communities will be in three separate districts with three different supervisors.
Not only this but our American right to vote is taken away. The 16,533 Los Osos residents, along with thousands of others from around the county, will be skipped next year when it comes our time to vote in county elections, and we won't get to vote again until 2024.
But wait, it gets worse. Starting Jan. 13, 2022, when this new map formally becomes law, we won't have any elected leadership at all. No one represents us again until 2025. For Los Osos, an unincorporated community with no city council, this is profound.
While redistricting happens nationwide, the real issue is that here in SLO County, our board was not required to make changes to our existing boundaries. The county's low population growth reflected on the recent census shows that no change was legally necessary. So all of this upheaval is over something that wasn't necessary in the first place? You read that right. The law is also clear that if you're going to redistrict, you cannot favor one political party over another, you cannot dilute any minority voices, and you must respect long-standing communities of interest. Sure looks like we failed this test.
As a person who doesn't naturally tend toward hopefulness, there is much cause for concern. This conservative majority doesn't seem to want to do much about climate change, affordable housing, water security, or addressing sustainable solutions for our county's unhoused population, and now that they have secured their future power, progress won't be coming anytime soon.
But there is one thing giving me hope in all of this. This new Patten map represents a partisan power grab so blatant and deliberate that the outrage isn't just contained within traditional partisan lines. In fact, the consideration and adoption of such an undemocratic process and manipulated voting districts have brought people together in a new way and galvanized an entirely new countywide effort.
A nonpartisan group, SLO County Citizens for Good Government (sloccgg.org), joined forces in mid-December and announced its intent to file a lawsuit against the county Board of Supervisors for its actions in an effort to overturn the Patten map and restore a fair and balanced political approach in SLO County. The outcome may be one of the most impactful decisions we will see in decades. I am giving my support to this effort and encourage you to consider how you will participate.
As I frequently say, the future is in your hands. Δ
Quinn Brady (she/her) is a community advocate, organizer, and mother on the Central Coast. Send a response for publication to firstname.lastname@example.org.