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SLO County redistricting hearing focuses on SLO, Cal Poly, Oceano, and citizen oversight

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DISTRICT DEBATE SLO County’s five supervisorial districts (pictured) are up for debate, as the Board of Supervisors held its first redistricting hearing on July 20. - FILE PHOTO COURTESY OF THE SLO COUNTY LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS
  • FILE PHOTO COURTESY OF THE SLO COUNTY LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS
  • DISTRICT DEBATE SLO County‚Äôs five supervisorial districts (pictured) are up for debate, as the Board of Supervisors held its first redistricting hearing on July 20.

San Luis Obispo County held its first public redistricting hearing on July 20—with residents criticizing the Board of Supervisors for retaining authority over its next electoral map, while focusing input on the communities of SLO, Cal Poly, and Oceano.

"There really should be a citizens redistricting task force," said Michael Latner, a Cal Poly political science professor and local resident, during public comment. "It is rather absurd in the 21st century that you're still choosing your voters."

Redistricting takes place once a decade and involves adjusting federal, state, and local electoral maps based on changes in population. Earlier this year, the SLO County Board of Supervisors opted not to form an independent citizen commission to redraw its five supervisorial districts.

Instead, SLO County is working with Sacramento-based consultant Redistricting Partners on the task, with county supervisors keeping the final vote on the maps. Paul Mitchell, owner of Redistricting Partners, outlined the steps ahead for SLO County and gave an overall presentation about redistricting at the July 20 meeting.

Mitchell's presentation focused on the legal principles of redistricting: that districts must be of relatively equal population sizes, be compact and contiguous, maintain "communities of interest," and respect city and community boundaries.

Redistricting also must not favor incumbents or candidates, or advantage or disadvantage a political party.

About 30 local citizens submitted written or verbal comments at the hearing, including elected city officials like SLO Mayor Heidi Harmon and Atascadero City Councilmember Susan Funk.

Harmon touched on one of the most contentious subjects related to county redistricting: how many districts the city of SLO should have. The mayor argued for maintaining the status quo of splitting SLO into three supervisorial districts—which she said gives it the right amount of representation at the county.

"Our central place in the county is appropriately reflected with the multiple supervisorial districts representing us, which reflects the deep bond we have with the rest of the county and allows for a broader representation throughout the county," Harmon said.

Other commenters argued against that. Some residents of the 5th District wrote that neither SLO nor Cal Poly belonged in the largely North County district, which is currently represented by Pozo resident Debbie Arnold. Arnold made the same argument during her re-election campagin in 2020 and to New Times in recent redistricting coverage.

"Our community should absolutely not include the city of SLO or the area of Cal Poly where students can vote on issues that do not affect them," Atascadero resident Suzie Anderson wrote in a public comment. "We love our community. Keep it conservative."

Residents of Oceano weighed in to request that the coastal community remain in the 4th District, which includes Nipomo and Arroyo Grande. Incumbent 4th District Supervisor Lynn Compton lost the vote in Oceano in the 2018 election—an election that she won by 60 votes. Compton's seat is up for election again in 2022.

The Board of Supervisors' next redistricting hearing is not until Oct. 26, when officials expect to have 2020 census data in hand. Due to delays in the release of the census, counties will have only about a month to examine data and debate redistricting before final maps must be approved in December. Δ

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