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SLO County supervisors hone in on two finalist maps for redistricting

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The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors will choose between two vastly different supervisorial maps at a pivotal redistricting hearing on Nov. 30.

The divided supervisors whittled their map options down to two finalists at a contentious, all-day meeting on Nov. 19: one that makes substantial changes to the five current districts, and another that makes more minor tweaks.

The former map constitutes a significant overhaul of the county's districts. Called the Patten map, named after its Arroyo Grande creator, Richard Patten, it redraws district lines to move several cities and communities into newly formed districts.

TWO FINAL MAPS 1st District Supervisor John Peschong (right) and 4th District Supervisor Lynn Compton will vote on a new SLO County supervisorial map on Nov. 30. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • File Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • TWO FINAL MAPS 1st District Supervisor John Peschong (right) and 4th District Supervisor Lynn Compton will vote on a new SLO County supervisorial map on Nov. 30.

"I follow this document: the California Fair Maps Act," 1st District Supervisor John Peschong said on Nov. 19, before making a motion to nominate the two finalists. "The rules have changed."

Among its features, the Patten map puts the majority of SLO city into a single, urban-packed district with the city of Morro Bay; removes the town of Oceano from the southernmost district; splits up the North Coast by coupling Cayucos, Cambria, and San Simeon with Atascadero, San Miguel, and Lake Nacimiento, while pushing Los Osos down to a district with Avila Beach, Pismo Beach, and Grover Beach; and generally widens the territories of the three north/south border districts.

Critics blasted the map as an attempt by Peschong and the Board of Supervisors' Republican-led majority to cement, or expand, its three-seat advantage, while dicing up the county's regions in indefensible ways. Supporters, on the other hand, argued that it rights the wrongs of past alleged gerrymandering.

"If there was any gerrymandering done 10 years ago, it needs to be corrected now," Templeton resident Sue Rodeck said in support of the Patten map.

"Cut the cancer out," added Creston resident Greg Grewal.

The second map under consideration, submitted by the SLO Chamber of Commerce, makes modest changes to the current districts. The most significant change it proposes is splitting the city of Atascadero into two east/west districts. The map also puts Shandon into a new district and makes slight changes to the district boundaries in areas like SLO city and Edna Valley.

The strongest support for a map with the fewest changes came from North Coast residents, who spoke against the Patten map and its impact to the North Coast's representation. Under the map, Los Osos, Morro Bay, and Cayucos/Cambria/San Simeon would all belong to different districts.

"Please don't split us off," Los Osos resident Cathy Bonnett said. "As it stands, [the Patten map] does both Los Osos and Cambria a significant disservice."

Peschong, in arguing for change, called the status quo map of districts "an incumbent protection map." He repeated that state law has changed since 2010, and noted that the Fair Maps Act calls for keeping cities within single districts as much as possible.

The second-term supervisor from Templeton also spoke extensively about what he described as an "unacceptable" level of public vitriol during the process.

"My family's been threatened," Peschong said. "Take it down a notch."

Peschong, and 4th District Supervisor Lynn Compton, took particular issue with a recent Tribune column written by retired area police chiefs Jim Gardiner and Rick Terborch.

In the column, the chiefs urged the board not to make radical changes to the county map. Worried about the growing divide between Republicans and Democrats, which culminated in violence at the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riots, the chiefs wrote that "the SLO County Board of Supervisors ... have an immediate opportunity to help quell the rage—or make it worse" during redistricting.

Peschong said he "didn't appreciate" the column. Compton went further, saying the article could be construed as inciting violence.

"I think it's shameful that we've had individuals in our community do that, especially individuals who are supposed to uphold the law," Compton said.

The two final maps moved forward by 4-1 vote, with 3rd District Supervisor Dawn Ortiz-Legg dissenting. Second District Supervisor Bruce Gibson strongly opposed the Patten map but said he could back the Chamber map.

Ortiz-Legg reminded her colleagues that the county's redistricting consultant said the board was not legally obligated to redraw its map based on population changes. She said she was baffled by the Patten map and the lack of coverage it offers to the district representing SLO city and Morro Bay.

"Anybody knows, you drive from SLO to Morro Bay—there's no unincorporated area there. There's probably like six ranches and maybe a subdivision of something," Ortiz-Legg said. "There's not really people to represent. So that would mean that that supervisor really would be a supervisor of none."

Gibson, the board's longest tenured member, denied that past county district maps were gerrymandered. He emphasized that the Fair Maps Act prioritizes preserving "communities of interest" over incorporated cities—and argued his North Coast district is the textbook definition of one.

"Politics is about power," Gibson said, "and if you have the votes to do something, you have the votes to do something. It seems to me quite obvious that the only reason to have an obviously noncompliant and unqualified map coming forward for final consideration is to adopt that map." Δ

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