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April 20, 2019

Desert Water Agency Hearing For Elections By Division Maps, April 15, 2019

The Desert Water Agency board has held two public hearings on proposed maps for election by division. The first hearing was in Desert Hot Springs at the Carl May Center on April 15. The second hearing was the next day at DWA HQ in Palm Springs. I was at the hearing in DHS and this is my summary of that.

I've made my audio recording available on Soundcloud. You can listen to it there or download it; no charge, no registration required.

The three proposed maps that were considered at these hearings can be found here as PDFs.

There is also an Interactive Division Map Tool that you can use to experiment with revising the maps.

Below are links to larger jpeg versions of the three maps.

Division Map Draft ADivision Map Draft BDivision Map Draft C

General Public Comments

Jeff Bowman spoke first, encouraging DWA to allow MSWD to be in control of its own groundwater. He said it is the right thing to do and would save ratepayers in both districts a lot of money.

Karl Baker thanked the board for coming to DHS. He said DHS has been left out for a long time.


Demographer's Presentation

Doug Johnson, from National Demographics, presented the three proposed maps. First there were two informational meetings. Now we're in the second stage, the two hearings on draft maps. The map adopted now will be used in the election in 2020. In 2021, the new census date from 2020 will be used to adjust the map. The 2022 election will use the adjusted map.

The divisions must have equal population (within a couple of percentage points). Federal laws require that neighborhoods made up primarily of people of a "protected class" (Latino, African-American, Asian-American or Native American) not be divided in any way to dilute their voting strength. But federal law also prohibits racial gerrymandering. Race can be a factor in mapping a division, but it cannot be the predominate factor.

The following are goals, but not legal requirements for division maps:

  • Respect communities of interest
  • Compact and contiguous with clearly recognizable borders
  • "Respect voters' choices" or "Continuity in office" (trying to avoid pairing existing board members within the same division)

The demographer displayed a map of the DWA area that showed the seven areas (and their respective 2010 populations) that have been named by the U.S. Census Bureau: Desert Hot Springs, Palm Springs, Cathedral City (the cove mostly), Rancho Mirage (a tiny bit), Whitewater and Desert Edge.

The "pockets" of African-Americans and Asian-Americans throughout the district are not sufficient to really affect the mapping. Latinos and whites are the two big racial groups. It is possible to draw a Latino majority district in the Desert Hot Springs area. Below is a map showing Latino populations (based on the 2010 census) throughout the district.
DWA Latino Population Map

He showed us the same five district maps from other jurisdictions that were shared at the earlier hearing. You can see them in my write-up of that hearing.


Map A

The demographer described this map as similar to the approach used in Pasadena and Central Unified School District. On this map, divisions 1, 2 and 4 include substantial territories both north and south of the freeway. Division 5, OTOH, is compact and includes eastern Palm Springs as well as the areas of Cathedral City and Rancho Mirage that are part of DWA.

Map A Division 3

Division 3 sacrifices the goal of contiguity by including this little corner of Palm Springs with North Palm Springs, Dos Palmas and part of Desert Hot Springs that extends clear up to Pierson Boulevard. It seems to me, the interests of that little Palm Springs neighborhood would be much more similar to its immediate neighbors than to the residents of DHS or the desert areas south of DHS.

Map A also divides the City of Desert Hot Springs over three districts. Four, if you count the fact that Mission Lakes CC would be in division 1, paired with much of Palm Springs. The result would be that division 3 is the only one where a DHS resident would have a good shot at being elected, but a board member in division 3 might live in northern Palm Springs, North Palm Springs, or in an unincorporated and unnamed area.

Each proposed map includes a proposed election sequence as well. On Map A it's

  • 2020: Divisions 3 (vacant), 5 (Bloomer & Ewing)
  • 2022: Divisions 1 (Cioffi), 2 (Oygar), 4 (Stuart)


Map B

On this proposed map, divisions 1 and 3 include areas north and south of the freeway. Division 3 has problems here similar to those in Map A. Division 3 includes much of eastern DHS and (non-contiguously) a big chunk of northern Palm Springs, north of Alejo. Safe to say this division will elect no one from the DHS area.

The election sequence proposed with Map B is

  • 2020: Divisions 2 (Vacant), 5 (Ewing & Bloomer)
  • 2022: Divisions 1 (Cioffi), 3 (Oygar & Stuart), 4 (vacant)


Map C

The demographer compared this map to Compton and Glendale. This has two divisions that are entirely north of the freeway. Below you can see division 2 (in blue) surrounded by division 3 (green).

Map C Division 2

The proposed election sequence for this map is

  • 2020: Divisions 4 (Ewing) and 5 (Bloomer)
  • 2022: Divisions 1 (Oygar, Stuart & Cioffi), 2 (vacant) and 3 (vacant)

Choosing this map would mean that two of the current board members would definitely have to leave the board, unless they decided to move to one of the vacant divisions. Maps A and B would guarantee only one current board member would be forced off. So, while Map C seems to be the most fair to those of us who live north of the freeway, in at least this one respect it would be the most painful for the DWA board to implement.


Public Hearing

Russ Martin, Vice President of the MSWD board, spoke first. He wanted to know where the populations outside of the seven named census areas are counted. The answer is, of course, that everyone is counted where their residence is, but the Census Bureau hasn't come up with names to cover every square inch of America.

Karl Baker came next, saying he wished we could ask questions and get answers before sharing an opinion with the board. Director Cioffi asked if Mr. Martin's question could be answered first.

The demographer said that everybody is counted. He only highlighted the "census designated places." There was no real need for him to include that info initially, IMO, and he couldn't explain this simple concept very well, so why did he even do it? Mr. Martin said he didn't think his question had been answered.

Back to Karl Baker who asked how the proposed election sequences were devised. For example, the proposed sequence on Map C leaves Desert Hot Springs unrepresented on the board until after the 2022 elections. The demographer explained this as giving the choice to the voters as to whether they want that board member re-elected. This is respecting the choices of the voters whose choices have been respected since DWA was created. IMO, then, those of us who have been disrespected by the election process since the creation of the DWA would remain disrespected for another two years.

The demographer said he also tried to put majority-minority districts (i.e., Latino majority districts) on the Presidential election years to encourage voter turnout, because majority-minority districts tend to have lower voter turnouts. He says this, but on Map C, division 2 has a Latino majority, but he proposed delaying its elections until 2022, a non-Presidential election year, while divisions 4 and 5 in white, white Palm Springs would be aligned with the Presidential election.

Mr. Baker paraphrased the demographer's position as one in which he (the demographer) believes the California Voting Rights Act was intended to protect the positions of incumbents for as long as possible rather than to extend the power of voting to underrepresented minorities.

The demographer pointed out that the current five at-large board members remain at-large board members until they are either re-elected or leave the board, and that those at-large board members serve to represent the "unrepresented" divisions that the maps would create. By this logic, we should be delighted with the current arrangement because we are all represented by five at-large board members, giving us a wealth of democracy in that demographer's opinion. But if this is democracy now, what is the point of the California Voting Rights Act?

The next speaker was Sergio (couldn't catch the last name) from Cathedral City. He appreciated the fact that Cathedral City residents were kept in one division on Maps A and B. Actually, they're in one division on Map C, too. He preferred Map B, but he wanted division 4's election to be in 2020, not 2022. He noted also that on Map A, division 5 (which includes Cathedral City) would have its election in 2020.

Director Cioffi asked him to verify that he preferred Map A or B, so long as the division that included Cathedral City had its election in 2020. The Dream Homes neighborhood is part of Cathedral City.

Arden Wallum, General Manager of MSWD, spoke next. He suggested that since the two map hearings are "back to back" the process seemed less open, and possibly the board members had already made up their minds. MSWD has initiated the process to go to elections by division, although not under the threat of a lawsuit, the way DWA and the City of Palm Springs were. Mr. Wallum said "we" would object if Map A were chosen. He did not say who "we" are. Mr. Wallum does not live in the DWA area and as far as I can see, the Mission Springs Water District would have no voice at all in the question of elections by division in DWA, since MSWD is not a voter. He said Map B is better but still "we may object to" it. He considers Map C to be "much better." While it would guarantee only two seats from north of the freeway, that's all any of us really want. There is no desire to elect a majority of three from north of the freeway, although that remains theoretically possible with Map C.

When MSWD holds its public hearings on elections by division, let's see if the General Manager of DWA shows up to comment.

The next speaker was Dieter Crawford, a native of the Desert Highlands neighborhood in northern Palm Springs. He likes Map C. He was involved in Palm Springs' design of their maps. "In Map C, the deviation from the ideal population in district 2 and 3, the majority-minority districts, if you look at the non-Hispanic white population in district 4 and 5 they're almost a thousand people off from the other districts."

Each of the proposed maps includes (scroll down to the 4th page in each PDF) a table of statistics for each resulting division, but they only give different percentages of population for each ethnic group, not actual numbers, so I guess Mr. Crawford did some arithmetic, which I will now attempt to reproduce.

Map C

DivisionPop.N.H White %N.H. White Pop.
118,08254%9,764
218,41923%4,236
317,98748%8,634
417,37472%12,509
517,45556%9,775

The differences in non-Hispanic white population in each division is far more than "almost a thousand," so this is probably not the arithmetic Mr. Crawford did, and I don't know what he was referring to. In any case, what does the variation in non-Hispanic white voter populations matter here? Federal law only requires DWA to avoid diluting the voting power of protected classes of people, and non-Hispanic white people are not such a protected class.

Mr. Crawford had some issue with Palm Drive being used to define the western border of division 2 on Map C, but he didn't say what the problem was or what he thought would be better. He said that in division 1 the historic tennis club neighborhood stood out. He said residents of Desert Highlands had more in common with Whitewater, West Garnet and DHS than with residents in the historic tennis club. [On Map C Desert Highlands is in the same division as Whitewater and West Garnet]. He said he thought divisions 2 and 3 on Map C should get their elections in 2020. "I understand that is not in a Presidential year..." he said, but it is, in fact, a Presidential election year.

Karl Baker asked if he could speak again so he could give his opinion. President Stuart ran this by the attorney, who said he didn't see any problem with it. He said he has real issues with Map A. He said divisions that cross the freeway are not forming communities of interest. He said he agreed with almost everything Mr. Crawford said. Mr. Baker went on to say that on Map C, the unrepresented divisions should get their elections first. He said he thinks it is the responsibility of DWA to oversee the aquifers on both sides of the freeway. But that is totally different and separate from DWA's retail operations. He suggested that the retail operations of the agency be broken off into a separate agency with its own five-member board elected solely from the areas where DWA delivers water. He pointed out that in the entire state of California there are only two water districts that have both retail and wholesale jurisdiction within themselves; one is DWA, the other is the Coachella Valley Water District.

Grace Garner from Palm Springs spoke next. She wanted to know the next steps in the process.

President Stuart said the second map hearing would be the next day in Palm Springs. The next required meeting after that would be the one at which the board discusses the maps and selects one. The date for that meeting has not yet been determined.

Director Cioffi said that more hearings are permitted, if the board wishes to hold them. He said he thinks the board could use more public input than they have received.

Gary Gardner, DHS City Council member spoke next. He, too, prefers Map C. He agreed with Mr. Bowman, that a lot of money would be saved if DWA would allow MSWD to be its own groundwater management agency. He made a comparison with the Imperial Irrigation District where all the board members are elected from Imperial County, but the majority of the district's electricity customers are in Riverside County.

Jeff Bowman said he favors Map C because it solves the problem, the problem being giving an equal voice to those north of the freeway. He said Maps A ands B fail to achieve the goals of keeping communities of interest together, contiguous districts, using visibile barriers as boundaries and planned future growth. He agreed with Karl Baker that DWA should probably be broken into two boards for retail and wholesale.


Board Discussion

Director Ewing said that he thinks an important community of interest is ratepayers. He said he is going to be especially interested in attending to and looking at the maps.

I've tried to decode that message. DWA's only ratepayers are its retail customers, so initially I thought "ratepayers" to Mr. Ewing might be a code word for "Palm Springs residents." But, the only time the word "ratepayers" was used in this meeting was in comments asking the board to avoid wasting ratepayer money on legal battles, such as the one between MSWD and DWA over groundwater management. So maybe he meant he was disinclined to continue to pursue that lawsuit.

Filed under California,Coachella Valley,Desert Hot Springs | permalink | April 20, 2019 at 09:15 PM

Comments

4/21 Ron Thank you for doing this - information is a key to getting the public up to speed on this subject. rc3

Posted by: Richard Cromwell III at Apr 21, 2019 6:53:04 AM

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