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June 17, 2020

MSWD Public Hearing on Elections by Division, June 16, 2020

This meeting was the third (of four) public hearings on the subject of electing Mission Springs Water District board members by division.

Here's the video.

The three draft maps (PDF) are available here.

  1. First
  2. Second
  3. Third

The next, and probably final, hearing on this subject will be Wednesday, June 24 at 5 PM. The board will probably select the final map then, and the divisions will be in place in time for the elections in November this year.

To help myself get a quick overview of the differences between the three draft maps, I whipped up this GIF:
MSWD District Map animation

David Ely, the demographer, gave an overview of the process, citing the data shown below:
MSWD Board District Draft Map 1 data
Draft Map 1 data.

MSWD Board District Draft Map 2 data
Draft Map 2 data.

MSWD Board District Draft Map 3 data
Draft Map 3 data.

You will see that in all three draft maps there are two Latino-majority divisions, 4 and 5, whether you count by total population, population of voting age or citizen population of voting age. In draft maps 1 and 2, divisions 1 and 3 have white majorities in citizens of voting age, while the biggest demographic in division 2 is whites, they have a slim lead over Latinos. In draft map 3, divisions 2 and 3 have a white majority in citizens of voting age, while in division 1 the white population (citizens of voting age) is 45.9% and Latinos are 38.9%.

The demographer explained that any attempt to create fewer than two Latino-majority divisions would land the water district in federal court.

The overall maps for the entire district can be found in the three PDFs linked above, but all the variations occur right in the city, so the maps below exclude the western part of the district and some of the unpopulated northern area. Here are those three maps:
MSWD Board District Draft - Map 1-1
District Draft - Map 1

MSWD Board District Draft - Map 2-1
District Draft - Map 2


MSWD Board District Draft - Map 3-1
District Draft - Map 3

The underlying map used by the demographer has some old street names on it and he uses those names instead of the names we know. "16th Street" is Mission Lakes Boulevard, although west of Indian its name is "10th Avenue." "14th Avenue" is Two Bunch Palms Trail east of Little Morongo.

The demographer pointed out that the borders between divisions are a bit simpler and straighter in draft map 2 than in draft map 1.

Draft map 3 shows greater variation from the other two. In draft map 3 Mission Lakes Country Club goes from division 1 to division 2. Division 1 is extended into the city center so it encompasses the area around Palm and Pierson.


Public Input

Susan Werner submitted a written comment which was read aloud to the board. She resides on Avenue Ladera, which is in division 1 on draft maps 1 and 2, but in division 2 on draft map 3. She prefers draft map 3 because it unifies the communities north of Mission Lakes Boulevard.

Russ Betts also commented. He said he thought this process had been halted by COVID-19. He said this hearing came about rather abruptly, short-circuiting the public hearing process. He said this appeared to be a matter of trying to beat the clock so they could get the decision made in time for it to be effective for the next election. He said it appeared the board was rushing the matter.

Then he raised the issue of whether the directors were carving out divisions that were best suited for themselves. [At this point in the process the directors have had no say in how these draft maps were drawn. The demographer drew them himself, and the demographer is not going to run for the board.] He pointed out an area in draft maps 1 and 2 where the boundary along Mission Lakes Boulevard takes a short detour north to include the houses on the north side of the street between West and Santa Cruz. Mr. Betts said it looked like this had been carved out to include the residence of one director. He did not say (and it never came up later) that he knew with certainty that a director lived there. He called this gerrymandering.

As often happens, Mr. Betts is living inside his head while reality continues around him unnoticed. This process, to establish elections by division, never halted. I have no idea why he thinks that. There were two public hearings before this one and then we were told there would be a gap while the demographer prepared his maps. All through the process the board has made it clear they intended to wrap this up in June so it would be in effect for November.

He objects to rushing this matter, but he must be forgetting the underlying issue that is driving agencies to switch from elections at large to elections by division; and I don't mean the California law that allows a law firm to send a letter and then collect $30,000. No, I mean that across the entire state, people of color have been denied their full voting power by elections at large, when white people constitute the majority in almost every city, county or special district. As an example of the racial bias in at-large voting we don't have to look any further than the board of directors of the Mission Springs Water District. Has any non-white person ever been elected to that board? Certainly none while I've been living here. To avoid "rushing" this matter is to tell the Latinos who live in this district that their voting rights can wait while we dither over just exactly, precisely where we should draw the lines - even though all three of the draft maps as presented meet constitutional muster. Any one of them could be approved and the voting rights of people of color in this district would be improved. But Mr. Betts sees little need for that.

And as for "gerrymandering," if he thinks that's gerrymandering, he has no idea what gerrymandering is. Here are a couple maps focusing on the area of his concern. On these maps it looks like the line follows a road that's between Mission Lakes Boulevard and Avenue Ladera, but that's only the alley behind the houses along those two streets.

Draft 1 close up
Draft 1.

Draft 2 close up
Draft 2.

The demographer said he prepared rough draft maps with no direct input from any board member and without knowing where any board member lives. Then he looked at board member's residence addresses and made minor changes to boundaries so that no two sitting board members would be in the same division. He said this required shifts of no more than a couple hundred people. He said this is common practice and legal. He did not say (and no one ever said) if a board member lived on the north side of Mission Lakes between West and Santa Cruz.

There are some distinctions between cities (and probably counties) and special districts in terms of redistricting. Cities (and counties?) are more restricted in what they can do.

Director Grasha had a question, but he can't just ask a question. His "question" had so many pauses, circumlocutions, tangents, explanations and excuses before he got to his stumbling point, I could have gone and done something useful with my time, like make a sandwich, and missed nothing. Once election by division is set up, if someone wants to file a recall petition, do the petition signatures have to come from that board member's divison only, or from the entire district?

The answer seems pretty clear to me. The signatures would have to come from within that board member's division, otherwise you could have the voters from the other four divisions running a recall against a possibly ethnic minority board member in another division, and that would turn into a federal case real fast. The official answer was they thought the signatures had to come from within the division, but they would check that to be sure. However, all five current board members were elected at large, so until each is re-elected in their division, a recall against one of them would seek signatures from throughout the district without regard for division.

Director Martin said he preferred draft map 2 because the divisions are more geometrically simple, using main thoroughfares for boundaries. Vice President Duncan said he had no preferences, but he liked Director Martins' views on it.

Director Sewell suggested the district put out something like a social media post to encourage district residents to submit their opinions in writing before the next public hearing on the 24th. He like draft map 3, where Mission Lakes Country Club is in the same division as its neighbors to the east, but draft maps 1 and 2 are acceptable to him. President Wright prefers draft map 1, but says draft map 2 is okay. She pointed out that Mission Lakes CC is in the county, and putting it in division 1 which is mostly county would make sense. Division 1 in draft maps 1 and 2 also more closely aligns with Supervisor Hewitt's district than in draft map 3.

Director Grasha asked about a situation where a voter might end up NOT being able to vote for a director through two election cycles. The situation could come up if a voter lives in a division that is not electing a director in November 2020; then the 2020 census data arrives and the district has to adjust the division lines to reflect that; and that voter now finds themself in a different division that had its election in November 2020, so no election in November 2022. That voter would not get to vote for a director until November 2024. The answer boiled down to that's just one of those things that can happen when any district switches to election by division right around the time of the census. It's too bad, but legal and accepted.

Wasn't there a U.S. Supreme Court decision where they said something like the Constitution guarantees elections, but doesn't guarantee perfect elections?

Then Director Grasha asked about the hypothetical case of the division boundaries being redrawn after the new census figures come in, in such a way as to exclude an incumbent director from running for re-election. The attorney dismissed that, saying he didn't think that would be an issue.

No director suggested any changes to any of the three draft maps.

At the next hearing on June 24th (5 PM) the board will, in addition to selecting a map, decide on the chronology of which divisions will be up for votes this November and which will wait until 2022.


My Opinion

I prefer draft map 2 for the same reason as Director Martin, but I would find draft map 1 acceptable. I don't like draft map 3 because it takes division 1, which encompasses a large area that is county, but excludes Mission Lakes CC from it, and then to compensate for the lack of Mission Lakes CC the division dives right into the city center. If we thought, for some reason, that every director had to have some areas in the central urban areas of DHS, then draft map 3 would do it, but nobody expressed any desire to have the divisions laid out that way. To me it seems draft map 3 takes an urban neighborhood that is primarily people of color and dilutes their voting power with the mostly white western areas of the district.

Filed under California,Coachella Valley,Desert Hot Springs,Politics | permalink | June 17, 2020 at 10:10 PM

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