Fix The Map!

Last year a group of citizens came together to discuss their concern that the voting district map approved by the Martinez City Council was gerrymandered in what we believe was a clear effort by the City Council to ensure that their individual incumbencies would not be threatened with the establishment of voting districts. In fact councilmember Ross admitted as much. We proposed the idea of establishing an Independent Redistricting Commission to create future voting district maps and take the process out of the hands of the City Council. We believe that having the City Council members create the voting districts creates an inherent conflict of interest and having an independent commission whose members are not directly appointed by the politicians is the gold standard for how these maps should be developed. In our opinion politicians should not be choosing the voters who vote for them.

Ordinance Drafted

Over the past summer our group started to formalize and came up with the name “Martinez Residents for an Independent Redistricting Commission”. We engaged the support of California Common Cause and the California Independent Redistricting Project and after several meetings and many e-mails developed an ordinance to establish such a commission. We presented the ordinance to Mayor Schroder and the other members of the council who were willing to meet with us, Mark Ross and Noralea Gipner and asked that our proposal be put on the City Council’s agenda to be considered for adoption. Our effort was endorsed by the Diablo Valley League of Women Voters. The mayor refused to put anything on the council’s agenda while a lawsuit was hanging over their head.

The Court Case

Kevin Shenkman, the lawyer who forced the city to establish voting districts in the first place, came back with a second lawsuit alleging the the map that the city developed was in violation of the California Voting Rights Act. A few weeks ago it seemed fairly certain that the judge in the Sanchez v. City of Martinez case was going to rule that the city’s map was illegal and force them to redraw it. But, coincidentally a new law, AB849 was signed by the Governor which tightened the rules on city voting district maps in order to prevent the type of gerrymandering that the City of Martinez engaged in. When the law was being debated in the legislature, the Martinez map was actually utilized as an illustration of why the law was necessary. Ironically, the passage of this law ended up tying the hands of the judge in the Sanchez case because it was not in effect when the city approved its map and therefore the judge ruled that the current map was technically legal at the time it was approved, although he called it “absurd”. The good news about the end of this litigation is that the taxpayers of Martinez are not going to be hit with a huge legal bill and the end of the litigation should have eliminated the mayor’s excuse for not considering our ordinance proposal. Now the mayor says he is not willing to have our independent redistricting ordinance considered by the council until he knows whether or not there is going to be an appeal.

AB 849 & the Next Map

While the current map has been ruled technically legal for now, it will not be after the 2020 census is completed and the maps have to be redrawn. The city must redraw the maps after the 2020 census and under the regulations established in AB849, they cannot draw the maps the same way. This law specifically requires the following:

The council shall adopt district boundaries using the following criteria as set forth in the following order of priority:
(1) To the extent practicable, council districts shall be geographically contiguous. Areas that meet only at the points of adjoining corners are not contiguous. Areas that are separated by water and not connected by a bridge, tunnel, or regular ferry service are not contiguous.

(2) To the extent practicable, the geographic integrity of any local neighborhood or local community of interest shall be respected in a manner that minimizes its division. A “community of interest” is a population that shares common social or economic interests that should be included within a single district for purposes of its effective and fair representation. Communities of interest do not include relationships with political parties, incumbents, or political candidates.

(3) Council district boundaries should be easily identifiable and understandable by residents. To the extent practicable, council districts shall be bounded by natural and artificial barriers, by streets, or by the boundaries of the city.

(4) To the extent practicable, and where it does not conflict with the preceding criteria in this subdivision, council districts shall be drawn to encourage geographical compactness in a manner that nearby areas of population are not bypassed in favor of more distant populations.

Our Current Effort

Our group has continued to meet and discuss strategies for moving forward on the effort to establish an independent redistricting commission. Additionally we have recognized that there are larger issues with the way the City of Martinez is governed and therefore we revised the name of our group to “Martinez Citizens for Responsible Government”. This new name is reflective of our desire to advocate not just for a specific commission, but for better accountability of our elected officials and more transparency and fairness in the way they govern our city and spend our tax dollars. The group has formally registered with the State of California as a political advocacy group (FPPC#1424404) which will allow us to raise and spend money to advance our causes, set up a website and other communication tools, and potentially fund campaign efforts should we choose to move in that direction. We have formed a steering committee made up of a smaller group who will work to better organize our larger group effort.

Our Appeal to the City Council

With the closing of the Sanchez v. City of Martinez court case, we tried once again to get the mayor and city council to consider our drafted ordinance and to place it on the agenda. An e-mail was sent to the mayor with the other council members and the city manager cc’d asking that the item be placed on the March 18th City Council Agenda. As mentioned earlier, the mayor is refusing based on the possibility that the Sanchez case may be appealed. The thing is… this makes no sense. If the case its appealed, having an independent redistricting commission in place would only HELP the city fight against it. We have asked the mayor to consider this and are waiting for his response. It seems fairly clear that the mayor and city council are determined to spend as much of our taxpayer dollars as they possibly can to avoid putting in place a system that would ensure our voting districts are created fairly and free of political influence.