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Grover Beach chooses district map for election transition 

Wedding bells of a different kind will be ringing in Grover Beach, marking the end of its months-long hunt for a City Council district map.

At its Feb. 28 meeting, the council approved Plan 901's "wedding cake" model—named for the layered structure of the four districts. For the first time in city history, the blueprint will lay district lines as Grover Beach transitions from an at-large election system to a district-based one.

But an official from the National Demographics Corporation (NDC), the agency that assisted Grover Beach with its districting process, found Plan 901 to be risky compared to its three counterparts that were also in the running.

click to enlarge NEW ERA The Grover Beach City Council unanimously voted for Plan 901 to be the blueprint for new district lines. - FILE SCREENSHOT FROM GROVER BEACH CITY COUNCIL STAFF REPORT
  • File Screenshot From Grover Beach City Council Staff Report
  • NEW ERA The Grover Beach City Council unanimously voted for Plan 901 to be the blueprint for new district lines.

"There are rumblings about court challenges to the census data and the particular practice the census utilized called differential privacy, which is being challenged," NDC Consultant Daniel Phillips said at the meeting. "If those cases were to be successful, it could require a redrawing of districts that are no longer population balanced after that census data is reconfigured. If you want to be safer, it's best to have a population deviation that's on the lower side."

Phillips is referring to a now inactive 2021 challenge in federal court that took offense at the Census Bureau's delay with releasing the census data. But one of the other issues was the bureau's use of differential privacy, which is a process that blurs demographic data in smaller regions by withholding the identity of any one individual. Mapmakers fear that this system makes census data unusable.

"With differential privacy, the bureau indicates the overall/total population in each state is counted 'as enumerated,' but that all other levels of geography (i.e., congressional districts) could have a variance in the raw data. The challenge was rejected by a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit District Court, but may be appealed," Kristin Eriksson, Grover Beach's deputy city manager, told New Times via email.

One of the federal rules for drawing district maps is that populations across all the districts must be roughly equally balanced. This means that the total population deviation of a map must be below 10 percent, something Phillips called "presentably constitutional." He informed City Council that Plan 901, which has a deviation of 9.5 percent, runs the risk of shooting above the 10 percent threshold if a successful census data appeal calls for reconfiguration.

Another goal for the district map was to leave communities of interest as undivided as possible, according to the state's criteria for cities. These are groups of people who share common social or economic interests, and include school districts, rental properties, and high-density commercial areas, among others. The City Council was also encouraged to balance the Latino citizen voting age population as a way to honor historically marginalized and disadvantaged groups. In Grover Beach, Latino residents make up the largest community after white people.

Mayor Pro Tem Karen Bright was the only council member who noted a different map—Plan 904—as her top choice because it left the Latino community, the coastal area, and multi-family high-density communities intact. But all other council members favored Plan 901 because of its easily identifiable boundaries that didn't "zigzag" across the map.

"I believe that keeping communities of interest is more important than keeping a straight line," Bright said.

Mayor Jeff Lee said Plan 901 keeps the coastal zone in one district, school district boundaries are more closely represented between Districts 2 and 3, and it also provides District 3 with a high proportion of Latino voters. The remaining council members agreed with him. During roll call, Bright voted in favor of Plan 901, making the motion unanimous.

"The ordinance adopting district lines will be effective 30 days after adoption on March 28," Eriksson told New Times. "Districts 1 and 2 will be up for election in November of 2022, and the new district boundaries and district-based elections for those seats will apply (as they will with Districts 3 and 4 in 2024)." Δ

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