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In your hands 

Major changes are on the horizon for SLO County's supervisorial districts, and you need to speak up

By now, redistricting is hopefully a word you have become familiar with. There may be no single issue facing SLO County as important as this one. While the redistricting process has been haunting us for a while now, the current process the SLO County Board of Supervisors has crafted for itself is something hard to fully comprehend. The process and how the decisions will end up affecting our lives and the ripple of impacts over the next decade are nothing short of profound. If you are new to the topic or are feeling overwhelmed by it, you are not alone. How our county is redistricted impacts the future outcomes for our local economy, climate, equity, and community.

Redistricting happens every 10 years in districts from Congress down to the local school board, and is a process where we redraw the boundaries of districts so that each one is roughly proportionate in population. In California, counties are governed by five supervisors. In general, counties hold a lot of power and state resources and get to designate how and when those are used (think: funding to address homelessness). These supervisors are elected by residents/voters of their county district (a designated area) where they live. This system is mandated by state policy, and every 10 years we redraw these district boundaries to accommodate for growth or population fluctuation. As the population changes according to the census, the boundaries are redrawn based on that new information, and this is the process of redistricting.

In SLO County, county elected officials redraw the boundaries of their own districts, essentially choosing the areas they will oversee and who will vote for them. This should be a major red flag, as it is backwards for elected officials choose their voters when voters should be choosing their leaders. The state has acknowledged the problem and created independent redistricting commissions as a solution. These commissions are nonpartisan citizens panels tasked with analyzing data and redrawing the boundaries. SLO County's board majority opted out of this transparent, equitable process and decided instead to take matters into their own hands. If they wanted, they could essentially change the maps just to protect their own incumbency. This is known as gerrymandering, a word we are familiar with on the national stage. But here at home!? Yes, here too. This is exactly what is blatantly unfolding right before our eyes.

How the boundaries are drawn or preserved determines our political representation. SLO County has predominantly Democratic registered voters, but districts could be redrawn to carve in areas that have majority Republican voters and leave out more densely Democratic neighborhoods leading to more Republican representation, or vice versa—even in a county that might otherwise have balanced elections that swing back and forth. These boundaries matter and have a great deal to do with determining who can and will be elected in the future.

Right now, the 3-2 Republican supervisors majority favors a map redrawing the districts in a vastly different way from how things are represented currently. The Patten map, a blatant conspiracy on the part of the Republican party, chops up current districts and rewrites boundaries in a way that would leave many without a vote or a voice for the next few years and could leave others with virtually no county representative until 2024.

As an example, the Patten map splits the historically aligned North Coast communities of Los Osos, Morro Bay, Cayucos, Cambria, and San Simeon into three districts. Currently these communities are in a single district, District 2 (Supervisor Bruce Gibson). It lumps Los Osos with Avila Beach and Oceano to become a new district; pairs Morro Bay with SLO city, and pushes the remaining North Coast communities into District 1, (Supervisor John Peschong), which includes Paso Robles and eastern SLO County. San Miguel leaves District 1 for another district, diluting the Latinx vote and giving a specific population less voice and power. The Patten map is favored by the current Republican majority because it ensures Republicans continue to control our Democratic county for the next decade.

Does it feel confusing? That's the goal.

The impacts are profound. For those of us in Los Osos, if the Patten map is adopted, we won't vote on our new supervisor until 2024, leaving us without representation for the next three years.

Then there is a ripple effect—as we have seen, an elected body with a conservative majority in power can stifle progress on all policies moving forward. From public health, to mental health, to homeless services, to environmental protection, to diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. With climate change, a global pandemic, and so much more showing up in big ways in our lives, decisions on the table can have big long-term, and quite literally, life-or-death consequences.

This is what it looks like to lose our democracy. If you haven't already shared why this matters to you with the board, I implore you to do so this week in an email, or show up to the next hearing on Nov. 30 at 9 a.m. I have said this here before, but it's never been so true: The future is in your hands. No one is coming to save us from this mess. Δ

Quinn Brady (she/her) is a community advocate, organizer, and mother on the Central Coast. Send a response for publication toletters@newtimesslo.com.

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