“We failed in our mission”: Placer supervisors move forward with gerrymandered districts

·5 min read

The Placer County Board of Supervisors ignored the public, other elected officials in the county and, seemingly, the law when they voted to tentatively approve a gerrymandered map that alters county voting districts to benefit a majority of the politicians on the board.

How egregious was it? A chunk of Roseville was shaved off from the rest of the city in a way that made no sense apart from cynical political calculation. In another questionable change, a supervisor previously approved of a configuration of a district primarily because it contained his house.

On Tuesday, the board tentatively approved county-generated Map A, a gerrymandered arrangement that appears to have been pre-selected by the board from the beginning of a redistricting process that has been nothing short of disastrous.

Opinion

Placer County Supervisor Suzanne Jones did not mince words at this week’s Board of Supervisors meeting when she publicly acknowledged the many shortcomings of the county’s redistricting process.

“We, as a board, were supposed to ... give direction as to how this whole process was supposed to be carried out, and we did not do that,” Jones said. “We never gave direction. We failed in our mission.”

Incredibly, Jones acknowledged that, whether intentionally or not, the redistricting maps generated by county staff would politically favor the Republican Party

Despite the expectation that county staff would provide alternative maps, all three put forward by officials carve out the same oddly shaped chunk of western Roseville, which includes new developments along Fiddyment Road. That portion would be moved out of District 1 and into District 2, encompassing Lincoln.

“Just cutting out that little chunk of Roseville ... didn’t dilute the Democratic vote as much as it enhanced the Republican vote by a couple of percentage points,” Jones said. “The law says you cannot do that when you redistrict.”

But Jones’ colleagues on the board ignored her, approving a map that received virtually no public support.

The conflicts of interest and political motivations that have riddled Placer’s redistricting process from the beginning are almost too numerous to name. And the supervisors’ total disregard of public input has been infuriating.

While some private citizens have legally challenged gerrymandered maps, the Supreme Court in 2019 effectively greenlit gerrymandering by restricting legal remedies and ruling that it’s the role of Congress, not the courts, to address partisan redistricting.

For those Placer County community members who have closely followed the redistricting process since May, the outcome is of little surprise. The first indication of how this process would play out came in February, when the Board of Supervisors delegated redistricting responsibilities to a county commission with direct conflicts of interest and no prior redistricting experience rather than an independent, outside group.

Vocal community members, who have maintained their composure at public meetings despite being ignored, did not hesitate to call out the supervisors’ political manipulation of the democratic process.

“This entire redistricting process has been rife with conflicts of interest from the start,” said Auburn resident Barbara Smith. “Instead of choosing an independent commission, which you could have done, you chose your Planning Commission, which is composed of your own political appointees.”

Some supervisors have even come out in vocal support of certain maps, flagrantly ignoring the critical requirement that the redistricting process remain apolitical. Board of Supervisors Chairman Robert Weygandt voiced support for county-generated Maps A and B; Supervisor Jim Holmes admitted that he influenced the redistricting process in his favor by directing county staff members to consider Map C, which would keep his house drawn into his district.

While Weygandt defended his previous remarks, Holmes owned up to the fact that he inappropriately made the redistricting process about himself.

“Certainly not my best move in my more than 30-year career in elected office,” Holmes said.

Despite assurances from the board that they were open to public comments and had not yet made up their mind about which map to support, it was clear that a community-generated hybrid map had already been dismissed. Although virtually every member of the public who spoke, including the mayor of Lincoln and Rocklin’s vice mayor, voiced support for the hybrid map, the board didn’t even discuss it.

The hybrid map was a collaborative effort by community members who took into consideration preferences voiced from around the county. Unlike the county-generated maps, the hybrid map met all required criteria related to geographic integrity and contiguity and was one of four recommended by the redistricting commission. There was no reason given as to why most supervisors seemingly refused to consider it.

Following public comment, each supervisor gave their map preference: Weygandt spoke in support of Maps A and B; Holmes supported C2; Jones supported Map D, which was not recommended by the redistricting commission; Supervisor Cindy Gustafson supported A and the hybrid map; and Supervisor Bonnie Gore voiced firm support for the hybrid map.

So it came as a surprise when, with no apparent consensus or discussion of the hybrid map, Holmes abruptly motioned to tentatively approve Map A. Weygandt, Holmes and Gustafson voted in support while Gore and Jones voted no. And with that, months of public input and unpaid community labor were dismissed. It was a slap in the face to the community and anyone interested in free and fair local elections.

At the beginning of the meeting, Weygandt reminded those in attendance and watching remotely that “the public has a right to hold us accountable for the decisions we make.” He’s right. Placer County voters must hold him and the rest of the board accountable for this travesty.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting