10:00 PM PST on Thursday, December 30, 2010

By DUANE W. GANG
The Press-Enterprise

The state’s new Citizens Redistricting Commission has ushered in a new era in California, heralded by supporters as a way to take politics out of the drawing of legislative and congressional boundaries.

But a political tug-of-war among elected officials could still play out at the local level next year as counties, cities and school boards redraw their own district lines.

With rare exceptions, the elected incumbents remain in charge locally, meaning politics can still play a role, said Douglas Johnson, a fellow at Claremont McKenna College’s Rose Institute for State and Local Government.

Local redistricting is just as important as what will take place at the state level, Johnson said.

“Day to day, it’s likely that city and county governments have more impact on people’s lives than state and federal,” he said.

All local governments — counties, cities, school districts, etc. — that have representatives elected by geographical areas must redraw districts or wards once new 2010 census data arrive early next year.

The process varies, and each jurisdiction can establish how to tackle the new population figures. Some already are preparing.

In an effort to make redistricting less political, California voters passed Prop. 11 in 2008. It puts the redistricting commission in charge of creating new Assembly, state Senate and Board of Equalization districts.

Then on Nov. 2, voters approved Prop. 20, granting the commission the additional responsibility for redrawing congressional lines. Voters defeated a proposition that would have eliminated the commission.

Riverside County Assessor Larry Ward, who chairs a county redistricting committee, said he is optimistic that officials can create a workable proposal.

“The goal of the committee is to bring forth to the Board of Supervisors at least one recommendation on a redistricting plan,” Ward said. “From there, it is up to them.”

Riverside County

Riverside County supervisors created a redistricting committee in September made up of each member’s chief of staff, Assistant County Executive Officer Jay Orr and Ward.

The committee has started reviewing the legal requirements and computer software that will aid in redrawing district lines.

If supervisors can’t agree on redistricting by Nov. 1, a commission made up of the district attorney, assessor and county superintendent of schools will redraw lines by Dec. 31, according to state law.

Riverside County has added an estimated 750,000 people since 2000. Ward said the target is to have the populations of all five districts within 2 percent of each other.

The public will get a chance to weigh in, he said. The county must hold at least two public hearings on any redistricting plan.

“We definitely want to have or give the public the opportunity to have input on the boundary changes,” Ward said. “We have new cities this time around.”

Ward and two county supervisors said that wherever possible, cities and communities should not be split among districts.

Board Chairman Marion Ashley said early figures show that the most changes are likely to take place in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd districts. Those are currently represented, respectively, by Bob Buster, John Tavaglione and Jeff Stone.

Stone’s district includes southwest Riverside County and is at least 62,000 people over the ideal, Ashley said.

Meanwhile, Buster’s district, which includes Lake Elsinore, Wildomar, Mead Valley and parts of Riverside, is under. The same goes for Tavaglione’s district, which includes parts of Riverside, Eastvale and the Jurupa area.

“It’s going to come to the board, and it will all happen out there in front of the world with people pushing and pulling to get what they want,” Ashley said of the plan.

“The real difficult thing is trying to work out supervisors Tavaglione and Buster’s districts, since they are so under.”

Stone said he understands his district will geographically shrink.

“It is going to be a little bit of a balancing act,” he said.

Stone and Ashley said distinct regions and communities should not be divided into different districts. For instance, both said the San Jacinto Valley with the cities of Hemet and San Jacinto should be represented by one supervisor.

As for politics, Stone said it won’t affect his decision on how to redraw the lines. But for supervisors gaining new communities, it will be a challenge getting to know constituents by the 2012 election, he said.

Ashley said since supervisors make the decisions, it is impossible to entirely remove politics.

“It has always been somewhat political, and it always will be and there is nothing wrong with that,” he said.

S.B. County

In San Bernardino County, planning for redistricting will begin after the new census figures become available, spokesman David Wert said.

He said the process is a simple matter of interpreting the data and dividing the county into five equal areas of population.

“San Bernardino County doesn’t present a lot of options because of its geography and because of where the population centers are,” Wert said.

During the last round of redistricting, the county created a committee made up of representatives from administrative staff and each supervisor who worked with the geographic information services department to draw new boundary lines, Wert said. He said he expects the county to do the same this year.

The two districts that saw the most population growth over the past decade were the 1st District, covering the High Desert, and the 2nd District, covering Upland, Rancho Cucamonga, Fontana and Lytle Creek, Wert said.

The districts are represented by supervisors Brad Mitzelfelt and Janice Rutherford, respectively.

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