Santa Clara County lawmakers choose new political map
The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors meeting chambers. File photo.

After months of intense debate and controversy, Santa Clara County has taken an important step to finalize its political boundaries for the next decade.

The Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 on Tuesday to advance a map known as draft 90195, introduced by Supervisor Cindy Chavez. The map is a variation of the Yellow Map,  a controversial option advanced by a coalition of civil rights and labor groups. Supervisors considered eight other maps during their meeting, mostly variations of the Yellow Map.

Supervisors Chavez, Susan Ellenberg and Otto Lee voted in favor of the 90195 Map. Supervisors Mike Wasserman and Joe Simitian voted against it. Chavez’s map is a modified version of the Yellow Map, previously known as the Unity Map.

The 90195 Map has a population deviation of 4.1%,  meaning it has a relatively equal number of people living in each of the county’s five districts. It’s similar to the Yellow Map in that it creates a “majority-minority” Asian-Pacific Islander district in District 3, and maintains a Latino influence district in District 2.

Critically, the map removes Los Gatos and Almaden Valley from District 1 and places them in District 5—a point of controversy that has prompted fierce debates in past meetings and legal questions from opponents. The map also unites Evergreen, does not split the Willow Glen neighborhood and uses barriers like the Capitol Expressway and the Guadalupe River to create natural district boundaries.

Chavez expressed confidence in the 90195 Map’s positive attributes. She acknowledged the challenges of the redistricting process, noting every tweak to an existing boundary line can have significant consequences for residents.

“Every time you touch a census tract it has a ripple effect on another area,” Chavez said. “So these were really challenging to put together.”

Moving the lines

The Yellow Map, introduced months ago by groups including Silicon Valley Rising Action, Asian Law Alliance and the San Jose/Silicon Valley NAACP, upset opponents who claimed it would dilute conservative power in District 1 by cleaving off Almaden Valley and Los Gatos. Several community leaders accused the map of gerrymandering because it would exclude two candidates from the District 1 election–former San Jose Councilmember Johnny Khamis and Los Gatos Vice Mayor Rob Rennie. They also raised last-minute legal issues and claimed Chavez should have been barred from voting due to alleged conflicts of interest.

The Santa Clara County Supervisors voted 3-2 to approve the 90195 Map, introduced by Supervisor Cindy Chavez.

Chavez said the 90195 Map improves on the Yellow Map by reducing the population imbalance between districts and improving contiguity and compactness of borders—criteria required by state and federal law for jurisdictions engaged in the once-in-a-decade redrawing of political lines.

Wasserman reintroduced the EE 2.0 Map, an option discarded at a November meeting. He said it deserved consideration because it has the lowest population imbalance of any proposal at 1.2%. He said the county currently has a 17.2% deviation, well above the state guideline of 10%.

“I attribute a lot of that to the fact we didn’t start with the lowest deviation possible 11 years ago,” Wasserman said.

Residents still unhappy

Residents in favor of Chavez’s map largely echoed what has been said of the Yellow Map: that it will provide better representation to communities historically marginalized in county politics.

“It provides our citizens with equity because of the fact that we will have a voice in South County as opposed to the way it’s set up now,” said resident Marty Estrada.

Several residents spoke in favor of the EE 2.0 Map, arguing it has the lowest population deviation and maintains cultural continuity in South County.

“South County fundamentally differs from the rest of Santa Clara County in that our residents do not enjoy the job growth, transportation services or income level as the rest of the county,” said Gilroy Mayor Marie Blankley, adding the addition of four San Jose communities to her district will dilute representation of rural residents.

David Noel, president of the Erikson Neighborhood Association, unsuccessfully urged a last-minute recusal before the vote.

“I respectfully ask Supervisor Chavez to abstain from voting on district maps given her close association with the groups that funded and created the map,” Noel said. Several conservative leaders claim Chavez should have been barred from voting on the Yellow Map because she previously worked for South Bay Labor Council and Working Partnerships USA, both of which participated in creating the map. They also claim there is a conflict of interest because Chavez participated in a fundraiser for Morgan Hill Mayor Rich Constantine, who is running for the District 1 supervisor seat.

The board asked the county surveyor to prepare a description of the adjusted supervisorial boundaries, and for County Counsel to report back on Dec. 14 with a resolution of the redistricting plans.

Santa Clara County will post the final map by Friday to give the public three days to review before it’s formally adopted on Dec. 14.

Contact Eli Wolfe at [email protected] or @EliWolfe4 on Twitter.

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