Conservative leaders are raising legal arguments in an eleventh-hour effort to stop Santa Clara County from adopting a map that redraws political boundaries in controversial ways.
Two letters sent to the Board of Supervisors on Friday question the legality of the “Yellow Map”—a redistricting proposal submitted by a coalition of South Bay civil rights and labor organizations.
“What they’re doing is not right,” said Don Gage, a former county supervisor, who submitted one of the letters.
Santa Clara County—required to redraw its five political districts every decade to account for changes in population—has already considered and discarded several proposed maps. When the board meets Tuesday it will consider the Yellow Map, and potentially variations of it. The final boundaries must be adopted by Dec. 15.
A letter sent on behalf of 21 community leaders—including Gilroy Mayor Marie Blankley, former Morgan Hill Mayor Steven Tate and San Jose Councilmember Dev Davis—argues the Yellow Map violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and California’s Fair Maps Act.
The Yellow Map would move Almaden Valley and Los Gatos into District 5 from District 1. It would also retain a majority for Asian and Hispanic communities in certain districts.
A second letter, sent by Gage on behalf of several conservative leaders, recommends the board reject the map because it was advanced by Supervisor Cindy Chavez despite alleged conflicts of interest. It cites her support of Morgan Hill Mayor Rich Constantine in the District 1 race, who will benefit from the map because it will potentially exclude two other candidates from the election—former San Jose Councilmember Johnny Khamis and Los Gatos Vice Mayor Rob Rennie.
Gage also claims Chavez’s former association with the South Bay Labor Council and Working Partnerships USA, which both worked on the Yellow Map, is a violation of the county’s conflict of interest rules.
“They’re trying to eliminate our democracy by getting people out of an area so they cannot win,” Gage told San José Spotlight.
Chavez spokesperson Beth Willon told San José Spotlight the supervisor didn’t have time to talk.
“Supervisor Chavez is on a very tight, tight schedule today and will not have time to speak. You’ll have to get her comments from the board meeting on Tuesday like everyone else,” Willon said.
Proponents of the map have repeatedly protested accusations of gerrymandering. The Fair Maps Act forbids lawmakers from considering where candidates or incumbents live when deciding how to reshape district boundaries. Nothing bars a candidate from moving back into their district to remain in the race.
Richard Konda, executive director of the Asian Law Alliance, which helped create the Yellow Map, said the organizations involved took pains to make sure the map complied with state and federal requirements. He dismissed the letters’ assertions about the Yellow Map violating Constitutional law, the Voting Rights Act, or California’s Fair Maps Act.
“We put a lot of time into it and I think those are baseless claims,” he told San José Spotlight. He also disagrees with the assertion that Chavez has conflicts of interest, noting she no longer works at either of the organizations involved in developing the map.
Khamis told San José Spotlight he will take a hard look at what map is adopted before deciding whether to take legal action. He noted the county has created several variations of the Yellow Map, including one called Delta, where the population difference between districts is relatively equal.
“If they pass the Delta Map, I don’t think we’d have grounds to sue, quite frankly,” Khamis said.
Khamis is not a signatory on either letter, but he appears to have orchestrated the last-minute attack on the map. He said he brought the alleged violations to the attention of some of the individuals who signed the letter.
One of the letters was submitted by law firm Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk LLP. Khamis claims the attorneys will be paid by some of the people who signed the letters if further legal action is necessary, and if they don’t gather enough money, he will. Khamis emphasized he has not paid any money to the attorneys to date. Attorney Charles Bell did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo also appears irked by the Yellow Map. He and his council colleagues are considering a redistricting proposal for San Jose submitted by the same collection of groups. Liccardo told Khamis it’s chicanery to draw districts lines that exclude candidates with opposing viewpoints from running in a district they’ve lived in for decades, which his chief of staff Jim Reed confirmed for San José Spotlight.
Gilroy Mayor Marie Blankley told San José Spotlight she is primarily concerned the Yellow Map will put four densely populated San Jose communities into District 1.
“I see the Yellow Map as harmful to the voice of South County because it is bringing in more dissimilar interests,” she said.
The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors meets Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. Learn how to watch and participate.