Fifteen county residents will soon help reshape Santa Clara County government’s political power.
Santa Clara County supervisors are creating a new advisory commission to complete redistricting obligations by the end of the year, in light of census data delays.
Every county is required to redraw its supervisorial boundaries in 2021 according to federal, state and local laws. County officials contend that because the government is not expected to finish processing 2020 Census data until September—six months later than originally planned—they will need more help with the task.
Every 10 years, the county redraws district boundaries taking into account population changes from the census. It could mean some neighborhoods might be redrawn into other districts, potentially changing or shifting political power in some of the county’s most disenfranchised areas. San Jose is undergoing a similar redistricting process with concerns looming about how vulnerable neighborhoods might be represented.
A newly-established commission will complete the redistricting process by Dec. 15. The commission will host public hearings this summer for community input on redrawing the county’s five supervisorial district boundaries.
Supervisors approved $125,000 to hire consultants to help fulfill legal obligations within the shortened time frame.
Five commissioners will be selected at random from a pool of applicants, with one representing each district. The random selection is currently set to take place at a June 9 board meeting. Five more members will be appointed by each supervisor, and an additional five members will be selected by the first 10 members in July.
The last redistricting process occurred in 2011, but requirements have changed since then and placed a heavier burden of work on counties. Updated requirements include additional public outreach, more public hearings and new equity criteria to consider.
“The criteria for redistricting is very different than it was in the past,” said County Counsel James Williams. “The state has changed things significantly and has put in place a number of mandatory procedural factors that did not exist before.”
Notably, supervisors chose not to establish an independent redistricting commission, which would do its work without involvement from the board. Requirements for that type of group are more stringent. An independent group would prohibit members from having held or run for public office in the last eight years and would stop them from applying if a spouse or family member had done so as well.
The county’s Citizen Advisory Commission on Elections recommended supervisors adopt the independent commission, but officials worried the restrictions might delay the process of recruiting members.
“I understand given the lateness of the census data and the time requirements for completing the redistricting process, it was not possible to create an independent redistricting commission for this cycle,” said Steve Chessin, a member of the elections advisory committee. “I know there is a tendency to be deadline driven and to not consider due dates until the deadline is staring us in the face.”
Chessin suggested considering an independent commission for the next cycle in 10 years.
County officials hope to finish appointing commissioners by the end of July, leaving less than six months to complete the redistricting work.
Board President Mike Wasserman believes there will be a tremendous amount of interest in serving on the commission, based on what he saw the last time around. Wasserman was first elected in December 2010.
“We had more people interested in serving than we had spots for,” Wasserman said. “The opportunity comes up once every 10 years and people are excited about it. To anyone who has the time… it’s an amazing opportunity.”
All 2021 redistricting meetings are virtual and open to the public. Applications for the commission are available at the county Office of the Executive website.
Applicants must be registered voters in Santa Clara County and may not be a candidate for an elected office or serve as an appointed officer, including service on another board or commission.
More information about requisite qualifications can be found on the county’s website. Applications close at 9 a.m. on June 1.