Less than four years after Santa Clara split into six election districts, the city has redrawn those boundaries—this time with fresh data from the 2020 U.S. Census.
On Tuesday, the Santa Clara City Council voted unanimously to approve new boundaries selected by an independent commission to carry the city through the elections of the next decade. Officials stressed their lack of involvement in the redistricting process.
“Whatever you recommend, we’re going to approve,” Mayor Lisa Gillmor told commissioners.
The new district boundaries mainly shift in two places. A section of District 2 was moved into District 1, adding 1,638 people to that district, and a part of District 4 was moved into District 5, adding 572 people.
Changes were made to even out the total number of residents in each district, according to demographer Jeanne Gobalet of Lapkoff & Gobalet Demographic Research, Inc., the consulting firm the city worked with for redistricting.
“We found that the population growth of various parts of the city was uneven,” Gobalet said in comparing districts drawn in 2018 with 2010 census data to the updated districts with 2020 data.
In addition, a boundary change between Districts 4 and 5 was made to preserve neighborhood boundaries, commission chair Shruti Mirashi told the City Council.
District elections are still relatively new for Santa Clara. A judge ordered the city to split into six districts as a result of a 2017 lawsuit that alleged its at-large council system violated the California Voting Rights Act, diluted the minority vote and disenfranchised voters of color. Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor and her allies fought the decision and introduced a ballot measure in 2020 asking voters if the city should cut the number of districts in half, from six to three. The measure failed, with more than 60% of voters against it.
Redistricting occurs once every 10 years on the local, state and federal levels following the census count to make sure political districts have roughly equal populations. The redistricting processes for Santa Clara County and San Jose drew heated debate.
California law also requires community engagement and public outreach, including to non-English-speaking residents. It also lays out criteria for how districts should be drawn. For instance, districts should share common borders, minimize dividing neighborhoods and city geographies, follow natural boundaries—such as roads, rivers, rail lines or highways—and be shaped in ways that “encourage geographic compactness,” according to the California Secretary of State’s office.
The shifts largely keep existing neighborhoods intact within district boundaries, Gobalet noted.
Districts range in total population between 20,879 residents (District 3) and 22,386 (District 6). Three districts have a majority of Asian residents: District 1 with 64%, District 3 with 53% and District 4 with 53%. District 2 has the highest proportion of Latino/Hispanic people of voting age at 28%. No district has a majority of white residents.
However, a different picture emerges when analyzing factors that affect who can vote based on citizenship and those age 18 and over. When considering both citizenship and voting age, white residents represent the largest racial group in Districts 5 and 6, making up 50% of the eligible voters in each of those districts.
Between September 2021 and February, the seven-member Independent Redistricting Commission held six public meetings and a workshop as it worked with demography consultants to determine the new election boundaries. Commissioners finalized the map presented to council at the end of February.
The process began last fall, when residents were randomly selected from a pool of applicants to participate. City Clerk Hosam Haggag said he used a Bingo cage to select representatives by district from more than 30 applicants.
Mirashi said she was “very satisfied” with the process that went into developing the proposed map. Initially, she applied to serve on the commission out of a sense of civic duty.
“To live a satisfying and rewarding life, I feel it is crucial to serve and be an involved citizen in one’s community, city, country and world in whichever way one can,” she told San José Spotlight.
Several councilmembers expressed satisfaction with the process and urged volunteers to get more involved in city politics by serving on commissions or running for City Council.
“I know a lot of people worried when the council said they wanted to keep their hands off this,” said Councilmember Karen Hardy. “I would say we have a homerun here and it worked very well.”
Contact Kate Bradshaw at [email protected] or @bradshk14 on Twitter.