Battle Lines

County board will draw its own districts

By Howard Schmidt
July 2021

Redistricting season has arrived. Every 10 years based on census results, political lines are changed to ensure equal voter representation. How the lines are drawn can be controversial, especially when gerrymandering is involved. The process may allow politicians to choose their voters, rather than the other way around.

In Sacramento County, the Board of Supervisors will determine its own districts, with public input. The Sacramento City Council is going through a similar exercise but has appointed a public commission to draw the lines.

The county process is explained at the website Workshops will be scheduled in July across the county to encourage residents to share their thoughts and suggestions. Check the website for updates.

Official census data are expected in September, with the process finalized by Dec. 15 to accommodate 2022 elections.
Three supervisorial seats are on the ballot next year. Phil Serna (District 1) and Patrick Kennedy (District 2) will run to keep their jobs. District 5 Supervisor Don Nottoli will retire after 28 years on the board, so south county voters will elect a new representative. New district boundaries could influence those elections.

Sacramento County will provide a web-based mapping tool for voters and community groups once the census figures are available. The tool will allow the public to draw and submit suggested boundaries for each county supervisor.

Politicians have checkered histories when it comes to drawing their own boundaries. The late Congressmember Phil Burton (D-San Francisco) once concocted a district so bizarrely shaped he referred to it as “my contribution to modern art.” His design included Burton’s ideal constituencies, broken into four sections, two of which were connected by water and two by railroad yards.

Not surprisingly, redistricting can become intense political theater. District changes can either help or hurt election prospects. Federal and state laws exist to limit the shenanigans, but they don’t always work.

The rules require districts to be substantially equal in population, “communities of interest” treated fairly (socio-economic geographic areas kept together), cities and neighborhoods not divided, and boundaries made easily identifiable with freeways, rivers and major roads. A representative from the League of Women Voters will monitor the county for compliance to the California Fair Maps Act.

County supervisors recently created a community review commission to work with the County Inspector General to improve accountability and transparency at the Sheriff’s Department.

Inspector General Mark Evenson said he liked the commission idea and saw it providing a “supportive role” to his office. But he was concerned panel members might use subpoenas to play a more active role. He said some “vetting” was needed on the panel’s subpoena power.

In response, the board agreed to issue rules for the commission, including how subpoena power is administered. Evenson and two supervisors will finalize the rules and regulations for presentation to the 11-member volunteer commission. The group will undergo orientation on law enforcement policies and procedures.

In September, the board will decide whether law enforcement should continue to respond to persons experiencing mental health emergencies via 911 or turn the function over to social workers through a stand-alone call system.

Rancho Cordova Police are operating a new Mobile Crisis Support Team to respond to mental health emergencies. The team consists of a police officer trained in crisis intervention and a licensed mental health clinician. A peer navigator follows up to ensure clients are offered support in accessing care systems.

There are six additional Mobile Crisis Support Teams in Sacramento County. Each team responds to an average of 50 to 80 calls a month. While these teams combine law enforcement and behavioral health experience, some advocates want the Board of Supervisors to end law enforcement involvement by ditching the 911 routing system for a stand-alone call center dedicated to mental health emergencies.

Howard Schmidt has worked on the federal, state and local levels of government, including 16 years for Sacramento County. He can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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