WATSONVILLE—The Watsonville Community Redistricting Advisory Committee is closing in on its final recommendations to the Watsonville City Council for how the city’s district lines should be redrawn.
Every decade following the release of census data, jurisdictions must adjust their district lines to account for possible shifts in population from one area to another. This is done to ensure that all elected districts and communities remain as equally represented as possible in local government.
In Watsonville’s case, that means that the boundaries of the city’s seven districts could shift as the City Council tries to account for the changes the city has undergone since 2011, and the possible growth it will see in the near future.
The committee, a seven-member group appointed by the City Council that since September has met in public sessions, is tasked with poring over census data to determine how communities of interest—a group of residents with a common set of concerns that may be affected by legislation—can best be represented over the next 10 years. It must also try to balance the city’s population between districts.
The committee on Thursday saw the first set of draft maps created by a third-party demographer and has two more meetings—Nov. 30 and Dec. 9—to determine its final recommendations.
Five plans were presented to the committee Thursday.
Three maps were prepared by demographer Michael Wagaman based on the committee’s requests from previous meetings, and two maps were submitted to the committee.
One of the submitted maps is from committee member Maria Isabel Rodriguez, who was appointed by City Councilman Francisco “Paco” Estrada. The other submitted map came from City Councilman Lowell Hurst, though his plan is largely incomplete and only asks for changes to District 3, which he currently oversees.
Rodriguez’s map proposes massive shifts in every district. It prioritizes unifying communities of interest under one district such as some Clifford Avenue apartment complexes and the suburban communities off of Ohlone Parkway. Her plan, she said, would move Landmark Elementary School from District 1 into District 4, making sure that every district had an elementary school.
A big concession of her plan, she admits, would be Pajaro Valley High School moving from District 4 to District 3. Rodriguez, who teaches U.S. Government at PVHS and lives in District 4, said that move is necessary to empower communities of interest.
“When I think about gerrymandering, I look at the map of Watsonville and I say, ‘you want to understand what gerrymandering is? Look at the shapes of this map,’” Rodriguez said in an interview after the meeting. “I just think, ‘who drew these maps? And for what purpose?’”
The committee spent much of its time trying to make small changes to the so-called “Green Plan,” a map prepared by Wagaman that proposes small changes and aims to keep populations between districts as equal as possible.
Most on the committee said that making minimal changes in this decade’s redistricting would be best because of a possible undercount in last year’s census, which experts say was largely impacted by the pandemic and rhetoric from the Trump administration.
Toward the end of the discussion, Rodriguez questioned the committee’s overall goal. Was it to keep populations of the districts relatively equal, address concerns about communities of interests brought forth to the committee or take into account the possible undercounts in various districts?
Committee member Felipe Hernandez said that the group’s role was to weigh all three factors equally, while considering that last year’s census data might not be accurate, especially in District 1 and 2, which have traditionally been difficult to count.
“People are thinking, ‘let’s count the numbers right 10 years from now,’” Hernandez said. “I think that’s where the thought comes from [to keep] status quo.”
After the meeting, Rodriguez said that she believes every district was undercounted during the census, and that the committee should not be afraid of moving around the lines to protect and unite communities of interest that are currently split between two districts.
“I just feel like it’s OK if we redraw the district,” she said. “We don’t have to maintain the status quo, and we can still maintain a [population distribution] that’s respectable.”
Rodriguez’s map also sparked a discussion among the committee about whether incumbency can be a consideration for the group while determining its recommendations. Hernandez, a former District 1 City Councilman, said that Rodriguez’s proposed changes would move his successor, Eduardo Montesino, out of the district.
“I don’t know if it’s an issue to take a councilmember out of their district,” Hernandez asked.
Wagaman said that he has not yet accessed data regarding City Councilmembers’ residencies, so the possible move of a councilmember from one district to another has not been factored into the proposed maps.
Special counsel Tom Willis said that, according to Assembly Bill 849, also known as the FAIR MAPS Act, a councilmember who is moved out of their district during redistricting will have the ability to finish out their term. Alternatively, they can also run for office in their new district if that seat opens before the end of their term.
As Hernandez continued to ask about how redistricting could affect upcoming Watsonville City Council elections, committee chair Daniel Dodge, Sr. interjected to bring the conversation back to what is allowed under the FAIR MAPs Act and Watsonville’s charter.
“I want to be able to keep the meeting focused on the facts and the details so we don’t get in all hypotheticals that might appear in the Pajaronian or something,” Dodge said, drawing chuckles from his fellow committee members.
Only four people talked during the public comment portion of Thursday’s meeting, and two of them were City Councilmembers: Rebecca Garcia and Hurst.
Dodge in an interview after the meeting said that low turnout has been the case at the committee’s three previous gatherings, including forums in October at Ann Soldo and Starlight elementary schools.
“I’ve never seen, across the board, less participation from groups in the redistricting process, and by that I mean community groups,” Dodge said. “It’s rather scary because this is an opportunity to look at things … When you have councilmembers that are the only ones that are making comments at these meetings, then you have to assume that maybe a great shakeup of the way we do things, maybe it’s not the right time.”
Garcia during public comment peppered Wagaman and Willis with questions, including one inquiry about whether they had data on registered voters per district.
Wagaman said that he did have data on registered voters in each district, but that he has not looked at that data during this process and he would only bring it forward if asked by the committee.
“I would like to have that data,” Garcia said.
Pedro Castillo, a community activist and UC Santa Cruz professor of history emeritus, asked whether voter turnout would be considered a criterion in the redistricting process.
“It’s just about equal population. It says nothing about equal voters and who votes and who doesn’t right?” Castillo asked. “So in one district they can have 5,000 registered voters and another district it can have 200, but that’s not a criteria, correct?”
Answered Wagaman: “Correct, it’s not one of the specified criteria under state, federal or your local ordinance.”
Garcia clarified that she only wanted to see the data and not for it to be considered by the committee as a factor for their decision-making.
“I would just like the information,” she said after a back and forth with Castillo.
To see the current draft maps, contact the committee or submit a draft map, visit cityofwatsonville.org/2193/Redistricting.