Mountain View Voice

News - June 17, 2011

New political lines would move MV

by Gennady Sheyner

The map of Sen. Joe Simitian's district in the state Senate currently resembles a rabbit gazing at the sky, its brain positioned somewhere around Los Altos.

The rabbit's body is a spacious blob stretching next to the ocean and encompassing a generous swath of Santa Clara County and smaller chunks of San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties. From its head stretch two ears, one pointing northward and encompassing Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Atherton and Redwood City and another one pointing east and stretching through Santa Clara County and toward San Jose.

The redistricting proposal, which was released by the nonpartisan California Citizens Redistricting Commission, aims to kill the rabbit and every other district map that resembles a picture in Rorschach test. It would replace them with boring, amorphous blobs — which is what the 11th District will become if the commission's recommendations are approved in August.

Under the commission's plan, the map of Simitian's 11th District would resemble a parallelogram with a slightly elongated bottom left corner. Its northern border would stretch from Brisbane, and its southern border would extend diagonally from the ocean to Sunnyvale. The proposed district would also swallow up various cities that previously fell between the rabbit's ears — including Mountain View and Sunnyvale — or stood just above its body (Portola Valley, Woodside, Half Moon Bay).

Meanwhile, cities which currently fall on the right ear and the tail of the topographical bunny would no longer be in the district.

Simitian said the new map could create some anxiety for residents in northern Santa Clara County, the part of the county includes his hometown of Palo Alto. With the rabbit replaced by the blob, the county (which currently makes up about 60 percent of the district) would become a minority in a Senate district and the political center of gravity will shift to San Mateo County.

"It's understandable that people in Sunnyvale will say, 'What do we have in common with Brisbane?'" Simitian said. "But when the districts are this big and when they cover that much ground, each district will have more disparate communities."

Simitian noted that under the current setup, he represents Capitola in Santa Cruz County but not Mountain View, which is five minutes away from his house. When his Santa Cruz constituents expressed concern about being adequately represented, he responded by opening an office in their county, he said.

Other state Assembly, state Senate and Congressional districts in the Peninsula are also slated for a major redesigns. Assemblyman Rich Gordon, whose 21st District currently resembles the receiver of a 20th century telephone with two clumps connected by a narrow band, would see his turf become more geographically compact even as it spreads east to add Mountain View and Sunnyvale. The district would lose the cities that currently stand on its fringes, including Redwood City in the north and Los Gatos in the south.

Gordon said the proposed maps would not affect how he represents those parts of his district that would go elsewhere. They would, however, require him to shift his campaigning and meet new people the next election season.

"When it comes time to campaign, I will be campaigning in some new communities, but I wouldn't presume that I'll be representing those communities," he said, noting that the proposed maps could still change.

Analysts say the shifts in districts, while visually dramatic, are expected to have little political effect on the politicians and their constituents on the Peninsula. Unlike in southern California, where Republican Reps. David Dreier and Elton Gallegly now find themselves battling for political survival in increasingly Democratic districts, the changes in the Bay Area promise to be more subtle, said Jim Ross, a political consultant who specializes in state elections.

Several cities in San Mateo County, including East Palo Alto and Menlo Park, would shift from Rep. Anna Eshoo's 14th District in the U.S. Congress to Rep. Jackie Speier's 12th District. This, however, is unlikely to cause a huge stir for the residents the congressional districts, Ross said.

"The Bay Area's congressional delegation is pretty solid," Ross said. "It's not like they're going from one party to another. They're all Democratic and relatively progressive."

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