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A City Divided

news_acitydividedCongressional redistricting could split Santa Cruz down the middle

UPDATE: Draft maps of California’s new congressional districts reportedly reunified Santa Cruz in a single district through changes made last weekend. The changes will be visible on the Citizens’ Redistricting Commission’s website Thursday, July 28. As recently as last week, the line on the map split the city down the middle. In meetings last weekend, however, the commission moved the lines to the north just enough to reunify the city in Rep. Sam Farr’s district while still honoring restrictions posed by the Voting Rights Act and Marin’s demand to be completely free of influence from San Francisco. The new lines still divide Santa Cruz County, with Davenport and portions of the San Lorenzo Valley remaining in Rep. Anna Eshoo’s district. At 1 p.m. on Friday, July 29,  the commission will vote on the most recent update, according to commission spokesperson Rob Wilcox. If this map is approved Santa Cruz City Hall, UC Santa Cruz and the police department will remain in the same district. Stay tuned for further updates.

Santa Cruz’s Westside/Eastside surf rivalry has serious competition in the business of dividing Santa Cruz into illogically small worlds. In fact, in the eyes of some, the surf community may have done a better job of splitting the city than the new Citizens' Redistricting Commission in Sacramento that was put in charge of drawing California's new congressional districts.

While local surf lore identifies the very visible landmark of the San Lorenzo River as the rivalry’s border, the new district line drawn by the 14-member commission is harder to make sense of.

Beginning at the Dream Inn on West Cliff Drive, the line runs down the middle of Downtown Santa Cruz via Center Street, with a short detour onto Washington Street, before curving back to Pacific Avenue at the clock tower.

After a quick circle around Paradise Park on Highway 9, the line hits the back roads, crossing Highway 17 more than once and slicing through part of Scotts Valley, tossing the eastern edge in to Congressman Sam Farr's current district (the 17th District).

Farr’s current district, which has been in place since 2001, includes the entire City of Santa Cruz, stretching south to include the coastal areas of most of Santa Cruz and Monterey counties. Other parts of the county, such as Davenport, Bonny Doon, Scotts Valley and parts of the San Lorenzo Valley and Aptos currently rest in Congresswoman Anna Eshoo’s 14th District.

The new line will divide the City of Santa Cruz, even placing the Santa Cruz Police Department and City Hall—both located on Center Street—in different districts. The police department and Main Beach will remain in the 17th District, with City Hall and West Cliff being transferred to the 14th.

This split could affect the ability of the city to gain federal support for projects over the next 10 years, according to SCPD Spokesman Zach Friend. He says the city and the police have a strong working relationship with Farr, who has been the federal face of the city for the last 18 years. According to Friend, he's toured the police department and has an intimate knowledge of the city's needs, which makes it easier to get federal help.

This connection allowed the department to avoid laying off several officers in 2009 as they were on their way out the door. Farr scooped up $2 million of federal stimulus funds that were used to keep the officers as well as avoid other painful cuts to city services.

“It may not be possible to get that type of funding with the new lines that are being drawn,” Friend says. “This is not a negative statement towards future representatives ... But it is more difficult when someone has to learn about a new community.”

When voters passed Proposition 11 by a small margin in 2008, the redistricting process was snatched from the hands of elected officials. This gave Santa Cruz Vice Mayor Don Lane hope that the county would finally be united after years of having a divided national voice (with parts overseen by Eshoo, who lives in Silicon Valley, and the rest by Farr).

Even if this division was not healed, Lane never expected the city itself would be cracked in half. He has lived in Santa Cruz for more than 40 years and says this is the first time he has seen this happen.

“I have never been aware of the city being split this way,” Lane says. “Santa Cruz has always had one congressional representative in my lifetime.”

He says that, as the second smallest county in the state, Santa Cruz County already has a hard enough time having its voice heard. He worries that sharing districts with Santa Clara and Monterey counties will further dilute our influence.

“It will be unclear about which representative will take the lead on an issue,” says Lane.

Twenty-four-year-old local Cliff Sammett, who recently moved back to Santa Cruz after graduating with a communications degree from California State University Cal Poly, sees a bright side to the redistricting, saying that the split could spread some local influence into other counties.

“We are very aware of our environment and where we stand in terms of global warming,” says Sammett. “[As well as] issues like the nuclear [disaster] in Japan ... We are on top of it. It would be great to stay whole, but if that's [not] what's [going to] happen, then you have to look at the positives.”

The commission completed major changes to the maps on July 28, leaving Santa Cruz pinned in a corner legally, geographically and politically, according to commission member and Capitola resident Vince Barabba. The commission is fine tuning the maps to see of they can solve small problems until their final Aug. 15 deadline. He says small changes like putting the police department back in the same district as City Hall may be possible since no one lives in those buildings, but made no promises. He says the hang up will be the fact that there are houses on the Washington Street side of the block with the police department.

“When you move the lines in one direction you have to adjust it in another area ... because every congressional district must have 702,000 people,” Barabba says. “If the line was moved north or west it would cause a ripple effect all the way to Marin, forcing them to be split, with communities such as Sausalito to share a district with the northern tip of San Francisco.” He notes that Marin residents were insistent that they were culturally and politically too different to be paired with the most densely populated county in the state, San Francisco.

“We tried moving people around every possible way,” says Barabba. “We may be able to make slight adjustments, but if there are residential properties on that block we will have to move the line somewhere else.”

Barabba, who served as director of United States Census in 1970 and 1980, was the only Santa Cruz County resident selected to serve on the commission through a lottery of 36 qualified applicants.

But getting one resident on board is where the county’s luck ran out. After Marin loudly ruled out the possibility of moving the line north, the Voting Rights Act of the 1970s prevented any adjustment to the south or east. Because of their history of military bases and agricultural industry dominance, Monterey, San Benito and Merced counties are bound by Section Five of the act. The section says that if there is a large minority population living in a county that is unlikely to vote—such as migrant workers and part time service members—there are specific guidelines to the way that districts have to be drawn.

These factors, limiting the movement of district lines to the north, south or east, squashed Santa Cruz County up against the coast with no choice but building a floating colony in the Monterey Bay Sanctuary with about 400,000 people to make a whole district. With no possibility of that happening, Santa Cruz will have to live with the split until at least 2020.

Reps. Eshoo and Farr have declined to comment on district lines until the new maps are finalized.

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