Analyzing California’s Congressional Redistricting

November 19, 2021 Updated: November 22, 2021


Sometimes more important than elections themselves is the decennial redistricting mandated after each U.S. Census. It’s a large country and Americans move around a lot. Throw in immigration, and each new numbering means the political dynamics change.

For California, the big news was losing a seat in Congress for the first time ever. The population grew just 6.1 percent from 2010 to 2020, the lowest ever recorded, to 39.5 million.

By contrast, from 1980 to 1990, during which I came here in 1987, the population soared 25.7 percent. No wonder that decade the Golden State gained seven new House seats. Yet people at the time complained the Census undercounted the state, costing us one more House seat.

And each House seat, of course, also counts as one vote in the Electoral College that chooses the president. That shows how these new tallies and map configurations always generate controversy.

Under the pre-2010 system, the Legislature drew all boundaries for seats in Congress, the Assembly, the state Senate and the Board of Equalization. Problems with the system were highlighted by a 2001 comment from then-Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Santa Ana), one of the more outspoken members of Congress.

At the time, redistricting largely was determined by Democratic political consultant Michael Berman, the brother of then-Rep. Howard Berman, one of the most powerful Democratic members of Congress.

In 2001 during the redistricting process, Sanchez told the Orange County Register how the gerrymandering system worked: “Twenty thousand is nothing to keep your seat. I spend $2 million [campaigning] every year. If my colleagues are smart, they’ll pay their $20,000, and Michael [Berman] will draw the district they can win in. Those who have refused to pay? God help them.”

The highly gerrymandered maps he drew then were adopted by the legislature.

The controversy was reduced when voters in 2008 approved Proposition 11, which set up the Citizens Redistricting Commission, a nonpartisan body, to draw the new districts for Assembly and state Senate after the 2010 Census. In 2010, voters approved Proposition 20, which added drawing legislative districts to the commission’s duties.

Also on the 2010 ballot was Proposition 27, which would have entirely ended the redistricting reform, returning the process to Berman and Berman. It lost, 59 percent to 41 percent. But it’s interesting looking at those who backed returning to the old, rigged system. Contributions to Yes on 27 included:

  • Haim Saban, major Democratic donor: $2 million;
  • AFSCME union: $1.25 million;
  • American Federation of Teachers: $1 million;
  • SEIU: $200,000;
  • George Soros: $100,000.

Members of Congress:

  • Rep. Howard Berman: $10,000;
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: $10,000;
  • Rep. Adam Schiff: $10,000.

Southern California Ethnic Redistricting Changes

I wish people would just vote on the issues. But often they don’t, voting instead on perceived ethnic interests. That has brought mandates from national and state civil rights laws to “balance” ethnic interests to make sure every major group receives representation. These mandates have been upheld and enforced by the U.S. Supreme Court and lesser courts.

As a result, the Commission’s Draft Congressional Districts include detailed demographic data and maps gleaned from the 2020 Census. I suggest clicking this link to see the maps, in particular this link that brings up a pdf of the demographic data followed by the maps themselves.

Instead of using congressional district numbers, for these draft districts they use cryptic names, such as CD_OCSBLA_DRAFT, which includes parts of Orange County, San Bernardino, and Los Angeles.

In the data, notice the “Deviation” column. Each district is supposed to have roughly the equivalent of every other district, the mean now being 760,066. The “Deviation” shows how much each district is above or below the mean. In our example in the previous paragraph, it’s -5,888 below, or -.77 percent.

Demographic Changes

One major change I’ve been tracking for years is the movement of black Californians out of Los Angeles and San Francisco either to inland areas, or out of the state entirely. In the past decade, black residents decreased 2.7 percent in California, to 2.2 million. They now make up just 6 percent of the state population, down from 7 percent in past decades.

For the South Los Angeles and Watts areas, until recently almost all black, they will be just 39 percent in CD_STHLA_DRAFT (South Los Angeles) and CD_10CORR_DRAFT (Interstate 10 and Central Avenue Corridor). These areas recently have come into focus with accusations the building of the interstate system in the 1950s and 60s destroyed much of black residents’ social cohesion in the area.

A recent KCET article described the history, “Ultimately, Interstate 10 was built through both neighborhoods destroying hundreds of houses. A similar process happened 10 miles east of Sugar Hill in Boyle Heights, where five freeways intersect, including the 10. This destructive process of freeway construction through neighborhoods of color not only occurred in Los Angeles but also Minnesota, the Bay Area, Maryland, Louisiana, Washington, Texas, New York and Massachusetts.”

I would add that also happened to black people in my native Detroit. There as elsewhere, they had less political clout than other ethnic groups to push the new freeways into other groups’ neighborhoods. In most places in Europe, this problem was avoided by halting the autobahns outside the major cities.

Both of these districts have seen an increase in Latinos, now 39 percent in the South LA draft district and 32 percent in 10 Corridor.

The redistricting numbers show many black residents have moved to the Inland Empire. For example, CD_RIASB_DRAFT (Riverside-San Bernardino) is 14 percent black.

Orange County Districts

CD_SANTAANA_DRAFT is Santa Ana. It’s 50 percent Latino, 27 percent white, 19 percent Asian and 3 percent black. It’s basically the current 46th District currently held by Democratic Rep. Lou Correa and looks safe for him.

CD_NOCOAST_DRAFT is North Coast Orange County, mainly Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa, parts of Irvine and the Laguna Beach-Laguna Niguel area. It’s close to the 48th District currently held by Republican Michelle Steel. But maybe a bit more conservative and Republican.

This was a tough fight for her to win against incumbent Democrat Harley Rouda in 2020—and for him to take it away from then-incumbent Republican Dana Rohrabacher in 2018. Expect another tough fight. But with Democrats in trouble for November 2022, Steel is the favorite to keep the seat.

It’s now 66 percent white, 16 percent Asian, 14 percent Latino and 2 percent black.

CD_SOCNSD_DRAFT is South Coast Orange County through Northern San Diego. It’s roughly the same as the current 49th District held by Democrat Mike Levin. But the new district would be elongated a few miles to the North into part of Laguna Beach and South into San Diego. Probably not much of a change in the electorate, although Laguna Beach tends to be more Democratic.

The demographics for this draft district are 68 percent white, 21 percent Latino, 7 percent Asian, and 3 percent black.

Levin won the 49th District with 53 percent in 2020 and 56 percent in 2018. If 2022 turns out to be an anti-Democratic year, he could be in trouble.

The district also includes Camp Pendleton. A friend of mine whose son is a U.S. Marine stationed down there says the leathernecks are none too happy with their current Commander-in-Chief and the “wokeness” being pushed on the military, which could be another headache for Levin.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

John Seiler
John Seiler is a veteran California opinion writer. He has written editorials for The Orange County Register for almost 30 years. He is a U.S. Army veteran and former press secretary to California State Sen. John Moorlach. He blogs at