This week, the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted to change its boundaries by dramatically redistricting the five supervisorial districts. This process is required every ten years, after receiving the United States decennial census results, but rarely has it been so intriguing. All five supervisors should have voted for the final redistricting map, but it was a split vote.
Having enjoyed this exercise ten years ago when I served as a county supervisor, I can tell you that the customary strategy usually follows three overarching dictates.
- The five districts should be roughly evenly populated.
- It is preferred that the smaller of the county’s 34 cities stay intact. A couple of the larger cities, like Anaheim and Irvine, are difficult to contain in one supervisorial district. But it has worked well to have just one supervisor representing a city, versus two or more.
- Keeping communities of interest intact satisfies the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits racial discrimination.
Immigrants to this country tended to live in communities of those with similar backgrounds. For example, Norwegians tended to move to Minnesota. In our area, Boyle Heights once had a large Jewish community. In Orange County, as an immigrant from the Netherlands, I lived in what was once known as Dairyland, where Dutch and Portuguese immigrants owned large swaths of what are now the cities of Cypress and La Palma for their milking cows. When these cities were incorporated, there were probably more cows than people.
We see similar trends today with Little Saigon in Westminster and adjacent areas. Eventually, the second and third generations move on and assimilate with the rest of society. But, while we still have pockets of similar ethnicities, they should be recognized as communities of interest and not bifurcated.
Ten years ago, my colleagues expanded the Vietnamese community of interest by moving the upper half of the city of Fountain Valley from my Second District into the First District. To balance things out, the bottom half of Buena Park was moved into the Second. To explain the intrigue, because it split two of my cities, I was the only vote in opposition to the 2011 redistricting map.
The overall process resulted in minor changes to the districts compared to the 2021 approved redistricting map. This cycle, the supervisors dropped a bombshell on the table in the closing week with two proposed maps containing very dramatic adjustments. Purportedly, the new Second District favors the Latino community of interest with the suggested changes.
This cycle’s story comes with two interesting plots. The first new twist in the proposals was to change the numbers for two of the districts. The First District was changed to be identified as the Second District. And the Second District was changed to the First District.
Discussing this with other Orange County historians, we could not recall that this had ever been done before. But we also realized that the decennial maps from the county’s founding in 1889 to today are not readily available.
Along with the switch, the second huge twist found one of the two final maps up for a vote proposing to include Costa Mesa in the new First District, which was Second District last week. This would mean that the current Second District Supervisor, Katrina Foley, would be in Supervisor Do’s newly constituted First District. She could not rerun for reelection until 2024, when Do is termed out. This would have squeezed her out of her office for two years and probably permanently. I don’t believe a manipulation like this has ever been proposed in the county’s 132-year history. Fortunately, Foley dodged this bullet as the approved second map put Costa Mesa in the Fifth District.
Costa Mesa was in the “Fabulous Fifth” in the 1991 redistricting map, with the 2001 redistricting map moving it into the Second District. Consequently, Costa Mesa is back in the Fifth District. But this twist puts Foley into a new district. I believe this maneuver is also unprecedented.
Supervisor Foley now has two options. The obvious one is to run for reelection in the new Fifth District where she resides. The more difficult one is for her to leave her home base and move into the new Second District and rerun there.
Disrupting Foley’s political life maybe be considered very creative, if that was the goal. And there is evidence that would lead one to speculate this may be the case, as two of the supervisors preferred the more radical of the two proposed maps.
With this intrigue, one should ask why was this done to a sitting supervisor? I believe the motives were not necessarily political. I would speculate they may have been personal.
Supervisor Foley is not the easiest elected official to work with, and her colleagues, on what is usually a historically collegial board, may have sent her a message.
As a resident of Orange County for more than six decades, I don’t recall when redistricting came at a personal cost to a sitting supervisor. If possibly squeezing Foley out through the redistricting process was the intended goal, then it was a brilliant strategy. But it’s not the customary or appropriate method of dealing with a difficult colleague.
Let’s hope the message is not lost on Foley and she modifies her management style.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.