When you hear redistricting, you typically think of the once-every-decade process where congressional seats are reallocated to states based on population count in the decennial US Census and district lines are redrawn. Currently in California, this process is taking a different form as local communities are reconfiguring their governments. They are transitioning from a format where a group of officials are elected by all voters at-large to one where council members are elected by and represent individual districts.
Several million California residents will see changes to how they are represented in local government. Already, 195 total elected bodies (that includes city councils, county supervisors, school districts, community college districts, and more) have shifted to district representation, according to National Demographics Corp., a consulting firm that helps cities navigate redistricting processes. And others are moving through the steps to adopt districts too.
In this blog, we will explore the large group of cities adopting new districts, with many phasing in the changes over even-year elections in 2018, 2020, and 2022. This is part of our work on the Cicero team at Azavea, where we track elected officials, legislative districts, and contact and social media information for over 900 elected bodies around the world. We maintain extensive local data in California and elsewhere in the United States and Canada, so we have been keeping close tabs on these changes in California and adding them as they are implemented.
Viewing new districts
This story map shows a number of cities implementing new districts over the course of the 2018, 2020, and 2022 elections. Several additional cities not included here have only recently adopted plans or are in the process of doing so. Additionally smaller cities and elected bodies not included in this map also have adopted district-based representation or are in the process of doing so. This graphic was created using MapBox’s new Storytelling Template.
How did this all come about?
California’s shift to local districts dates back to a state law called the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 (CVRA). Based on the landmark 1965 United States Voting Rights Act (VRA) that prohibited racial discrimination in voting, the California law lowered the bar for proving racial discrimination in voting in places with historically low minority representation in government.
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It has since become common for minority groups to sue localities with at-large city councils, on the grounds that this structure in California causes the majority constituency to dominate the government and minorities to be underrepresented. These lawsuits, a mechanism created by the state law, force cities to change to district representation.
While the US Voting Rights Act sought to block the backlash from reconstruction and protect African American voters, the CVRA was largely driven by Latino constituencies. The Latino population constituted 32.4 percent of California’s population in 2000 and 38.2 percent in 2012, but this community was often underrepresented in local elected government.
Suing local cities
Since the CVRA became law in 2001, lawsuits forcing cities to implement local districts have followed. Organizations, like the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), and individuals alike have brought forth successful challenges. One attorney, Kevin Shenkman, has led over 50 challenges, taking advantage of a provision in the CVRA that municipalities must pay the plaintiff’s attorneys legal fees in the event of a successful suit.
Critics of the CVRA argue that the law makes race a predominant factor in elections and that it doesn’t make sense to create districts if a minority cannot occupy and establish a majority in a specific geographic area. The most prominent legal challenge to the CVRA is based on districting in Poway in San Diego County, CA. In this case, the plaintiff argues that the law forces ethnic gerrymandering on unwilling citizens. It is currently in a Federal Appeals court and could end up in the US Supreme Court.
Status of cities
Many large cities in California like Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco, Fresno, Sacramento, Long Beach, Oakland, and Bakersfield already used district representation in local government. Several cities in the next tier are currently affected by this reconfiguration. The table below is a summary of changes being made to cities in California with a population over 100,000, which are tracked in Cicero.
|Los Angeles, CA||3,976,322||Already Districted|
|San Diego, CA||1,394,928||Already Districted|
|San Jose, CA||1,026,908||Already Districted|
|San Francisco, CA||864,816||Already Districted|
|Fresno, CA||520,052||Already Districted|
|Sacramento, CA||490,712||Already Districted|
|Long Beach, CA||474,140||Already Districted|
|Oakland, CA||419,267||Already Districted|
|Bakersfield, CA||373,640||Already Districted|
|Anaheim, CA||350,742||Adopted 6 districts, 4 in 2016, 2 in 2018|
|Santa Ana, CA||335,400||Already Districted|
|Riverside, CA||322,424||Already Districted|
|Stockton, CA||305,658||Already Districted|
|Chula Vista, CA||265,757||Adopted 4 districts, 2 in 2016, 2 in 2018|
|Irvine, CA||256,927||No planned changes publicized|
|Fremont, CA||232,206||Adopted 6 districts, 4 in 2018, 2 in 2020|
|Richmond, CA||220,289||In progress, plan to be adopted soon, targeted 2020|
|San Bernardino, CA||216,108||Already Districted|
|Modesto, CA||211,266||Already Districted|
|Fontana, CA||207,460||Adopted 4 districts, 2 in 2018, 2 in 2020|
|Oxnard, CA||207,254||Adopted 6 districts, 3 in 2018, 3 in 2020|
|Moreno Valley, CA||204,198||Already Districted|
|Huntington Beach, CA||201,899||No planned changes publicized|
|Glendale, CA||201,020||No planned changes publicized|
|Santa Clarita, CA||182,371||No planned changes publicized|
|Oceanside, CA||175,691||Adopted 4 districts, 2 in 2018, 2 in 2020|
|Garden Grove, CA||175,393||Already Districted|
|Rancho Cucamonga, CA||175,236||Adopted 4 districts, 2 in 2018, 2 in 2020|
|Santa Rosa, CA||174,972||Adopted 7 districts, 3 in 2018, 4 in 2020|
|Ontario, CA||171,214||No planned changes publicized|
|Elk Grove, CA||166,913||Already Districted|
|Corona, CA||164,226||Adopted 5 districts, 3 in 2018, 2 in 2020|
|Lancaster, CA||161,103||No planned changes publicized|
|Palmdale, CA||158,351||Already Districted|
|Hayward, CA||158,289||No planned changes publicized|
|Salinas, CA||157,380||Already Districted|
|Pasadena, CA||153,784||Already Districted|
|Sunnyvale, CA||151,754||In progress, referendum to be held March 2020|
|Escondido, CA||151,451||Already Districted|
|Torrance, CA||148,475||Adopted 6 districts, 3 in 2020, 3 in 2022|
|Orange, CA||140,992||Adopted 6 districts and 1 at large mayor, 6 districts and mayor in 2020|
|Fullerton, CA||140,847||Adopted 5 districts, 2 in 2018, 3 in 2020|
|Roseville, CA||130,269||In progress, plan to be adopted soon, targeted 2020|
|Visalia, CA||130,104||Already Districted|
|Thousand Oaks, CA||129,339||No planned changes publicized|
|Concord, CA||128,667||Adopted 5 districts, 5 in 2018|
|Simi Valley, CA||126,878||Adopted 4 districts, 2 in 2020, 2 in 2022|
|Santa Clara, CA||126,215||Adopted 6 districts|
|Victorville, CA||122,225||2018 referendum failed, no planned changes publicized|
|Vallejo, CA||121,253||Adopted 6 districts, 3 in 2020, 3 in 2022|
|Berkeley, CA||120,972||Already Districted|
|El Monte, CA||116,732||No planned changes publicized|
|Downey, CA||114,219||Already Districted|
|Carlsbad, CA||113,453||Adopted 4 districts, 2 in 2018, 2 in 2020|
|Costa Mesa, CA||113,204||Adopted 6 districts, 3 in 2018, 3 in 2020|
|Fairfield, CA||112,970||Process started, no plan and implementation timeline adopted yet|
|Temecula, CA||112,011||Adopted 5 districts|
|Inglewood, CA||111,666||Already Districted|
|Antioch, CA||110,542||Adopted 4 districts, 4 in 2020|
|Murrieta, CA||109,830||Adopted 5 districts, 3 in 2018, 2 in 2020|
|Ventura, CA||109,708||Adopted 7 districts, 4 in 2018, 3 in 2020|
|West Covina, CA||108,484||Adopted 5 districts, 2018, 2020|
|Pomona, CA||107,762||Already Districted|
|Norwalk, CA||107,140||No planned changes publicized|
|Daly City, CA||106,562||No planned changes publicized|
|Burbank, CA||105,319||No planned changes publicized|
|Santa Maria, CA||105,093||Adopted 4 districts, 2 in 2018, 2 in 2020|
|Clovis, CA||104,180||No planned changes publicized|
|El Cajon, CA||103,679||Adopted 4 districts, 1 in 2018, 3 in 2020|
|San Mateo, CA||103,536||Already Districted|
|Rialto, CA||103,132||No planned changes publicized|
|Vista, CA||100,890||Adopted 4 districts, 2 in 2018, 2 in 2020|
|Jurupa Valley, CA||100,314||Adopted 5 districts, 3 in 2018, 2 in 2020|
|Menlo Park, CA||32,026||Adopted 5 districts, 3 in 2018, 2 in 2020|
California is not the only place where local governments change the alignment of districts. Lafayette, LA replaced a nine-person City-Parish Council with a five-person city council and a five-person parish council last year. Arvada, CO and Aurora, CO also scrapped at-large representation for district representation in 2019. Finally Lowell, MA voted in a 2019 referendum to adopt a hybrid at-large and eight-district City Council in 2021.
This is an ongoing issue. Other cities are considering moving to district representation either on their own initiative or in direct response to legal challenges. The Cicero team will be tracking these changes and updating the database as changes go into effect. You can preview future district representation using the districts feature of our Cicero Live Tool.