Local Redistricting is Transforming California Cities

Local Redistricting is Transforming California Cities

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.

City Pop. Status
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.