Fresno County supervisors began debate Tuesday over how their legislative districts should be redrawn, making clear a protracted battle may be in store as they try to figure out who will represent Clovis, southwest Fresno and other parts of the county.
The Board of Supervisors agreed to narrow the options recently presented to them by a redistricting task force to four, all of which prescribe relatively minor changes to the five districts. But at least one supervisor said he doesn't want any of these proposals to work out.
Supervisor Henry Perea, who thinks voter interest isn't maximized in the final plans, particularly in south Fresno, expects to introduce a fifth option for configuring the new supervisor districts.
To get his option into play, Perea will need one other supervisor to block the existing proposals – since each requires a four-fifths vote to approve.
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"I think the [existing] proposals are a good first start," he said. "But I don't think they best serve the communities of interest."
Perea's forthcoming proposal, he said, will call for expanding his diverse central Fresno district mostly to the south, where the minority population is greater. It would include the community of Malaga.
The existing proposals have his district pushing north from its current boundary of Shields Avenue, which Perea and others fear could dilute the voice of the area's ethnic groups.
"North and northwest Fresno votes for candidates that don't necessarily reflect our interests," said Venancio Gaona, chairman of El Concilio de Fresno, which advocates for minorities. "Supervisor Perea's district should move southward. It would give a fairer voice to the Latino community."
The redistricting exercise, which comes once a decade, is aimed at balancing the populations of each of the supervisor districts. But with tens of thousands of votes at stake, it also has the potential of getting political.
Supervisor Judy Case said Tuesday she was reluctant to consider any more than the four proposals now on the table, fearing supervisors might try to stack their districts with supporters.
"I don't want to see this turn into a highly charged, political-gerrymandering effort," Case said. "I think today we have to narrow [the options] down, not broaden it out."
The board has until Aug. 30 to select a final configuration. The new districts will take effect for next year's elections.
Supervisor Susan Anderson, whose mother died last week, was not present at Tuesday's meeting. Her vote would be needed by the other three supervisors to advance any of the existing options or by Perea to block them.
Anderson has said that she wants to make sure her north Fresno district continues to include a portion of Clovis. She also doesn't want to see her district lose existing constituents.
Both her district and Perea's district need to add residents in light of population shifts over the past decade.
Supervisor Phil Larson's district, which extends across western Fresno County, and Supervisor Debbie Poochigian's district, which heads east, need to lose voters.
Case's district, which includes the southwest part of the county, is very close to the target population of 186,090 residents.
The board is scheduled to revisit the issue Aug. 9.