Communities and the California Commission.

AuthorStephanopoulos, Nicholas O.
PositionIII. Results B. Selected Vignettes 2. Potential shortfalls through Conclusion, with footnotes, p. 308-334
  1. Potential shortfalls

However, not all of the Commission's district-drawing choices were as successful as the above three examples. In several areas across the state, the new districts remain at least as spatially diverse as their antecedents. This is why the new plans' spatial diversity averages are only somewhat lower, and why a substantial number of outlier districts still exist. As I discuss below, California's underlying political geography sometimes made it almost impossible for the Commission to craft districts that correspond closely to communities. But sometimes the shortfalls seem to have been squarely its own responsibility.

San Francisco's East Bay nicely demonstrates why spatially homogeneous districts cannot always be drawn. (113) As Figure 13 illustrates, the region features an unusual alternating pattern of very affluent and very disadvantaged areas. To the north of struggling Oakland lie the wealthy towns of Berkeley, Kensington, and Piedmont, and to the north of them are the poor cities of Richmond and San Pablo. Further north and further south are largely middle-class locales, while the interior is again highly prosperous.

The consequence of this pattern is that any district that includes most of the East Bay likely will be very spatially diverse, at least in terms of socioeconomic status. Any East Bay district likely will need to combine Oakland with Berkeley, Richmond with Kensington, San Pablo with Piedmont. That old Senate District 9 had the third-highest spatial diversity in the state (1.00) therefore should not be construed as a significant strike against it. (114) Similarly, the Commission bears little blame for the very high spatial diversity of new Senate District 9 (0.99). (115) There simply was no reasonable way for the Commission to draw much more spatially homogeneous senate districts in this region. (116) Even if the Commission had split the East Bay in two, as it did for its assembly plan (for districts half as large), the results would not have been any better. New Assembly District 18, which stretches south from Oakland, still ranks fifth in the state in spatial diversity (0.90), while new Assembly District 15, which joins Berkeley and Richmond, still ranks second (1.00). (117)


On the other hand, the Commission clearly could have drawn districts that are more congruent with geographic communities in other parts of California. For example, as Figure 14 illustrates, the concentrated African-American community in South Los Angeles was divided between three districts in the old congressional plan. Old Districts 33, 35, and 37 were each between 24 percent and 31 percent black, and ranked first, second, and fifth in the state in spatial diversity with respect to African-American population (1.65, 1.54, and 1.17, respectively). (118) In the new plan, the situation remains exactly the same. The South L.A. African-American community again is split between three districts (none more than 25 percent black), and new Districts 37, 43, and 44 now rank first, second, and third in African-American spatial diversity (1.73, 1.59, and 1.27, respectively). (119)

But the Commission easily could have avoided this outcome. Instead of fragmenting the African-American community, it could have united it in a single district extending from View Park-Windsor Hills in the northwest, through Inglewood and Compton, to Carson in the southeast. (120) Unlike the East Bay, South L.A. presents no geographic complexities that prevent spatially homogeneous districts from being drawn. If anything, it is unusually easy to craft such districts thanks to the pronounced clustering of the area's African-American population. To be sure, the Commission had reasons for its choices: Consistent with the views of African-American interest groups, it wished to preserve all three congressional districts that are currently represented by African-American politicians. (121) But the California Constitution does not permit geographic communities to be divided simply because some of their members consider division to be politically beneficial. And the Commission is explicitly barred from taking into account "relationships with ... incumbents" in its community-of-interest analysis. (122) Accordingly, the Commission probably ought to have replaced old Districts 33, 35, and 37 with a single, much more spatially homogeneous district encompassing most of the South L.A. African-American population. (123)


A final example of the Commission's suboptimal district-drawing comes from Central Los Angeles. As Figure 15 illustrates, old Assembly District 48 was quite spatially diverse both overall (0.88) and in terms of urban/suburban location (0.88). (124) It combined densely populated areas such as East Hollywood and Koreatown with neighborhoods such as Athens, Vermont Square, and Westmont that contain mostly single-unit residences. New Assembly District 53 is just as geographically heterogeneous. It joins East Hollywood and Koreatown with heavily inhabited Downtown, Pico-Union, and Westlake, but then proceeds southeast into neighborhoods such as Boyle Heights and Huntington Park that again are characterized by single-unit homes, it slightly exceeds old Assembly District 48 in both overall (0.89) and urban/suburban (1.01) spatial diversity. (125)

What makes this story more interesting--and the lack of improvement between districts more surprising--is that in its draft plan, released in June 2011, the Commission did manage to draw a spatially homogeneous district in this region. (126) Draft Assembly District LADNT retained Downtown, East Hollywood, Koreatown, Pico-Union, and Westlake, but also incorporated dense urban areas such as Hollywood, Larchmont and Mid-Wilshire. Its overall spatial diversity (0.83) was thus somewhat lower than old District 48's or new District 53's, and its urban/suburban heterogeneity (0.59) was much lower. (127)

Why did the Commission redraw a perfectly fine provisional district? The district's own racial composition is not the answer, as each of its variants (old, draft, and new) had a Hispanic majority. A more likely explanation is that, in response to criticism of its draft assembly plan, the Commission sought to increase the number of Hispanic-majority districts elsewhere in Los Angeles. It succeeded in doing so----these districts jumped in number between the draft and final plans (128)--but one of the apparent side effects was an increase in the overall level of spatial diversity. Notably, the draft assembly plan was the only one of the three provisional maps to be more spatially homogeneous, on average, than the final set of districts. Draft District LADNT thus seems to have been a casualty of the Commission's effort to ensure greater representation in the Assembly for California's Hispanics. Here, at least, district-community congruence was in tension with another important redistricting goal.



In recent years, the idea that California might represent America's future has been associated more with Cassandra than with Pollyanna. In the context of redistricting, however, the prospect that America could eventually come to resemble California is cause for optimism, not gloom. As other scholars have found, the new California districts--drawn by an independent commission rather than a self-interested legislature--are more compact, competitive, politically fair, and conducive to minority representation than their predecessors. (129) And as this Article has demonstrated, the new districts also are more congruent with geographic communities of interest than the districts they replaced. These gains are not overwhelming in magnitude, but they are quite real, and there is every reason to think that they could be realized in other states as well--if they too abandoned legislative redistricting in favor of California's new model. Of course, commission-crafted districts do not guarantee the optimization of every criterion; one of this Article's findings is that California's level of district-community congruence easily could have been higher still. But the evidence that commissioners draw better districts than politicians, by just about every objective standard, is becoming harder and harder to ignore.

In addition to evaluating California's new redistricting regime, this Article has sought to introduce, and to employ, a methodology for determining how closely districts correspond to geographic communities. This sort of analysis has not previously been conducted; instead, scholars have settled for relatively poor proxies for communities such as political subdivisions. But since almost half the states require their districts to coincide with communities, (130) and since the country is currently in the throes of a redistricting cycle, the need for better measures of district-community congruence is clear. So it is my hope that the idea of appraising districts based on the heterogeneity of their constituent census tracts will be applied soon to states beyond California. The concept of spatial diversity has implications for almost every district plan, and it warrants a place in the redistricting toolkit.


Table 1: Results of American Community Survey Factor Analysis Factor 1 Factor 2 Factor 3 Factor 4 SES Status Urban 1 Asian- Exurban Hispanic Suburban American Sprawl Variance Explained 26.4% 13.4% 9.9% 5.7% Income Household Income -0.66 $150K % Median Household 0.66 0.60 Income Under Poverty -0.57 -0.56 Level Unemployment % -0.47 Education Grad. Degree % 0.84 > HS Grad. % 0.89 > Bach. Degree % 0.92 Occupation /Industry Occupation-- 0.93 Management % Occupation-- -0.58 -0.40 Service % Occupation- Sales % Occupation-- -0.69 Construction Occupation-- -0.80 Production Industry-- Agriculture % Industry-- -0.47 Construction--% Industry-- Manufacturing % Industry-- Wholesale Trade % Industry-- Retail Trade % Industry-- Transportation %...

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