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Citizen involvement improves outcome

Originally published in the Ventura County Star with Karl Lawson


Historically, the redrawing of political boundaries has been a process dominated by back-room political deals -- a far cry from open democracy at its best. Unfortunately, the process has often shut out the very communities whose fate is determined by the shape of the districts.


In 2001, we think it is possible to have democracy work better.


The Redistricting Task Force is a broad-based coalition drawn from many groups active in public affairs and individuals from nearly all the myriad cities and towns of Ventura County. We have representatives from every socioeconomic group in the county, from working-class Oxnard to middle-class Ventura and Camarillo to more affluent Ojai. They have come together for several reasons, the first being to open up the redistricting process and help make it possible for our communities to have direct input in their future.


Second, task force members have drawn together to stand for the integrity of our communities. The county has many small towns and distinct neighborhoods that do not want their voice partitioned by being divided between several elected officials.


We agree with the adopted guidelines that the county has set for itself in the redistricting process: Topographical and geographical boundaries should be followed wherever possible and that districts cut across as few jurisdictional, political and election boundaries as is practical. The current boundaries divide Thousand Oaks, cut Somis and the Las Posas Valley in half, and partition Oxnard much more than is necessary, all issues we would like to be addressed in the 2001 maps.


Third, we believe that a primary consideration when drawing district lines should be the "community of interest" standard, as established by federal, state, local and judicial law. Areas with strong demographic, economic, behavioral and cultural ties should be united into the same supervisorial district when that objective is mathematically, topographically and geographically possible.


For this reason, the task force seeks to eliminate anomalies present in the existing district configuration that seem to violate a community of interest. One example of such an anomaly is the association of 33,000 residents of Port Hueneme and south Oxnard in a district that is dominated by the eastern half of the city of Thousand Oaks.


The latter is not only geographically distant from the Port Hueneme/south Oxnard area, it is also very different from an economic and cultural standpoint.


Whether it enables hard-working families to have a political voice, allows coastal and agricultural communities to "stick together," or preserves the political and cultural distinctiveness of our respective neighborhoods, we maintain the importance of this "community of interest" standard.


Our approach is, instead of looking at merely the political interest of having a certain population represented by a certain supervisor, to ask one basic question: What do the people who live in a particular neighborhood want? What kind of district, culturally, geographically, and socioeconomically, do they want to live in?


This is redistricting that begins with what the neighborhood wants and needs, and brings that to the political realities of the county Government Center.


We praise the Ventura County Board of Supervisors for helping us set a new precedent of openness and community input in the research and constitution of new boundaries. In 2001, we will see democracy work better as we work together on a more neighborhood-based redistricting plan.


Das Williams is a teacher and Redistricting Task Force member, and Karl Lawson is co-chairman of the task force.

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