February 28, 2024
Scales that tip | Shredder | San Luis Obispo


When it comes to an independent redistricting commission in San Luis Obispo County, two members of the Board of Supervisors are patently against it.

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Do you see what I did there?

Let me spell it out for you: Those two conservative supervisors were also Patten-tly in favor of the Patten map—a district map proffered by Richard Patten of Arroyo Grande, championed by certain conservatives within the community (many of whom believed the local election was rigged in favor of Democrats, as Patten himself did), and adopted by a then conservative majority on the Board of Supervisors in 2021. It favored Republicans in three of the county’s five supervisorial districts, awarding conservatives more of an advantage than it should given the voter distribution in the county.

A group of SLO County residents banded together and sued the county over the map, alleging gerrymandering and the adoption of an illegal supervisorial district map. The League of Women Voters of SLO County also joined in the fun!

The Patten map didn’t actually do what it was supposed to, liberals gained a majority on the board in the 2022 election cycle and promptly settled the lawsuit, kicked out the map, and adopted a new map very similar to the pre-Patten map. How much do we think that whole situation cost the county?

I have no idea, but someone should ask!

Since the Patten map made its first controversial appearance, residents have kicked around the idea of setting up an independent redistricting commission. It came up during 2021’s redistricting hearings with support from then minority liberals 2nd District Supervisor Bruce “I’m Always Right, But On The Left” Gibson and 3rd District Dawn “I’m More Of A Moderate” Ortiz-Legg.

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It gained absolutely no traction among the Republicans who reigned supreme but now reign no more. That didn’t stop 1st District Supervisor John “I’m Fiscally Conservative Unless It’s My Pet Project” Peschong and 5th District Supervisor Debbie “Down On Her Luck” Arnold from continuing their anti-commission arguments during a recent special meeting about creating an independent body to decide on the next map in 2031.

Cost was Peschong’s hill to die on. Redistricting in 2030 could cost between $750,000 and $1 million.

“In 2030 dollars, it’ll get around to $4 million to $5 million to get this done,” he said.

The math, amirite? Gibson cut the Peschonginator off mid-soap box to stand on one of his own.

“To argue against this on the matter of cost is consistent with Supervisor Peschong’s long-held assertion that somehow the original map adopted by the majority of this board met the Fair Maps Act. I think there’s probably only two people in this room who think that was in fact a fair map. In fact, the litigation that was filed on it made that abundantly clear,” he responded.

Duh. It’s Peschong and the Arnold-a-saurus. She’s been voting in this county since she was 18 years old, she explained, and is 68 now. Apparently, nothing’s changed in 50 years. After going back and watching redistricting discussions in 2011, she decided it was all good for her to support the Patten map in 2021.

The county was sued back then, too. It was a little different. Templeton didn’t want to get broken up between districts and sued on the basis that the new map split up a like-minded community—maintaining intact communities within districts is one of the goals of the redistricting process.

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But Arnold argued that it was essentially the same decision in 2021.

“It was a 3-2 vote again. … The map didn’t go the way the community of Templeton wanted,” she said. “I only bring that out because I’ve had two colleagues on the dais this evening accuse me, and I suppose you too, Supervisor Peschong, of an abuse of power, when we were doing our job and it was 3-2 the other way. This time, we were hearing more from county constituents in the city of San Luis Obispo concerned in the way lines were drawn.”

Oh. Is that what happened? Seemed to be a little more complicated than just unhappy residents in the city of San Luis Obispo. I doubt the League of Women Voters would have hopped into a lawsuit against the county if it was as simple as Arnold made it out to be.

Always the victim, aren’t you, Debbie?

What’s it take for the county not to get sued after redistricting, which also costs money?

Maybe it’s a redistricting commission that’s independent—made up of Jane and John Q. Citizen rather than elected and party officials who are easy scapegoats (either for good reason or not).

If you really think about it, an independent commission makes the most sense when it comes to redrawing district boundaries that could potentially favor one party over another, one community over another, one segment of the population over others. A partisan body with built-in biases to disregard the other party’s needs, wants, and desires makes the least sense.

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What makes even less sense is doing the same thing again and expecting a different result, just because that’s how it’s always been done.

So in the name of progress, SLO County is headed in an independent redistricting commission direction thanks to the liberal majority on the Board of Supervisors. Maybe unhappy Repubs can claim abuse of power? Δ

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