Judge backs Grubbs, rules against Plan 5

The long battle over county redistricting appears to be over—and for good.

In a setback to the three-member majority on the county Board of Supervisors, Superior Court Judge Roger Gilbert ruled Thursday, Dec. 6, that current county supervisorial boundaries would remain in effect at least through the March 5 election. To change them now, less than 12 weeks before the election, would dramatically compromise the integrity of the election, he argued.

“Clearly, the public interest here is to maintain the integrity of the election,” Gilbert said, delivering his verdict. “I don’t believe that we can use the new boundaries established by [Plan 5] without compromising that.”

Attorney Charles Bell, who represented the supervisors, confirmed Tuesday that the board decided in closed session not to appeal Gilbert’s verdict. That means that the redistricting fight—all four months of it—is over for now.

The suit was a petition from the three-member majority of the county Board of Supervisors seeking to force Clerk Candace Grubbs to shift the supervisorial boundaries to reflect the changes made in redistricting Plan 5, which the three supervisors voted to approve in August. Trouble is, the two Chico-area supervisors, Mary Anne Houx and Jane Dolan (both of whom voted against Plan 5 and also are up for re-election in March), subsequently launched a successful referendum campaign on the plan. The referendum vote was scheduled to be on the March 5 ballot—the same ballot that will elect two new supervisors.

Freshman Supervisor Kim Yamaguchi, of Paradise, wanted Grubbs to hold the election based on his Plan 5 redistricting lines, despite the referendum. He, along with Supervisors Bob Beeler (Oroville) and Curt Josiassen (Gridley), claimed that the current districts, formed in 1991, are now unequal in terms of population and therefore illegal and that they vary from statewide redistricting laws.

Grubbs refused, insisting that the referendum effectively stayed Plan 5 until the voters could have their say on it.

That’s when the majority threesome hired lawyer Charles Bell of Sacramento and filed suit.

Thursday, Judge Gilbert agreed with Grubbs’ attorney, Frederic Woocher, who argued that the populations of Districts 2 and 3, represented by Dolan and Houx, are only 7.5 percent out of balance with the rest of the county. That’s "well within" the guidelines set by state courts, Gilbert said.