Messy meeting

Other supervisors call Yamaguchi’s redistricting plan ‘shady’

IN THE SUPE <br>Copies of Kim Yamaguchi’s last-second plan weren’t available to the press or public.

Copies of Kim Yamaguchi’s last-second plan weren’t available to the press or public.

Photo by Tom Angel

Made in the shade: Under Yamaguchi’s redistricting plan, District 1 would have 40,588 voters, District 2 40,495 voters, District 3 40,600 voters, District 4 40,545 voters and District 5 (which he represents) 40,943 voters.

Butte County Supervisor Kim Yamaguchi was raked over the proverbial coals by his colleagues at a meeting Tuesday, July 24.

The supervisors—Jane Dolan and Mary Ann Houx, in particular—were plainly infuriated by Yamaguchi’s last-minute plan to redistrict the supervisorial boundaries. But it wasn’t the redistricting, exactly, that had them so angry. It was, they said, the “shady, closed-door way” he went about it.

The board has been discussing redistricting for several months, and Yamaguchi heads up its subcommittee on the issue. Completion of the 2000 census mandates that the county’s five supervisorial districts be redrawn. Since spring, the committee has come up with four possible ways of splitting the districts, none of which would change the electorate dramatically.

The public-comment period for those four openly discussed, widely known plans ended at the supervisors’ last meeting, on July 10. By that time, the board had come to a loose consensus on one of the plans. But Yamaguchi presented his plan at his next opportunity—July 24—after that public-comment period was over. That meant that, while the supervisors were forced to accept it for information, the public would have no opportunity to comment on it.

That’s what infuriated Dolan, who peppered Yamaguchi with questions about what she called “backdoor deals” and “closed-door meetings.”

In explaining his plan, which he presumptuously called the “consensus plan” (a labeling that had Houx and Dolan fuming), he kept on referring to the “we” who’d organized the plan. He insisted that he’d taken all the input he’d received in earlier meetings and boiled them down into his own redistricting plan.

“We came up with this very openly. Everyone here had the chance to do what we’ve done here,” Yamaguchi said. “This is the most open procedure we’ve ever had in Butte County.”

But a quick look at the numbers behind Yamaguchi’s plan reveals why he’s probably so attached to it. It would remove almost 1,000 voters from the two districts that represent Chico (which generally vote more liberally) and give almost all of them to his Fifth District—a total of 881 extra votes. The plan would dilute Butte County’s two urban districts and place many urban voters into rural districts—thereby making ti harder for progressive candidates to be elected.

Houx openly rolled her eyes when he defended the plan. Clearly fed up, Dolan demanded clarification of the “we” Yamaguchi kept referring to.

“Who came up with this?” she asked. “Who’s this ‘we'? I don’t see a ‘we.’ I see a ‘you.’ I think the ‘we’ is a figment of your imagination.”

Yamaguchi finally admitted that, while he “had several meetings with staff” in organizing the plan, it was he who actually conceived it.

“I guess the ‘we’ is me,” he shrugged.

County Clerk Candace Grubbs, who is in charge of all elections in the county, said Yamaguchi’s plan was “seriously flawed” anyway and chided him for presenting the plan before she got a chance to see it.

“I’m an elected official in this county, too, and I have some integrity,” she said. “Don’t you dare try to say that I had anything to do with this plan, because I didn’t. … I’ve never even seen it before right now.”

The July 24 meeting was highly charged, and several times staff and supervisors were outright shouting at each other into their microphones.

At one point Grubbs, who’s characteristically quite reserved, practically shouted at Yamaguchi: “Kim, we were moving along in a very open process in developing alternative plans. And as soon as the [public comment period ended], you start playing around with everything we’ve done. … I can tell you, I’m pretty pissed right now.”

Beeler and Josiassen, who have regularly joined with Yamaguchi to form a majority in controversial votes in the past, remained almost silent through the whole discussion.

Houx, sitting next to Yamaguchi, fumed about Yamaguchi’s attempt to “shove this so-called consensus plan” under the public’s radar. While the plan didn’t detail out the specific boundaries down to streets, she wondered aloud if it “redistricted some of us right out of our own districts.”

“I wouldn’t put it past you, Mr. Yamaguchi,” she said. “ … I think this is pretty sneaky.”

Even while his colleagues criticized his plan and his process, Yamaguchi demanded that they take a vote on approving it—a move that the county’s lawyer told them would be illegal, since it wasn’t posted on the agenda as an action item. The board grudgingly agreed to accept the plan “for information only” and consider it with the other four plans it has been working on.

The board will again discuss all five plans at a meeting Aug. 14, when it plans to adopt one of them.

This isn’t the first time Yamaguchi (who’s a Republican) has rocked the supervisorial boat. Elected to replace the more moderate Fred Davis in November, he quickly made a name for himself as the kind of official who likes to make headlines, and who never shies away from an argument.

Most recently, he was criticzed for proposing to give exclusive trash hauling rights in unincorporated Butte County to two major trash companies—one of which donated $2,000 to his campaign. Critics also pointed out that that same company hired his campaign manager, David Reade, right after Yamaguchi made the proposal.