What were the criteria?

Supervisors never explained their decision on county redistricting

The author has taught in Chico State’s Department of Communication Studies for 27 years. He is also involved with the Butte County Health Care Coalition and the Three Rivers Red Cross chapter. He lives in Chico.

The county Board of Supervisors still has not meaningfully defined the criteria used in evaluating the redistricting options from which Option 4 was selected. We know only that three of the five supervisors are convinced that Option 4 better met redistricting needs than did the others. However, because we were kept in the dark about the decision-making criteria and how they were used in evaluating these options, we have no understanding of the selection process.

What we do have is assurance by the board and by County Clerk Candace Grubbs that certain criteria were accepted by the board in evaluating proposed redistricting options. Those criteria were: to create population equality; ensure congruity; respect geography and topography; and foster integrity, continuity and preservation of communities of interest. Some of these criteria are straightforward: near equality in population sizes, contiguity, boundaries demarked by clean borders and the preference for including in each district both urban and rural constituencies. Whether these criteria are appropriate for selecting redistricting configurations is perhaps debatable, but at least they lend themselves to clear understanding and interpretation.

Several other criteria, however, are less clear: integrity, continuity, and preservation of communities of interest. Without defining these criteria it is impossible to know whether and to what extent they figured into the decision-making process. Accordingly, Chicoans have no basis for ascribing merit to the manner in which Option 4 was deemed to be superior to other options. Basically, the supervisors are telling us to “trust them” and that any further “whining” is counterproductive.

When such statements are submitted in lieu of an intelligently laid-out argument, one can be sure that the decision-makers are simply incapable of defensible decision-making and that their disrespect for the citizenry empowers them—from their perspective—to forgo discussion with the electorate.

Even though the board has now decided on a redistricting plan, it is still not too late to insist that the supervisors do now what they should have done before: namely, specify and explain the criteria justifying the selection of Option 4. This information will be useful when revising district boundaries in the future and will also serve as a record of the decision-making resulting in our new district boundaries.

To the extent that rationale is not forthcoming or found lacking, we can reflect on that when voting for our future slate of county supervisors.