Sacramento redistricting map scrap

Heated revelations, backroom maneuvering, tears—city council members ramp up political drama over future of district boundaries

City council politics broke into plain view last week—and in dramatic ways—over various proposals for city redistricting. Left to right: Council members Sandy Sheedy, Steve Cohn, Kevin McCarty and Mayor Kevin Johnson all had something to say.

City council politics broke into plain view last week—and in dramatic ways—over various proposals for city redistricting. Left to right: Council members Sandy Sheedy, Steve Cohn, Kevin McCarty and Mayor Kevin Johnson all had something to say.

Not so long ago, the effort to redraw the political boundaries of Sacramento’s City Council districts had gone along quietly and civilly. The politics were there, but mostly hinted at and mostly below the surface.

But last week the politics broke into plain view—and in ways more dramatic than anyone expected. City Councilwoman Sandy Sheedy lashed out at a member of the Sacramento Redistricting Citizens Advisory Committee, accusing him of unethical behavior. Mayor Kevin Johnson accused his council colleagues of “undermining” the redistricting process. And Councilman Steve Cohn got a little choked up.

Now, the city council seems close to making a deal on a redistricting map—one that would protect incumbents’ seats—while setting aside the maps that were presented by the citizen group. And that’s got some members of the citizen committee feeling like their work was wasted.

To be sure, the council’s plans would likely be accomplishing many of the goals set forth by community groups and by the committee.

For example, it appears likely that downtown and Midtown will finally be united in one council district, a win for downtown businesses, gay and lesbian groups, and central city neighborhood associations.

But when the city council met on July 26—ostensibly to take a closer look at four proposed maps that had been forwarded by the citizen committee maps—the council sent the message that they, not the citizen groups, were in charge of redistricting.

Sheedy revealed that she was quite upset that one of the four advisory committee maps had originally been submitted by an anonymous author.

Dozens of maps were submitted by citizen groups, neighborhood associations and individuals. Little attention was paid to the fact that Plan D, as the map is called, had advanced through the process without a name on it.

It turns out that Plan D would make big changes to the boundaries of Sheedy’s District 2 in north Sacramento—pushing her district farther west in the Northgate and South Natomas neighborhoods, in order to concentrate Latino voters. At the same time, from Sheedy’s perspective, the map unfairly divided up the Del Paso Heights and Robla communities, both in her district now.

Sheedy confronted city planner Scott Mende during the public meeting, and Mende was then forced to reveal that the author was Steve Hansen, one of the most vocal and active members of the advisory committee. This apparently was something that even Hansen’s fellow committee members had not known. Sheedy lashed out, saying that Hansen and Mende’s actions had “tainted the whole process.”

Sheedy’s own appointee to the citizen committee, Bill Camp, said—almost shouting—that he felt the whole process had been “poisoned” and was a “scam.”

Hansen and Camp—who is secretary of the Central Labor Council and a strong political ally of Sheedy’s—had butted heads during some of the earlier committee meetings. Camp is a powerful player at City Hall. Hansen, who was appointed to the committee by Councilman Jay Schenirer, is ambitious, too, and folks around him think he wants run for council in the central city one day.

It’s still not entirely clear why Hansen kept his name off the map; he explained that he “wanted it judged on its own merits.” And it’s true the final version of the map had been amended by the committee and ultimately was not just Hansen’s work. He says he’s unsure now if he should have put his name on the map. But he also thinks that Sheedy and Camp are over-reacting and that all the drama was really an attempt by Sheedy to discredit the committee’s work and “commandeer” the process.

“I think this was really about someone who is tremendously scared that her district will change,” Hansen told SN&R.

Some of Hansen’s critics also point out he was appointed by Schenirer, seen as an ally of Mayor Kevin Johnson on the council. That may make Sheedy extra suspicious of Hansen’s motives in messing with her district.

It turns out that Sheedy does have a map of her own, which leaves her district largely as is, and that she asked staff to evaluate it for the council’s next redistricting meeting this Tuesday, August 9.

And, it turns out, Sheedy’s map is somewhat similar to one that Camp favored but failed to win support for from the advisory committee.

What’s more, those maps share striking similarities to a proposed map advanced that evening by Councilman Steve Cohn.

In fact, the three maps are so alike that blogger and Democratic Party activist Devin Lavelle quipped on his blog, “Meet the new maps, same as an old map,” suggesting that Cohn and Sheedy’s maps share similar origins.

Cohn insisted this was not the case. “This is not Bill Camp’s map,” he told SN&R. “You can choose to believe me or not, but I never looked at those other maps.”

Councilman Steve Cohn’s map wouldn’t endanger his colleagues—but he would have to give up his Midtown stronghold.

The most striking thing about Cohn’s map—and Sheedy’s map, too, for that matter—is that Cohn is willing to give up Midtown and the central city. He’s represented most of these areas for years, but under the new map, they’d become part of District 4, along with Land Park, now represented by Councilman Rob Fong.

Cohn even appeared to get a little choked up on the dais when he talked about how hard it would be for him to let his old district go.

“I did. It’s very difficult for me, I don’t want to give up Midtown,” he told SN&R.

In return, Cohn would represent a butterfly-shaped district that more or less follows the river and includes the downtown rail yards, along with East Sacramento and South Natomas. The rail yards make the trade a little more appealing to Cohn, who’s been immersed in rail issues for years.

“I think I could be willing to give a more singular focus to the rail yards and the intermodal station there,” he said.

Cohn says that while he drew a lot of good ideas from the advisory committee, he thinks his plan makes whole some neighborhoods that were unnecessarily divided in the plans recommended by the citizens.

“To be honest, I don’t think they know our districts as well as we do,” he added.

Some committee members are pretty frustrated by Hansen’s actions. But some of the committee members have told SN&R that they’ll be disappointed if the city council doesn’t use one of their maps as the basis for the final map. Cohn says he thinks that’s “over-reacting.”

“We never said we’d adopt their maps,” he added.

The idea to form a citizens’ committee to make redistricting recommendations to the council was initiated by Councilman Kevin McCarty and Mayor Kevin Johnson. McCarty, who also helped Cohn draw his map, said that the committee is meant to be an “advisory” body only.

“As the council member who pushed this idea forward,” McCarty said, “I think it’s been very helpful. And I think it’s also appropriate for council members to present their own maps, which present a sort of ‘greatest hits’ of the ideas from the advisory committee.”

He added that all four citizen maps will be looked at in greater detail on this coming Tuesday, along with the two council members’ maps.

Both Cohn and Sheedy say their maps look out for the interests of neighborhoods. But the maps also look out for their own interests. Two of the maps submitted by the advisory committee, for instance, would have forced sitting council members out of their seats.

Both of those council members, Fong and Sheedy, have been seen as strong political opponents of Mayor Johnson. Both were roadblocks to Johnson’s (thus-far) unsuccessful campaign to change the city charter and give considerable more power to the mayor.

Cohn was quite clear that he didn’t want to draw lines that endangered his colleagues, even if it meant giving up his Midtown stronghold. “This is my peace offering,” he told SN&R.

But when it became clear that the council was not going to focus on the citizen maps and that support was beginning to gel around some version of a Cohn-Sheedy map, the mayor protested.

“I thought we had a chance to take politics out of the equation,” Johnson began. “All along, we used words like ‘transparency.’ Then we whip out two maps. … We’re basically railroading the process.

“That’s just disappointing,” he added.

“That’s the mayor’s interpretation,” replied Councilman McCarty. “I think most of the council disagrees with that.”

And most of the council votes is all it takes to approve new district maps.

This story has been corrected from its original print version.