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Community members comment on supervisorial redistricting, finally

POSTED July 22, 2011 8:49 p.m.

It’s back to the drawing board again, as the group redrawing the Stanislaus County Supervisors’ districts scrambles to incorporate last-minute comments received at a Wednesday public meeting.

Commenters at that meeting ­questioned aspects of the two proposed redistricting maps. Chief among their concerns was the plan to move Modesto’s Beard Industrial Tract and Empire to District 5, grouping the area’s representation with Ceres and the Westside.

“Moving the Beard park area out to the Westside, it just doesn’t make any sense to me,” said Cecil Russell, Modesto Chamber of Commerce CEO. “I just can’t get that what goes on in the Beard Tract area relates to anything going on in the whole Westside... I think if I were a supervisor, I would have a very hard time representing the Westside, and then all of the sudden I’m going to know what’s best for this particular area.”

Wednesday’s meeting represented the first opportunity for planners to receive public feedback on the proposed maps, released July 14. While drafting those maps, planners considered comments on “communities of interest” to be kept intact as they redrew lines to balance populations between the five districts.

But through Wednesday and seven public meetings, only about 25 comments were received on the plan, none of which mentioned the Beard Industrial Tract as a community of interest.

“That’s our problem with public meetings,” said Kenny Buehner, a member of the Citizens Ad-Hoc Redistricting Advisory Committee. “We get very few people to show.”

Russell, who does not directly represent the Beard Tract, wished openly that more involved stakeholders had attended the meeting.

“Where are the people who live in these areas?” Russell asked. “I wish that people who were residents of there were here to tell you what they think.”

“So do we,” Buehner said.

Despite the lack of input, planners have worked with what information they do have.

“The goal really is to put together the best options possible to submit to the Board of Supervisors,” said County spokesman David Jones, who is leading the redistricting effort.

The two draft plans, incorporating feedback from public meetings, work to keep intact Municipal Advisory Councils, cities, and school districts where possible. In particular, an effort to keep the South Modesto MAC intact contributed heavily to the mapping process, seeing two alternatives which largely hinge on whether the MAC goes to District 3 or District 5.

Option one would see South Modesto’s 14,000 residents subsumed into District 3 alongside the King-Kennedy area of Modesto, leaving District 5 to pick up all of Ceres and Empire to make up for the loss in population. Option two would, instead, place all of South Modesto in District 5 with most of Ceres, moving part of Ceres to District 4, and leaving part in District 2.

Ceres Mayor Chris Vierra, who attended the meeting, voiced his support for planners’ efforts to keep Ceres intact in Option 1. But Option 2, which would split Ceres between three districts and would isolate the politically-active northeast corner of Ceres from the remainder of town, represents a threat to Ceres, Vierra said.

“My concern is, if we end up entertaining three supervisors we really dilute our voice at the county level,” Vierra said.

In the coming weeks, the twin planning groups – comprised of county staff and at-large citizens working together – will review all comments from Wednesday’s meeting. From there, they will either revise the two existing proposals or create a third alternative.

The Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors, which has the final say on district boundaries, will hold a public hearing on Aug. 16 to discuss the options – and possibly request changes to the maps. The board is expected to then select a map Aug. 23, casting a final vote Aug. 30.

Whatever that final solution, it’s unlikely all parties will be happy, Stanislaus County CEO Rick Robinson said.

“What we realized is there is no perfect solution,” Robinson said. “No matter what you do, there is no perfect solution.”

For more information, visit stancounty.com/redistricting.

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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