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Mono Country's redistricting committee tries to figure out how to draw fair district lines

June 24, 2011

As a neighborhood, a community, a county, who are we?

That question is at the heart of the work that a group of local residents is doing right now.

Their answers have the potential to redefine the question.

Couched in the term “redistricting”, these residents have been working for the past several weeks to come up with ways to re-draw Mono County’s five supervisorial districts.

Redistricting is necessary in the county because the 2010 Census revealed that the districts are now lopsided in terms of population. They must be made equal.

For Mono County, the magic number is 2,840 people per district — one fifth of the total population of the county’s 14,200 people.

That will take some work.

For example, the Census showed that the northern part of Mono County – from the Mono Basin to the northern end of the county – lost approximately 10 percent of its population compared with the numbers from 2000 census.

To reach the 2,840 number, that district needs to add more population.

Since people don’t move as easily as boundaries, the boundaries will have to change.

On the other hand, June Lake grew by about four percent.

Mammoth grew by about 16 percent, adding another 1,143 residents.

The eastern edge of the county, called the Tri-Valley area, grew by 18 percent and the southern portion of county grew by about 16 percent.

Thus the need for redistricting.

The United State’s revered “one person, one vote” concept, but redistricting is more than just a straightforward numbers balancing act.

It’s as political is it gets.

For example, should June Lake, which lies in one of the districts that lost population, get split up to add some people to the district north of it?

If that were to happen District 3 Supervisor Vikki Bauer, who is June Lake’s sole supervisor, would share June Lake with Supervisor Tim Hansen (if re-elected).

Hansen’s District 4 is the district mentioned above that lost 300 people after the 2010 Census count.

In such a case, June Lake would become a literally fragmented community. Neighbors on one side of the street might have to go to one supervisor to solve problems and neighbors on the other side of the street might have to go to another.

That could make it hard to plan everything from how to hold a community meeting to how to design a street or sidewalk.

What if the supervisor on the north side of the street wanted a sidewalk and the supervisor on the south side did not? What incentive would there be to compromise?

As it is now, Bauer works with a (relatively) cohesive community to reach compromises that the majority of “her” residents support.

The political implications of how these districts are drawn and where they are drawn is thus obvious.
The county supervisors must make their final decision before Nov. 1.

The 10-member Citizens Redistricting Advisory Committee has come up with a few conceptual ideas that it thinks might work, according to county counsel John Vallejo.

Vallejo noted that the law guides the committee try to arrange the districts according to “topography, geography, community interests and compactness of territory,” as well as population balance.

The law allows for a “maximum deviation from population equality of less than 10 percent between the largest and smallest districts,” he said.

Here are the four main concepts put forth by the committee so far:

• Three districts wholly in Mammoth Lakes, two in the unincorporated areas of the county. (This concept comes from an idea that divides the county into tourism-based communities and rural/agricultural communities).

• Two districts wholly in Mammoth Lakes with:

1) one district wholly in the unincorporated area, two that share a small part of Mammoth
or
2) three districts that share a small part of Mammoth

• One district wholly in Mammoth, four districts that share a small part of Mammoth

• Five districts that radiate out from Mammoth, meaning every supervisor represents a part of Mammoth as well as the rest of their district.

All these options and more are still on the table as the redistricting committee winds down its work, Vallejo said.

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