Redistricting in your PJs
April 28, 2011
This year, for the first time, Los Angeles County is giving the public the technological tools to create its own boundaries for the five supervisorial districts, using an impressive array of demographic and voting data to ensure each is drawn equitably.
“I’ve never seen this amount of information pulled together about the county on any website,” said Assistant Chief Executive Officer Martin Zimmerman, who is overseeing support staff for the redistricting effort.
The new do-it-yourself mapping feature is just one facet of a legally mandated undertaking that occurs every 10 years, following the federal census. The districts must be drawn to ensure fair representation on the Board of Supervisors, complying with the U.S. Constitution, federal Voting Rights Act, County Charter and California Elections Code. Each district must have an equal number of residents—roughly 2 million.
The board is expected to approve by August any changes to the existing boundaries, based on recommendations from the Boundary Review Committee, or BRC, whose members are appointed by the supervisors. A series of public meetings are now being held throughout the county. In the Third District, one will be held on Monday, May 2, at Van Nuys High School, and another will be convened on Monday, May 9, at West Hollywood Park Auditorium. Both will take place from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The BRC encourages public comment at these meetings and via e-mail through the county’s new redistricting website.
In preparing its recommendations for the Board of Supervisors, the committee also will study plans submitted by the public—a job that could be more challenging this time around.
Ten years ago, technology was far less sophisticated and accessible. Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg was still in high school, for example, and dial-up Internet access remained popular in homes across America. Back then, the county installed mapping programs on computers it made available to the public at the Hall of Administration in downtown Los Angeles and at the county’s Public Works Department in Alhambra. Participation was not brisk.
But this time around, with the advent of high-speed connections and cutting-edge database technology, the county entered into a contract with a “geographic information systems” company called Esri to supply the software for home-drawn versions.
Given the depth and variety of information (there’s more than 20 racial breakdowns alone), county officials recommend that anyone interested in submitting their own redistricting plans should first participate in an online training session.
Even if you don’t want to submit a plan, the databases provide an unprecedented one-stop view of the county’s diverse cities and communities down to the census tract level, including not only race but also income, homeownership status, languages spoken at home, voting histories on past issues, party affiliation and gender, to name a few.
Said Assistant CEO Zimmerman: “It’s a treasure trove.”