The passing of Long Beach’s Measure DDD would create an independent redistricting commission to give residents authority over determining city council district lines. But the measure would still require city government involvement to form the commission and approve the final map of the districts. Former legislators weighed in on whether the involvement of city officials would affect the independence of the commission.
Measure DDD, which will appear on this upcoming November 6 ballot, would create an independent commission in charge of redrawing district lines every 10 years. If the measure passes, the redistricting commission would form in 2020 before December 1 of that year. Commissioners would then take six months after census data is announced to the public to present their final decision on district boundaries.
According to the measure, the process for forming a commission would begin with the city clerk publicizing the application process in 2020, and every 10 years after that. The application, which would be available in English, Khmer, Spanish and Tagalog, would be open to all registered voters who meet the requirements stated in the measure. According to the measure, representation of the city’s diversity would be an important part of forming the commission.
Some of the requirements for applying to be a commissioner include being a Long Beach resident for at least a year and having voted in the most recent city election. Applicants also cannot have been elected to, appointed to, or have run as a candidate for city office in the eight years preceding their application.
The measure requires the city clerk to report to the city council and the mayor about the application process and plans to recruit qualified applicants representing the city’s diversity. The measure defines “diversity” as including, but not limited to, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender. The city clerk must also report plans for supporting the commission, such as reserving meeting space and assigning staff to assist with commission activities.
Once a pool of at least 35 eligible applicants has been reached, a city-appointed screening panel would then narrow down the applicant pool to 20 to 30 individuals. At least two people from each existing district would be included.
The screening panel would be an ethics commission to be formed via a city charter change or by an ordinance. The creation of an ethics commission is also one of the four proposed charter amendments that will be on the November 6 ballot. The proposed amendment, referred to as Measure CCC, would place seven residents on an ethics commission to effectively administer and implement provisions of the city charter, statutes and ordinances with a focus on financing, lobbying, conflicts of interest and governmental ethics.
The ethics commission would include two mayoral appointments and two appointments by the city auditor. These appointees would then choose the remaining three commission members.
If the ethics commission measure does not pass and therefore cannot be formed, then Mayor Robert Garcia could select a group of panelists to take their place, according to a provision in the measure. The panel would consist of a retired judge, a law, government or public policy professor teaching at an accredited institution and a member of a non-profit board with a history of advocating for government reform in Long Beach. The mayor would select the panelists from a pool of qualified applicants. If there are not enough qualified applicants for the panel, then the city attorney, city clerk and city auditor would act as the screening panel by narrowing the field of candidates.
Nine commissioners would be randomly selected by the chair of the screening panel during a public meeting. The measure does not specify how the chair would be selected and how that person would randomly choose the commissioners. The meeting must also give the public opportunity to provide any written or oral comment.
Former Councilmember Rae Gabelich argued that the redistricting commission would not be independent if an ethics commission, consisting of the mayor and city auditor appointed members, chooses them. “It still falls under the mayor,” she said. “For me, the most important thing is to always be honest with the people that you represent and across the city, and I don’t think that’s being done,” Gabelich stated.
The city council would be able to reconvene the redistricting commission with a two-thirds vote in order to address any significant population changes, legal challenges or other issues.
Former Councilmember Jeff Kellogg also did not see a fully independent commission coming to fruition via the proposed process. “It sounds good, but the appointed [ethics] commission is appointed by the mayor. . . . So I would be surprised if the projected [redistricting] commission could truly be independent,” he stated.
“I understand the attempt to try to get more community input, but the last time [redistricting occurred] there was a tremendous amount of community input, and the council really went the way the majority of the council wanted to go,” Kellogg said.
Kellogg further explained his doubts, citing disputes regarding redistricting in recent years. “I am positive there would be a lot of influence on that commission by many people,” he stated. “That also would be a real challenge for people who are just citizens to step into an extremely controversial and hostile type of discussion regarding redistricting.”
“You need look no further than the current configuration of most of the council districts,” Business Journal Publisher George Economides said. “These are politically drawn lines to benefit the councilmember in office at that time, primarily for fundraising purposes. We haven’t taken a position, but the current system needs to change.”
If the measure passes, the formed redistricting commission must hold nine public meetings over the course of six months before adopting a final map. The purpose of the public meetings would be to further ensure opportunity for community involvement. If a registered voter finds the final map to violate any part of the redistricting commission amendment, he or she can file a petition to take a case to court within 90 days after the commission adopts a final map.
Ultimately, Long Beach voters will decide whether or not to create a new redistricting process when they vote on the measure on November 6.