On Tuesday, June 22, Highland City Council, in anticipation of the release of 2020 census data, instructed city staff to begin the process for reviewing and possibly redrawing city district boundaries according to possible changes in the city’s population and demographics. The census data is scheduled for release by Sept. 30.
The district boundaries were first created in 2016 when city council transitioned from at-large elections to by-district elections in order to comply with the Voting Rights Act. The districts, each represented by a council member, are required to be substantially equal in population and to comply with the Federal Voting Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
According to Senate Bill 1018, the city has five options for carrying out the process: City council performs the redistricting; city council appoints an advisory redistricting commission; city council transfers authority to redistrict to an independent redistricting commission; city council establishes a hybrid redistricting commission; or city council contracts a county redistricting commission to complete the redistricting.
Given the tightness of the deadline and desire for the greatest procedural flexibility, staff recommended and city council approved the council conducting the redistricting process itself. Once approved the maps will be used to determine the voting districts for the next 10 years, unless significant population changes trigger the need for a mid-census redistricting.
To initiate the process, the city council voted to authorize a professional services agreement with National Demographics Corporation to help review the census data to determine whether new boundaries are necessary and to draft new boundary options. The services agreement is for an amount not to exceed $30,000. City staff estimates that the actual cost of the service will be $23,500 (a $18,500 base cost, plus $5,000 for the demographer to conduct four public meetings virtually). In-person attendance by the demographer can be arranged at an additional cost.
The city council also approved the timeline created by city staff for completing the process. In order to complete and adopt the new boundaries by the required 205 days prior to the Nov. 2, 2022, election the city must complete the process no later than April 18, 2022. The timeline was tightened by the fact that the census data was previously scheduled for release by March 31, 2021, but the Census Bureau has since stated that the data will now be delivered by Sept. 30.
The city council approved the following timeline:
• June/July 2021: Staff presents redistricting options for council consideration, creates redistricting webpage and begins community outreach efforts.
• August/September 2021: City conducts at least one public hearing to present redistricting process to the public.
• September/October 2021: Cities receive redistricting data from Census Bureau and California Statewide Database
• October-December 2021: Demographer reviews data to determine whether any adjustment of voting district boundaries is required. If so, demographer and city staff may begin drawing draft maps based on the new data. City will also conduct second and third public hearing to review draft maps and adjust maps as necessary.
• January-March 2022: City conducts fourth public hearing with maps, leading to adoption.
• April 18, 2022: Deadline to adopt and submit new map to San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters.
To complete the process the city will be required to hold at least four public hearings to inform the public of the process and to gather public input. At least one of those hearings must occur before maps are drawn and at least two must occur after boundary maps are drafted. Also, at least one hearing or public workshop must be held on either a Saturday, a Sunday or after 6 p.m. on a weekday.
As part of the redistricting process the city will be required to establish a page on its website dedicated to explaining the redistricting process, collecting public comment, publishing the public hearing calendar, publishing public notices and agendas relating to the city’s redistricting and presenting draft and final district maps.
During discussion, several members of the council expressed the belief that since the city’s districts were established just four years prior to the 10-year census the data has not changed much and a new map might not be necessary.
“It’s unfortunate that we have to go through the expense of this process when the preliminary numbers indicate that our population has only gone down about 500,” said Mayor Pro Tem Larry McCallon. “I don’t think the distribution of our population has changed either.”