Almanac

News - August 17, 2011

State citizens commission makes it final: Menlo Park gets two congressional districts

by Dave Boyce

The city of Menlo Park will have two representatives in Congress when the June 2012 election rolls around, a distinction shared with 35 of the approximately 1,050 cities and towns in California. Ten others will have more than two representatives.

The responsibility for this state of affairs lies with the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, which came into being after voters approved Proposition 11 in 2008 and took the once-a-decade redrawing of district borders out of the hands of politicians in Sacramento.

The commission voted on Monday, Aug. 15, to accept the final versions of the new maps for the congressional districts as well as state Assembly, Senate and the tax-collecting Board of Equalization districts. Disputes about the maps will go directly to the California Supreme Court for resolution.

In its representation in Washington, D.C., Menlo Park has long been entirely within one congressional district and represented since 1992 by Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Menlo Park. The new map divides the city at U.S. 101, assigning the Belle Haven neighborhood to the district represented by Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Francisco.

Also to be represented by Ms. Speier: the demographically similar communities of unincorporated North Fair Oaks near Atherton, East Palo Alto and Redwood City. Ms. Eshoo's district retains the rest of Menlo Park as well as Atherton, Woodside and Portola Valley, among many other areas.

That's the extent of local splitting by the new maps. Menlo Park, Atherton, Woodside and Portola Valley and the nearby unincorporated areas will continue to be represented in the state Assembly by Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park.

In the state Senate, Portola Valley and Woodside used to be outside the district represented by Sen. Joe Simitian. After June 2012, they will join Menlo Park and Atherton and other Peninsula communities in a single Senate district.

The 14 commission members — five registered Democrats, five registered Republicans and four registered as "Decline to State" — were chosen in a multi-faceted process that included 120 applicants, interviews with the Bureau of State Audits, a winnowing phase, and random selection.

Since January, the commission met 79 times, according to its website, where interested readers will also find the meeting transcripts.

Go to wedrawthelines.ca.gov for more information on the process.

Views on split

The idea of Belle Haven and the rest of Menlo Park being represented separately in the U.S. Congress isn't wildly popular. Letters to the commission from Menlo Park and East Palo Alto residents were uniformly negative, as were the sentiments in interviews.

"I think it's disgusting, myself," Belle Haven resident Matt Henry said. "Belle Haven is part of the city of Menlo Park. ... Belle Haven always gets cut out."

"We have the same politics as Menlo Park," Mr. Henry added. "We might argue and squabble, but we're the same family. We have the same objectives and financial base. I think this is just another layer of complexity for us. I think it's awful."

But the redistricting commission had as an objective to comply with the 1965 Voting Rights Act to "ensure that minorities have an equal opportunity to elect representatives of their choice." Wouldn't Belle Haven have more of a voice with this realignment?

"Something tells me that the reason (the commission) did what they did is precisely because of that," East Palo Alto Mayor Carlos Romero told the Almanac. "That's the only logic I can come up with."

The commission did not understand the "very close relationship" that Menlo Park, Palo Alto and East Palo Alto have when local officials go to Washington, D.C., to lobby the Department of Justice on crime issues or the Environmental Protection Agency on polluted fields, Mr. Romero said.

The three-city relationship is important "irrespective of the socio-economic differences, and they are vast, and we admit that," he added. Anna Eshoo was "very instrumental" in lobbying with and for East Palo Alto and she visits frequently, he said.

State Sen. Joe Simitian, who represents Menlo Park, would not comment specifically on the outcome. "Many of the communities of interest bump into each other," he said, and called it "unfortunate" that Menlo Park "got caught" in a late change to the congressional map.

It may be particularly irritating locally in that residents have a "strong and unique" attachment to their community's identification, he added.

But Menlo Park will have two representatives in Congress, he noted. "If you get the right two people, you have two voices in the legislative body instead of one," he said. "If you have two who are willing to step up to their jobs, a split is actually a good thing."

And the redrawn Peninsula Senate district, which will include more of San Mateo County, less of Santa Clara County and none of Santa Cruz County?

"I think it gives that district a somewhat more San Mateo County cast, if you will," he said.

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