Riverside County supervisors won’t be able to draw their own electoral districts anymore, after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill this week to create an independent redistricting commission.
Although the law takes effect immediately, little will change until 2031, the next time the county gets new supervisor districts following the 2030 Census.
The bill was sponsored by Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes, D-Riverside, after the board of supervisors approved a new map late last year that she and other local lawmakers say dilutes the power of Latino voters.
Despite the new law, those maps will remain in effect for the next decade unless a court rules otherwise.
Cervantes — along with Assemblymembers Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, and Jose Medina, D-Riverside — called the new maps “legally indefensible” when they were adopted by a 4-1 vote last year. Fourth District Supervisor V. Manuel Perez, who represents the Coachella Valley, was the sole no vote.
Their criticisms echoed concerns raised by advocacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, that argued Riverside County should have two Latino-majority districts to account for shifting demographics.
Latino residents account for about half of the county's population and roughly 40% of its voting-age population, according to census data. Despite the push from the ACLU and some residents, the map ultimately approved by the board included one Latino-majority district, the First, which includes the cities of Riverside and Perris, as well as smaller communities.
“This failure of a majority of the Board of Supervisors to protect the voting rights of our Latino community illustrates why we needed to create an independent citizens redistricting commission to draw fair maps for Riverside County,” Cervantes, who is the incoming chair of the California Latino Legislative Caucus, said in a statement.
Attorneys for the county maintained that the final proposal was in compliance with federal and state voting laws. The redrawn map, which left the Coachella Valley entirely within the Fourth District, aimed to account for the county’s 10.4% population growth over the last decade.
“While we disagree with the characterization of the last redistricting process, the county is supportive of any effort to improve resident engagement in representation in local government,” county spokesperson Brooke Federico said in an email, noting the county did not oppose the bill in Sacramento.
The legislation, Assembly Bill 1307, was modeled after a bill approved in 2016 that established an independent citizens redistricting commission for Los Angeles County. Other elected bodies, including in San Diego County and Santa Barbara County, have also recently created independent commissions, similar to how California redraws congressional and state legislative districts.
Like those setups, Riverside County’s redistricting process will now be guided by a 14-person commission, with at least one member from each of the five existing supervisorial districts. The panel will also include members with political party affiliations “as proportional as possible” to the total number of voters registered with each political party, as well as non-party voters, across the county.
Riverside County’s redistricting process last year prompted legal action against the county. In June, an advocacy coalition and several Latino residents, backed by the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, filed a lawsuit against the board and other county officials over the redistricting process.
“The 2021 Redistricting Plan negates the dramatic growth of the County’s Latino community, and the Board adopted the Plan in the face of overwhelming evidence of that it would have discriminatory effects on Latino voters,” the complaint states.
The lawsuit is still pending.
Cervantes, as well as the lawsuit plaintiffs, have also argued protecting incumbents was a key factor in how the maps were drawn. In a statement after the bill was signed Sunday, Cervantes thanked her co-sponsors, Garcia and Medina, as well as legislative leaders and the governor, for advancing her bill.
“This will help protect the voting rights of our Latino community and strengthen democracy in Riverside County.” Cervantes said. “Together, we have ensured that members of the Riverside County Board of Supervisors cannot draw their own district boundaries for their own benefit, and instead have returned that power where it rightfully belongs — with the people.”
Tom Coulter covers the cities of Palm Desert, La Quinta, Rancho Mirage and Indian Wells. Reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @tomcoulter_.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Citizen redistricting for Riverside County: Gavin Newsom signs new law