Butte County supervisors accuse other supervisors of gerrymandering

Butte County supervisors accuse other supervisors of gerrymandering

CHICO — The Butte County Board of Supervisors has become divided in the redistricting process with the final decision right around the corner.

Supervisors Debra Lucero and Tami Ritter raised questions Wednesday morning as the two held a press conference outside of the Fred Davis Municipal Center in Chico during which they accused fellow supervisors of gerrymandering.

During its Nov. 9 meeting, the Board of Supervisors considered new district maps presented by outside consulting firm Redistricting Partners. The maps presented by the firm were created by its demographers. The county paid roughly $80,000 for these services.

In the discussion, Supervisor Doug Teeter brought forward a map created outside of the firm for consideration. Teeter, as well as Supervisor Tod Kimmelshue and board Chair Bill Connelly, leaned in favor of the map.

A district map proposed by Supervisor Doug Teeter on Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021 during the Butte County Board of Supervisor meeting in Oroville, California. The map was not one presented by the consultants hired by the county. (Butte County/Contributed file)

Both Lucero and Ritter took issue with the map and stated their grievances during the press conference.

“In a surprise move, Paradise Supervisor Doug teeter introduced a map that divides Chico into four supervisor districts, Oroville into three and flips Cohasset from other foothill communities, despite 50 plus letters requesting otherwise,” Lucero said.

Lucero went on to say that the individual who drew the map was Republican strategist Josh Cook who is the chief of staff for State Senator Brian Dahle. Ritter said Cook had told her he was the one who created the map.

Ritter said she believed the map was drawn using demographics on political affiliation.

“The California Citizens Redistricting Commission recently said in a press release, the place of residence of any incumbent or political candidate may not be considered in the creation of a map, and districts may not be drawn for the purpose of favoring or discriminating against an incumbent political candidate or political party,” Ritter said. “This condition was created by the California voters and Butte County voted 55% in favor of not having politicians involved in map drawing — all maps created by Redistricting Partners, the firm that we hired with taxpayer dollars followed legal requirements in the creation of their maps, including the Federal Voting Rights Act, the Fair Maps Act and the Constitution.”

When reached for comment, Cook declined, stating that he was out of the country as of Wednesday and has not been following the issue.

Teeter did not deny that Josh Cook was the one who created the map in question but did deny that the map he brought forth was a surprise. He said there are three themes he believes have been consistent in the redistricting process. One of them is keeping Cohasset with Forest Ranch, another one is moving Barber Yard out of Supervisor Tod Kimmelshue’s district and back into a Chico district. Another part, he said was keeping the north/south divide together.

Teeter said he would be in favor of removing his Chico carveout and instead taking Cohassett and Forest Ranch into his district. He also said that any map that is done will likely result in more Chico voters in his district, making it less Republican and a more difficult win for him, adding that going with a map that kept Chico in two districts would create more of an opportunity to win his elections.

Lucero said another issue she and Ritter had with the map was that it wasn’t created by the firm that the county paid to come up with new potential maps to decide upon.

“The public process, we believe, has been ambushed and taxpayer dollars wasted,” Lucero said. “Redistricting Partners, a professional firm with more than 30 governmental clients was hired by the county at a cost of $80,000 to manage the redistricting process.”

On Wednesday, Redistricting Partners released its presentation set for Monday to coincide with a special board meeting to determine the new map. In the presentation, the firm says the map proposed by Teeter does not comply with the Fair Maps Act.

The map ignores most of the testimony regarding the communities of interest, splits Chico into four districts, splits Cohasset from the foothills district, cuts through Bidwell Park, splits Mechoopda and creates two agriculture districts in the western part of the county, according to the presentation which can be found at https://bit.ly/3nyt7wB.

Kimmelshue said he has been studying all of the 80 maps proposed by members of the public via the Districtr mapping tool and that he favors maps in which each supervisor has some urban and some rural areas.

“I think it’s really unhealthy for two supervisors to have only an urban area of Chico and the rest of us have rural areas,” Kimmelshue said. “I just really have a hard time with a map that has two supervisors covering an urban area of Chico.”

Kimmelshue said this was the reason he backed the map proposed by Teeter during the Nov. 9 meeting. In regards to Cook being the one who created the map, Kimmelshue said he chose the map based on its design.

“There were 80 different maps submitted,” Kimmelshue said. “We have no idea who put those maps together, there are no names beside them so I can’t comment on that, but I think it was great that we had the public designing maps. This one seemed to work for me.”

Some concerns were raised during the Nov. 9 meeting that the proposed map would put Lucero and Ritter in the same district. Lucero said this was not true.

A special meeting is slotted for 1 p.m. Monday at the Board of Supervisors Chambers in Oroville at 25 County Center Drive, Suite 200 at which point two maps will be considered and voted on. Members of the public are encouraged by the county to attend and provide input. A special meeting originally planned for Thursday will still take place, but supervisors will only decide the other agenda items scheduled — continuing to teleconference meetings, accepting the memorandum of understanding regarding Pallet shelters in Chico, and, in closed session, administrative positions and possible litigation.

Should the board vote in favor of the map proposed by Teeter, Lucero said the county would be violating the Fair Maps Act.

“We are hoping that our colleagues understand that what they’ve done is breaking the law, that this is under the Fair Maps Act and the very thing they’re attempting to do violates the law,” Lucero said. “And so we’re hoping to avoid a costly lawsuit and do a referendum that we choose the map that was drawn for us by our consultants.”

Teeter said there would still be chances to make adjustments to the map and that it could in fact have enough deviations to be challenged in court.

Residents who attended the conference shared their concerns on the proposed map.

Sheri Simons of Cohassett said she worried about representation in her area should the map go forward.

“I’m not normally a hugely political person,” Simons said. “I’ve been pulled into this because it’s a 10-year decision and it’s also a national concern. I’m seeing it happen on this sort of scale and I think if we don’t do something at every granular point, we’re just really screwed out of the whole process.”

Cohasset has previously been part of Ritter’s district and was an area that saw some of the most requests to Redistricting Partners to stay in the same district rather than be part of a more rural district.

Geri Mahood of California Park in Chico said she was frustrated that the lengthy process to come up with maps led up to a map that wasn’t created by the consultants.

“This map came from out of nowhere and suddenly, within a few minutes, Bill Connelly, Tod Kimmelshue and Doug Teeter all said this is the best map,” Mahood said. “All of that process, the public workshops, people coming to board meetings, people drawing maps, all of the community involvement was erased, suddenly, by them pulling this new map out of a hat and saying this is the map we’re going with.”

© 2022 KFMF-FM. Internet Development by Frankly Media.