Bob Vessely, Commissioner
Port San Luis Harbor District

The San Luis Obispo County isn’t the only public agency going through a “redistricting” process now. The Port San Luis Harbor District is doing it as well, although the process is a bit different. The District has never before been divided into sub-districts. Commissioners have always been elected through an “at-large” electoral system. A board member may reside anywhere within the District and are elected by voters throughout the District.

The California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) allows for legal challenges to the “at-large” system, and in December of last year, the District received a letter from an out-of-the-area attorney alleging that the current system has resulted in racially polarized voting. The District had two choices at that point: to fight the claim in the courts or to accept the allegation and move to a sub-district-based election system. Many public agencies throughout the State have attempted to fight the claim and, after spending way too much money, have almost universally lost in Court. The Commission chose to begin the process of dividing the Harbor District into five sub-districts for voting purposes. In such a system, a jurisdiction is divided into separate geographic regions, each with one representative who resides in the region and is elected only by the voters residing within that region.

Getting through this together, Atascadero

In January of this year, the Board of Commissioners declared the District’s intention to transition from “at-large” to district-based elections before the election next November. The Commission also hired the consulting firm Cooperative Strategies, a redistricting consultant, to help with the creation and implementation of voting areas and to ensure that the District is in compliance with the California Voting Rights Act.

Several factors are to be considered in establishing the voting regions. Each region is to:
• Comply with the Federal Voting Rights Act, particularly in relation to “communities of interest,”
• Contain an approximately equal number of inhabitants,
• Be compact and contiguous, as much as possible,
• Follow man-made and natural geographic features as much as possible, and
• Comply with any other local considerations.

The Elections Code requires that before any map of the proposed areas is drawn, the District must conduct no less than five Public Hearings. The purpose of these hearings is to inform the public about the voting area creation process and to hear from the community about what factors should be taken into consideration in the formulation of voting area boundaries.

The first two public hearings have already happened, and the District is scheduled to conduct the third hearing on Jan. 25, 2022, and the fourth on Feb. 22, 2022, to continue seeking public input on the draft voting area scenarios. The fifth and final public hearing to select and adopt a preferred voting area map is not yet scheduled but is expected to happen in the spring. District staff and the consultant will then work with the County Elections Office to have the division maps integrated into the county voting system in time for the election to be held in November 2022.

More information, including staff reports and maps, can be found at the Harbor District’s website, portsanluis.com.

Note: The article is based on a staff report written by John D’Ornellas, interim Harbor Manager.