Redrawing California’s political lines will help determine if we fight or fold in the face of the climate crisis.
By Mary Creasman, Special to CalMatters
Mary Creasman is the CEO of California Environmental Voters and the California Environmental Voters Education Fund.
Decisions in the next month will shape California’s future for the next decade. Our state is undergoing a process to redraw the lines of our congressional, state Senate and Assembly districts. This work is being done by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission.
Since June, the commission has been holding hearings and gathering input from the public. By year’s end, they must finalize maps and determine how communities are grouped together; this will shape how Californians are represented in government for the next decade.
Unfortunately, the commission’s draft maps so far can only be charitably called a “hot mess,” to borrow from their own comments about their work in San Diego. It seems that in the commission’s rush to finish draft maps, substantial parts of the state were disregarded.
In Northern California, the Karuk Tribes’ historic lands have been split among districts, against the recommendations of tribal leadership and community organizations. In Southern California, cities in the San Gabriel Valley are split among two House districts, ignoring calls from the Asian Pacific Islander community to unite this area. All three districts in the Sierra Nevada dip into the Central Valley, disregarding the input of local residents.
In San Diego and Orange counties, two sets of communities — the coastal communities from San Clemente to Solana Beach and the inland city of Fallbrook — have been drawn together. This is against the input of almost all involved, including San Diego County resident and Commissioner Patricia Sinay. There is still time to fix this but the commission must act quickly.
There is too much at stake not to make this right. After all, redistricting will help determine if we fight or fold in the face of the climate crisis. Scientists have repeatedly told us that we only have until 2030 to prevent the most severe impacts of the climate crisis. Since the redistricting process is only done every 10 years, the people who are elected to represent these new districts will determine how we respond leading up to the 2030 deadline.
Unfortunately, Californians are not well-represented in the fight against the climate crisis. In recent years, most bills to address climate change have died in the state Legislature, and that’s because corporate interests are calling the shots in Sacramento. Seventy percent of the Legislature accepts campaign contributions directly from oil companies or from oil industry Political Action Committees.
There is a disconnect between what is happening in Sacramento and the priorities of Californians. Polls show that Californians want their leaders to prioritize addressing the climate crisis. Redistricting is an opportunity for Californians to raise their voices and remind our leaders of this priority.
Since 2010, the California Environmental Voters Education Fund has been partnering with community organizations around the state to encourage participation in the redistricting process. Repeatedly, we hear that Californians want environmental impacts and concerns factored into how the commission organizes districts.
If California doesn’t have district lines that group communities based on common climate concerns, priorities and impacts, then these neighborhoods won’t have elected representation that delivers for them.
This is not about who wins or loses elections. This is about drawing district lines that reflect the unique needs, struggles and values of each California community to ensure their representation also reflects them. And the climate crisis and compounding threats like environmental racism will impact the lives of Californians more than any other issue in the next decade.
In other states, district lines are drawn by the legislature. This process favors whatever party is in power. We are lucky to have a non-partisan process that gives all of us the opportunity to make our voices heard – but the commission has to deliver on improved maps that truly reflect community input and priorities.
I urge all Californians to join our effort. Help us make sure that we come out of the redistricting process ready to fight the climate crisis.
Mary Creasman has also written about giving California a grade on its climate action, how we achieve real change after the election and clean transportation requires new leadership on the Assembly’s Transportation Committee.