Under threat of a lawsuit, the city of Half Moon Bay sliced its electorate into five districts last year in advance of the 2020 election. Now, new legislation will require the process to begin all over again after every new Census. 

In October, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law a slew of legislation aimed at strengthening California’s elections. Assembly Bill 849, authored by Assemblyman Rob Bonta and co-authored by Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, is expected to reform the state’s redistricting laws. 

The law is intended to improve criteria, transparency and public engagement to make the process fair and consistent. The specifics of the bill include setting requirements to minimize the possibility of gerrymandering, requiring public engagement for both English and non-English speaking communities, and mandating local governments to publish draft maps online for seven days before they are adopted.

Last year, Half Moon Bay changed its election system after an attorney from Southern California with a history of advocating for voting rights urged the city to reconsider its at-large election system. The attorney said if the city failed to make the shift to district elections, it would face litigation.

Over the course of six months, the city held four public hearings on  districting and allotted time for community members to submit draft maps. 

“We put together packets that we dropped off all over town at various housing communities, restaurants, grocery stores, etc. We had an online mapping tool as well,” said Communications Director and City Clerk Jessica Blair. 

Once maps were submitted, the city held two hearings to consider the options and make modifications before adopting the final version. But with the passing of AB 849, the city will be required to do the process again after the new census, in 2021. 

“It’s essentially repeating the entire process each time,” Blair said. 

Blair estimates the effort will cost the city about $20,000 to $50,000 every 10 years for demographer services and administrative costs to run the community meetings and provide materials. 

Mayor Harvey Rarback said he is hopeful the legislation will be amended early next year to exclude cities of certain sizes that have already gone through a districting process.

“So, we have to go through it all over again and it’s going to cost the city money and not improve our electoral situation,” Rarback said.

Rarback said he thought the process last year was adequate and the city received ample public input.

“We did the best we can in terms of empowering minority groups, basically the Latino community,” Rarback said. “If you look at the way the Latino population is distributed all over the city, creating districts is not inherently helpful in Half Moon Bay, but we did the best we could.” 

Councilwoman Deborah Penrose echoed the mayor’s opinion, stating that redistricting will not serve the city. 

“It’s an expense, it’s time consuming, it uses staff time and it ends up not helping anybody,” she said. 

“One of the things that is helpful in a small city, like

Half Moon Bay, is we have one unified voice on the council in order to assure everybody in the city gets represented,”

Penrose said. “Now it is going to be broken up and we will have competing districts, which I do not think is


While there has been a lack of representation from the Latino community on City Council, Penrose said she would continue to advocate for better representation. 

“I think the idea to get a minority population to run for City Council is a very commendable idea. The way to do that is to support the Latino leaders we have and encourage them to get more involved,” she said. 

Penrose acknowledged that Latino leaders in the city work multiple jobs and may not have the time to run for council. 

“But I will continue to work on it and I, along with everyone on the council, would love to see someone run,” Penrose said.

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