Slipping through nearly unnoticed at last Tuesday's City Council meeting was an agenda item and subsequent vote that will have a huge impact on you and your vote for representative local government over the next 10 years.
It appears that nearly no one noticed as only two people commented during the meeting and no public angst was displayed on social media about this momentous decision. (Call me silly, but by all appearances we only get a hue and cry from the public when attempting to disenfranchise homeless folks or traffic are on the menu. Important council decisions that will impact your representation locally for the next 10 years? Not so much it seems. I think if you give it a moment of thought you will find that this inverted sense of priorities falls under the heading of “where democracies go to die…”)
In any case, the topic under consideration for the City Council was how our voting districts in Half Moon Bay will be mapped and decided during the mandatory post-census redistricting process over the next six months or so. During the meeting the council wisely, and somewhat surprisingly, decided to firewall the process from their own personal interests. This despite the strong recommendations of staff and the strident arguments of the city’s hired consultant.
The result of last Tuesday’s decision is that the people who will map out the city’s next iteration of voting districts will not be the City Council members themselves, who have a vested interest in the outcome, but instead an independent advisory committee that will draw the maps before presenting them to the council for approval. (For an example of how this worked the last time see the city’s effort, which saw the council gleefully approving map lines that carved through Arleta Park like a Picasso on ’shrooms had been the artist and where every council member was assured their own district.) One council member even confessed to me at the time that “Of course I voted for the choice that would preserve my seat, but it wasn’t in my self-interest, it was in the interests of Half Moon Bay.” Why? “Because me being re-elected is in the best interests of Half Moon Bay.”)
This time around, and after considerable public input and outreach, the advisory committee will have a short but intensive period wherein the final maps will be prepared for the Council to approve. As long as the Council continues to allow an unbiased process to proceed, the final district maps will be created by an independent group of citizens that will ostensibly have the interests of the community at heart, instead of the preservation of their council seat in the upcoming years.
Mayor Robert Brownstone and Councilmember Debbie Ruddock deserve recognition for supporting this idea, as does Councilmember Joaquin Jimenez, but primary credit goes to Deborah Penrose. In the interests of a fair and unbiased process, she spoke up early and loudly in support of removing the council’s fingerprints from the finished product. Her force-of-will carried over Councilmember Harvey Rarback’s naïve objections, and the rest of the council followed her lead. As a result, whatever district you end up in next year, you won’t have to wonder if gerrymandered lines were drawn to elevate personal interests instead of the public interests they are supposed to serve.
Brownstone in particular deserves credit for having the courage to recognize the flaw in the recommended staff action, which was to do it just like it was done the last time and to have the council pick preferred districts. He gently but firmly steered the council to a consensus that was against the staff recommendation. This is something I have seen happen only a handful of times in 10 years of watching the City Council do business. When it happens it is almost always because the mayor worked the refs for the betterment of the community — as was the case here.
In the end, you have a new committee you can volunteer for, and we will all have a redistricting process free of personal bias and ambition. If you think you might have something to offer, you can reach out to the City Clerk to volunteer and to get a Willing To Serve form for the committee as well. With your participation and the participation of others, we will all be able to spend the next 10 years knowing that wherever the lines ended up they ended up there because that was what five or more of your neighbors thought was the best possible solution. This instead of the lines that only a cubist painter high on absinthe and five sitting council members could see as rational.
David Eblovi lives in Half Moon Bay.