What is certain is that Tulare County will have new supervisorial district boundaries to match the 2020 census count next week. What remains uncertain is what the final political map will look like. However, where the lines will fall is much clearer following a difficult day of hammering out the gritty details.
Five Maps Under Consideration
Following a grueling five and a half hours of detailed analysis, citizen testimony and debate during a day-long meeting on November 2, county supervisors have managed to pare 40 draft plans to redraw the Tulare County’s supervisorial districts down to five remaining contenders. None of the four maps recommended by the 2021 Advisory Committee on Supervisorial Redistricting–which spent months gathering citizen testimony to shape its suggestions–made the final cut.
Of the five still under consideration for adoption, three are modified versions of plans suggested by the Advisory Committee, including the Modified Kindschuh Map, the New Kindschuh Map and the New Verduzco Map, which are named after the men who proposed them. Also still being considered are two versions of a plan rejected by the Advisory Committee submitted by Springville resident Korey Wells–the Modified Wells Map and the New Wells Map.
A final public hearing, as well as supervisor discussion and the vote on the new boundaries is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, November 9 in the Board of Supervisors Chambers, 2800 W. Burrel Avenue in Visalia.
What the Maps Must Include
Before their presentation to supervisors, each proposed map was evaluated by county staff for compliance with eight criteria identified in state and federal law. Those requirements include making sure each district contains roughly equal numbers of people while keeping existing communities intact within single supervisorial districts, all while making sure the county’s majority Hispanic population receives representation on par with its size.
“The most important relevant point out of the Voting Rights Act for Tulare County is to ensure those populations that are historically impacted, in this case the Hispanic population in Tulare County, that that population is represented in the redistricting effort,” said Tulare County Assistant CEO John Hess. “And that’s established in the Voting Rights Act. It’s not something that the county or the state has established. It’s something that’s well-established in federal law.”
In practical terms, the legal requirements mean that at least three of Tulare County’s five supervisorial districts must have Hispanic voting majorities of at least 55% to be in compliance so the county can avoid possible litigation. Attorneys for the Dolores Huerta Foundation–which cosponsored the Equity Coalition Map and a revised version, both of which the supervisors eventually rejected–have threatened legal action if that standard of representation is not met.
Citizens Divided Over Two Maps
The threat of a lawsuit brought much ire from those who came to give their opinions on the redistricting process, accusing the the groups that formed the Equity Coalition of promoting a leftist agenda originating with the Dolores Huerta Foundation. The majority of those who spoke against the Equity Coalition Map supported versions of the Wells Map.
Bill Bennett, a Porterville area farmer, suggested the Equity Coalition Map would somehow destabilize the economy in his region of the county. He accused those who contributed to drawing that map of attempting to use it to gain political advantage.
“Don’t let outside political agendas be the driving force for redrawing our communities to suit their political needs,” Bennett said.
Angel Ruiz, one of the key volunteers who worked on gathering data used to draw the Equity Coalition Map’s lines, said the effort represents the opinions of a vast number of Tulare County residents.
“I’m here today to present 550 signatures (supporting the Equity Coalition Map),” he said. “I have gathered not hundreds, but thousands of signatures in support of the Equitable Coalition map.”
GOP Political Repression and ‘a Latino Power Grab’
Some of those who addressed the supervisors seemed to believe opposition to their preferred redistricting plan constituted an attempt to maintain an unfair status quo that keeps the county’s Hispanic population at a political disadvantage.
Coligia Feliz, a resident of Visalia who spoke in support of the Kindschuh Maps and the Equity Coalition Maps, felt the Wells Map was intended to keep the county’s Hispanic population in a secondary position politically. She accused Wells of being a political shill.
“Many are here to support Mr. Wells’ map, which is virtually to keep our districts the same and continue to have those people underserved and underrepresented and voiceless and support the incumbents who are already there,” she said. “It’s pretty clear Mr. Wells’ map, or Mr. Wells himself, is here to represent Mr. Nunes, (Congressman) Devin Nunes, and the Republican Party. He also submitted a map in Fresno County.”
Joe Prescott of Springville, although speaking in support of the Wells Map, made remarkably similar comments from the opposing perspective.
“It couldn’t be more obvious how divisive the Dolores Huerta Foundation language is, especially at the last meeting when they talk about shattering this glass ceiling with an iceberg and it’s going to happen whether you like it or not,” Prescott said. “It seems like a Latino power grab, in my opinion.”
A Politics-Free Conversation
Wells adamantly denies being a political operative for the Republican Party, saying his only concern is a set of districts that adequately represents the county’s established communities.
“I never met Devin Nunes and I’ve never made any political contributions,” Wells said. “I’m just an individual who saw what was happening at the first commission meeting with the original proposal, the Equitable Coalition Map. It made zero sense to me as a resident of Springville, of the mountains and of Tulare County. It made zero sense to me what they were trying to achieve.”
Much of the criticism aimed at the Equity Coalition Map arises from its creation of a single “mega-mountain” district in eastern Tulare County. Critics also dislike the way the district boundaries the Equity Coalition Map divides communities with common interests, such as separating Terra Bella from Porterville or dividing downtown Visalia into two districts.
Euler Torres, a resident of Tulare and president of the San Joaquin Valley chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, was also unhappy with how an association with the Dolores Huerta Foundation has tainted the effort to have the Equity Coalition Map adopted. There is a misunderstanding about who is really behind the effort, he said.
“I’m very upset at the Dolores Huerta Foundation, because they took all the credit,” Torres said. “What about the League of Women Voters? What about LULAC? We were here, founded in 1929.”
Advisory Commissioners Speak Out
While compiling its recommendations to the Board of Supervisors, the Advisory Committee on Supervisorial Redistricting aimed to pass along only those maps that would create at least three districts with 55% majority Hispanic voting populations. Lizbeth Gomez, a Visalian who sat on the advisory committee, doesn’t like the modifications supervisors have so far made to the maps the committee recommended. The supervisors, she says, are undermining the spirit in which the commission’s recommendations were made.
“I am disappointed to see and view some of the changes that were made to the maps that were approved by our commission,” Gomez said. “Some of them have larger population deviations now, new rougher shapes, and in my opinion disregard the community feedback the advisory commission received over the past few months.”
John Hobbs, who chaired the Advisory Commission, also offered his opinion in a letter to the supervisors. In it, Hobbs warned the Equity Coalition Map was “financed using the substantial resources of the Dolores Huerta Foundation.” Hobbs also reported the Equity Coalition Map was not subjected to the same analysis the three other maps recommended by the commission received.
“This is simply because several commissioners insisted on ‘short-circuiting’ the agreed upon process and ramrodding the ‘Community Coalition’ map through before commission and staff had had an opportunity to consider it using the review and analysis methodology applied to each of the other three maps,” Hobbs wrote.
Civil rights attorney John Sarsfield, who works with the Dolores Huerta Foundation, called Hobbs’ letter an attempt to “end run the commission’s recommendation,” saying Hobbs misrepresented the foundation’s involvement.
Drawing the Final Lines
As it stands, all five of the maps the supervisors will consider at the November 9 meeting do not meet the standards of the individual supervisors.
That means the map ultimately adopted will largely be drawn by the supervisors, using one of the five maps that have not been rejected.
“Over the course of the many weeks we held commission meetings, a whole lot of communities of interest were presented and they’re continuing to be presented to the county,” said Hess. “And so really, when the board considers the final maps, the communities of interest that you are interested in preserving will really be an important part of how you draw your maps.”
One of the communities that will be preserved is the city of Tulare, which will remain in a single supervisorial district in whatever map the supervisors eventually adopt. Leaders from Visalia, however, are less than thrilled with the treatment that town may receive when the final lines are laid. Visalia Vice Mayor Brian Poochigian said at the least the city’s wastewater treatment plant and the Visalia Industrial Park must be in the main district. So far, he doesn’t like what he’s seen.
“Visalia has been sliced and diced,” Poochigian said.
Visalia City Manager Leslie Caviglia told the supervisors it appears Visalia is losing too much influence as the supervisors struggle to meet the demands of the county’s other communities.
“I feel like we’ve just lost ground since last time,” she said. “Our request is Visalia be represented as a community of interest and that we have a large representation and that we be clustered together where we shop, where we go to school, where our people are employed, how our people travel throughout the community.
The way most proposed maps divide Visalia among three county districts will unfairly dilute the city’s influence in county politics, Caviglia says.
“Today as I look at most of these maps, we have lost ground and become more sliced and diced into three, three more like equal (divisions of the city) instead of really representing the significant almost 30% of this county that we are,” she said. “We don’t want to do harm to others in this process, but nor do we want to be carved up inappropriately so that our folks and how they live their lives are not represented either.”
Whether the supervisors select one of the maps approved for additional consideration on November 2 or create a new one of their own, the final product will undoubtedly meet the eight criteria mandated by state and federal authorities.
The final map will have a few certain characteristics and will assuredly lack others. The division of the Tulare area into more than one district is definitely a deal-breaker according to Supervisor Pete Vander Poel. Supervisor Eddie Valero will not vote for any map that does not have at least three districts with 55% Hispanic voters. Several of the supervisors refused to consider any map that makes the mountainous areas of Tulare County a separate district, saying there are actually three distinct mountain communities that need different elected officials championing their local causes.
Making sure all those individual demands are met means the supervisors will essentially draw their own map as the process comes to a deadlined end. The most difficult to modify for full compliance with the eight criteria will be the Wells Map, says Hess, the county’s assistant CEO.
“This one’s tough,” he said of the work needed to bring it into compliance without destroying its original intent.
“Make it work,” Board Chair Amy Shuklian responded.