The California Citizens Redistricting Commission heard a cohesive message from San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara County residents Wednesday at its first regional meeting: Keep the counties whole in drawing new state Assembly, Senate and congressional districts.

Around 100 residents mostly from San Luis Obispo and northern Santa Barbara County showed up for the first Region 5 meeting at the San Luis Obispo County offices. Approximately 30 signed up to address the 14-member commission.

Most pleaded to keep the two counties intact when they begin to draw the new district boundaries. Current congressional districts divide the two counties between three representatives. State offices split the counties between four representatives.

Those who addressed the commission spoke about the two counties needing to remain cohesive to have a voice in both state and federal government. Nearly all said the current gerrymandered districts stretching from San Jose to Santa Clarita to the San Joaquin Valley misrepresent their constituents.

“We believe that Santa Barbara County should be kept whole, as well as San Luis Obispo County,” said Andy Caldwell, executive director of the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business, which represents those interests in both of those counties as well as Ventura County.

The first speaker to address the commission, Caldwell set the tone for what was a parade of citizens asking to respect county boundaries when it comes to drawing the lines. He was the first of several speakers who pointed out the unique agriculture the coastal counties share. He also said that only about 10 percent of the two counties is developed into urban communities. He said they need to remain cohesive to be properly represented in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.

Former Santa Barbara County Chief Executive Officer Mike Brown also spoke of keeping the counties intact and together to maintain effective social services.

“It’s really important they have cohesive representation in the state government,” Brown said.

While the majority opinion was to keep county lines intact when drawing the new legislative districts, almost everyone thanked the commission for its effort in moving away from the gerrymandered past.

“I know the people of the state and the county support you in this historic effort,” said Jim Irving, a northern San Luis Obispo County real estate broker who also serves on the county planning commission.

Irving pointed out the distinct differences between the coastal counties and those in the San Joaquin Valley, where much of San Luis Obispo County is lumped into the 22nd Congressional District represented by Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield). Irving said the coastal counties of Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Monterey have much more in common socially, economically and agriculturally than they do with Kern County, where their representative lives.

The requests to keep the counties intact even crossed political lines. Former 35th District Assemblymen Pedro Nava, a Democrat, and Brooks Firestone, a Republican, joined forces in asking the commission to keep Santa Barbara County whole when redistricting.

While the commissioners listened intently to the testimony, they cautioned the audience that because of the population requirements for the legislative districts, counties and sometimes even cities would have to be divided.

“We don’t want to split counties, but you can tell from the (population) numbers we’re not going to be able to do that every time,” said Commissioner Cynthia Dai, chief executive officer of a consulting firm in San Francisco. “We’re going to have to split counties. We don’t want to, but we have to get down to one single person on the congressional districts.”

Population targets for the 53 congressional districts in California are 702,905 and they can’t vary by more than a single person. The 40 state Senate districts need approximately 931,349, while the 80 Assembly districts aim for 465,674 residents. The state legislative districts have a plus-minus variation of 5 percent.

The commission also must consider the U.S. Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act in their work. They must attempt to draw districts that are contiguous and are as compact as possible. They also must respect counties, cities, neighborhoods and communities of interest wherever possible.

The commission will finish its first round of regional meetings and have its first series of draft maps available for public review by June 8. 

A second Region 5 meeting is scheduled for June 22 in Oxnard.

Public testimony also is accepted at www.wedrawthelines.ca.gov.

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