Supervisors to Settle Re-districting Lawsuit

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

April 7, 2023

The so-called Patten Map will be discarded and the County Board of Supervisors will restart the redistricting process to create a new one.

The confusion surrounding the County elections in 2022 could see a repeat now that County Supervisors have capitulated to claims in a lawsuit filed by a citizen’s group challenging the redrawn district map.

The new, liberal majority of Supervisors, which took office after the November 2022 General Election, voted 3-2 to settle a lawsuit brought by SLO County Citizens for Good Governance, a not-for-profit committee formed specifically to challenge the re-districting done in 2021 by a previous, conservative board majority, claiming the new map was gerrymandered to favor Republican candidates for office.

“San Luis Obispo County Supervisors,” reads a news release from the County, “have approved a settlement agreement with SLO County Citizens for Good Government, the League of Women’s Voters and three other plaintiffs who challenged the validity of the supervisorial district map adopted in December 2021.”

A proposed redistricting map that the Board of Supervisors
 will consider. 

That settlement would throw out the so-called “Patten Map,” the map approved by Supervisors in 2021 that was developed by a private citizen, Richard Patten of the South County.

The Supervisors had four different maps presented to them for consideration, most had district lines very similar to the existing map, with one presented by the SLO Chamber of Commerce and the others developed by a consultant. 

The County’s population since the 2010 Census had grown little, certainly not enough to warrant wholesale changes to the districts, the opponents claimed.

The Patten Map dramatically re-drew the district lines, moving Morro Bay, Los Osos and the western side of San Luis Obispo out of District 2, which had consisted primarily of the towns and one city on the North Coast.

Los Osos was moved into Dist. 5 and SLO and Morro Bay were lumped into a new Dist. 3 that basically followed Chorro Valley form SLO to Morro Bay and contained few residents in County-controlled areas. Dist. 2 picked up San Miguel and Atascadero.

That change, coupled with the need for a special election in Dist. 3, made the elections in 2022 at best confusing.

Dist. 3 Supervisor Dawn Ortiz-Legg, who was appointed to the job after the death of Adam Hill in 2020, had to run for a 2-year term using the old District 3 boundaries. 

And neither Morro Bay, Los Osos nor much of SLO were even allowed to vote for any supervisor in 2022. It also has left the communities wondering just who represents them on the Board of Supervisors?

“In January of last year,” the County news release said, “a judge allowed the map to stand through the 2022 election cycle, but found the petitioners had a reasonable probability of prevailing in court. 

“The judge also found if that happened, the appropriate remedy would be for County Supervisors to reconsider the matter and evaluate any proposed maps consistent with the Fair Maps Act.”

Supervisors believed that given the judge’s proclamations, it would be better to settle out of court. “Given the significant expense and uncertainty associated with taking the case to trial,” the County said, “the Board of Supervisors has agreed to settle the case and has authorized the County Administrative Officer to sign the agreement.”

The decision by Supervisors lead to the public being invited to comment on the matter at its April 4 meeting, which will set up April 18 for officially repealing the Patten Map and potentially adopting one of the other maps.

But the claims of Gerrymandering to favor Republicans would seem to be somewhat dubious, given that Dist. 2 Supervisor Bruce Gibson, Ortiz-Legg and Dist. 4 challenger, Jimmy Paulding — who unseated Lynn Compton — won their respective races, flipping the board majority to the liberal side. (Supervisors are required to officially be non-partisan.)

Taxpayers will of course pay for all of this. “As part of the settlement,” the County said, “the County agreed to pay plaintiffs legal fees in the amount of $300,000. This was to address the risk the Court could order the county to pay legal fees and costs well in excess of this amount.”

So what’s going to happen in 2024, when three Supervisors — Dist. 1’s John Peschong, Dist. 5’s Debbie Arnold; and Dist. 3’s Ortiz-Legg, who could be seeking a full 4-year term — will be up for re-election?

EBN sent County Clerk-Recorder, Elaina Cano, some questions about what the 2024 elections might look like, including whether Los Osos and Morro Bay will again be excluded, since Dist. 2’s Gibson won re-election last year in the redrawn district, albeit by just 13 votes, and won’t be running in 2024.

“These are great questions,” Cano said, “but they are mostly for the Board of Supervisors to answer. The only thing I can officially tell you as the Registrar of Voters, is that in 2024, Supervisorial Districts 1, 3, and 5 will be on the ballot. You may be searching for more information but, unfortunately, they [Supervisors] will be the ones who determine who gets to vote in the upcoming elections by adopting a new map.”

Something else they might consider is writing a law that addresses what will happen if districts are redrawn, to ensure no other communities endure the kind of exclusion from voting that Morro Bay and Los Osos experienced in 2022.

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