Mapping an Uncertain Future

Environmental champion Fran Pavley got screwed in legislative redistricting.

With the world focused on the silly brinksmanship in Congress over the national debt ceiling, there hasn’t been enough focus on the ramifications of the recent California legislative redistricting process.  The final maps, created by an independent body called the California Citizens Redistricting Committee, just came out last week and the new districts are substantially different.  For the L.A. County coast, the changes are pretty dramatic.

Overall, our local coast didn’t do that well during redistricting.  Separating the ports in different congressional and senate districts is not good for San Pedro Bay and misses the opportunity to integrate environmental protection and cleanup efforts among the ports, and L.A. and Long Beach. The new state senate districts separate some of the strongest supporters of Santa Monica Mountains conservation from the actual resource.  That makes it tougher for Westside residents to help out on those issues.

And although the new congressional district now covers the entire Santa Monica Bay coast, cynically, there haven’t been major federal coastal protection and water quality benefits coming out of Congress in many years. (For example, the last Clean Water Act reauthorization was 1987).  So the likelihood of legislation that benefits the coastal environment is trivial.

The new congressional district includes all of Santa Monica Bay. This is a first.  Currently, the Bay is carved up among Reps. Janice Hahn, Henry Waxman and Brad Sherman.

The new unified district should definitely help the federal profile and effectiveness of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, and it will help to have one go-to leader on Santa Monica Bay protection issues.  Strangely, the San Pedro Bay was carved up into multiple districts, with the Ports of L.A. and the Port of Long Beach in separate districts that go far inland. That can’t help San Pedro Bay cleanup efforts or coordination between the ports on the business side.

In the state senate, California’s premier environmental legislator, Fran Pavley, got screwed.  Her district still includes the Malibu Creek watershed and the west San Fernando Valley, but the district no longer includes the central Santa Monica Bay coast, including Santa Monica and the Palisades.

Because she has done more for the Santa Monica Bay and the Santa Monica Mountains than any other state legislator in the last decade, this is a big loss, if only for a few years.

In the longer term, carving up Santa Monica and the Bay in this manner is not environmentally beneficial.

The district still has most of the least developed, most natural watershed resources, but not enough of the population that considers watershed a protection and conservation a high priority.

For the rest of the Bay, there is now one mega-Bay district that goes from Palos Verdes to Topanga. The district covers most of the Bay population and most of the pollution sources.  One would expect that the senator who represents the district to be very strong on coastal protection issues. As for San Pedro Bay, the districts look similar to the congressional districts, with the ports in different districts.

Finally, the state assembly districts seemed to have been drawn by completely different people.  For the Santa Monica Bay coast, the Bay was carved into three different districts despite the fact that assembly districts have much smaller populations than congressional or state senate districts.

Clearly, the thinking to keep most of the coast together that prevailed in the senate and congressional mapping, was thrown out the window for the assembly.

This is a major change from the current two-district configuration.  Unlike the state senate, the north and central Bay are still in the same assembly district.  This is good for the Santa Monica Mountains and the north Bay watersheds.

However, there is now a Venice to El Segundo-Hawthorne, Inglewood district that carves up the Bay and the Ballona Creek watershed.  For example, Culver City, long an innovator and supporter of Ballona Creek watershed management, now has no connection to Santa Monica Bay, Ballona Wetlands or the Marina in the congressional, senate or assembly districts.

Staunch environmentalist and incumbent assemblymember Betsy Butler lives in this district. So if she chooses to stay in the Marina and run for this seat, she no longer would represent the South Bay, and her constituents wouldn’t have as strong a connection to protecting the Bay.

The South Bay district goes from Manhattan Beach to PV and includes Torrance, which covers most of the areas that one thinks of as the South Bay.  So the constituents in this district would share Butler’s strong environmental priorities, but she would have to move into the district.

And finally, all of San Pedro Bay is in one assembly district, so this may be the seat that has the most influence over cleaning up San Pedro bay pollution and coordinating efforts between the ports.

All these changes don’t mean that the congressional representative won’t have the opportunity to help get federal benefits from the budget, but the days of mega-district earmarks are definitely waning in these fiscal times.

And the challenge of protecting L.A. County’s coastal resources will be more difficult than ever.

Also, seeing environmental leaders like Fran Pavleyand Betsy Butler get unfavorable redistricting boundaries as incumbents brings to mind what happened to former assemblymember Hannah Beth Jackson’s district in 2000.

With communities of common interest on coastal and watershed protection getting divided up in different ways, getting new elected officials to start thinking and leading on watershed management issues will prove daunting.  Although the district lines are changing, it’s critical for local environmentalists to ensure that coastal resource and watershed protection issues are at the top of the electeds’ priorities list.

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