When California legislators drew new districts for themselves and their congressional colleagues in 2001, they were interested only in political impacts and largely ignored demographic changes revealed in the 2000 census.
The bipartisan gerrymander was aimed at preserving the numerical status quo in both the 120-member Legislature and the 53-member congressional delegation by designating the partisan ownership of every district.
The public’s adverse reaction to the insider deal, however, led to a 2008 ballot measure that shifted legislative redistricting to an independent "citizens’ commission" and a 2010 measure that added congressional seats to its duties.
On Tuesday, the Census Bureau released the detailed 2010 census data that the commission will use to draw new legislative and congressional districts, as well as four Board of Equalization districts, and the numbers confirmed that big changes are in the air.
In effect, the commission will be adjusting the district lines not only for the demographic changes of the last decade, but for those of the 1990s that were disregarded in the 2001 gerrymander.
The most obvious adjustment will be a major shift of districts from slow-growing coastal — and mostly Democratic — coastal counties to rapidly growing inland areas, which have tended to vote Republican.
One of the geographic shifts is likely to be a loss for the nine-county Bay Area, where the population growth rate (5.4 percent) is scarcely half of the state’s 10 percent.
For instance, San Francisco itself, with a new population of 805,235, has 126,090 fewer people than it would need to justify one state Senate district (931,325), but now has two state senators, thanks to the gerrymander that Bay Area politicians oversaw.
Overall, the Bay Area will probably lose at least one congressional seat, one senator and two Assembly members to the Central Valley, which has seen double-digit growth.
An even starker shift is likely in Southern California. Los Angeles County’s growth rate, 3.1 percent, was less than a third of the state’s rate, while the Inland Empire counties of Riverside and San Bernardino expanded by a whopping 29.8 percent.
Whether the eastward shift benefits Republicans, however, is problematic because of another demographic factor — explosive Latino growth. Latinos now make up 37.6 percent of California’s population, just 2.5 percentage points behind the once-dominant white population.
The 2001 gerrymander gave Latinos short shrift, especially in the drawing of congressional seats, to protect white incumbents, but the commission will rectify that this year.
Coupled with a "top-two" primary system, the array of redrawn districts could mean a major change in how political power is divided in the nation’s largest state.
Dan Walters’ Sacramento Bee columns on state politics are syndicated by the Scripps Howard News Service.