Shift in city’s population, not growth, means voting districts need to be altered, potentially not by much
The city's population has not changed much in the past decade, but it is shifting. (Photo by Tim Roberts Photography)

Shift in city’s population, not growth, means voting districts need to be altered, potentially not by much

While the population of Palm Springs changed very little between the 2010 and 2020 US Census, shifts in where that population resides means the boundaries of its five voting districts need to change. It was initially believed those changes would be significant, but a late addition to maps available for public review may have avoided that scenario.

The maps, included in a staff report and available for viewing here, were drawn by a consultant, with input from city employees. They are intended to be a starting point for discussions taking place during public hearings and workshops involving the public, elected officials, and staff. The first public hearing since the maps became available is Thursday evening.

The need for redistricting is simple: Every 10 years, cities with by-district election systems must use new Census data to review and, if needed, redraw voting district lines to reflect how local populations have changed, providing for equal numbers of residents in each district. Palm Springs, when switching to districts in 2018, adopted boundaries based on 2010 Census data. New data from 2020 means new lines must be drawn.

The consultant initially prepared two maps for public review and comment. Both would have removed a feature city leaders and community members worked hard to create with adoption of the 2018 maps: a district whose population is a minority majority. That currently exists in District 1, but “due to the dispersed nature of the minority population throughout the community” it was initially hard to maintain.

A third option, submitted Wednesday, does provide for a minority majority, thanks to the efforts of City Clerk Anthony Mejia.

“Once I saw Maps  A and B,” Mejia explained via email, “I worked with the consultant to develop Map C, which I received today and is more consistent with the City Council’s direction.”

While the 2020 Census data shows the city’s population barely changed in the past decade — growing from 44,552 resident to 44,575 — it also indicates that population shifted. That shift has changed the balance in the five districts. Where courts have allowed for, at most, a 10% deviation between the most populated and least populated districts, the city’s deviation between those districts is now more than 12%.

“Currently, the city’s districts vary widely in population, a result of the post-recession building boom occurring since the 2010 census,” the staff report states. “One of the goals of redistricting is to reduce the total deviation to as close to zero as possible.”

Redrawing boundaries to get to that point is as easy or complicated as you care to make it. Similar to the 2018 district drawing process, members of the public can submit their own proposed maps. For now, the consultant’s maps are all that are up for discussion.

One redrawing from the consultant, Map Option A, provides a total deviation of just over 5% by reducing the population in District 3 and adding it to District 4. The other redrawing, Map Option B, also focuses on population rebalance, creating a deviation of just over 2%. But it does so in a more complicated manner, creating “significant changes” to the current configuration of districts 2, 3, and 4.

The deviation in the map submitted Wednesday — Map Option C — is 7.9%. Because of that, and the fact it meets other goals set by the Council, such as keeping organized neighborhoods intact within each district, Mejia wrote that, “Staff believes Map Options A and B should be set aside and the City Council and public should focus their comments on desired changes to Map Option C.”

While minority representation in the city’s voting districts may not be an issue, it was an issue this week at the county level.

Riverside County Supervisor Manuel Perez, who represents the Coachella Valley in District 4, was the sole opponent Wednesday to a district map approved 4-1 by the Riverside County Board of Supervisors. Perez favored a map lauded by the ACLU and other interest groups that would have sliced multiple cities and communities into disparate parts, particularly on the west side of the county, but kept minority voting blocs together. The map adopted Wednesday ensures most cities and unincorporated communities in the county remained intact within one district.

“It’s a difficult choice,” Perez said during deliberations about maps being considered. “But it’s the only map that … allows for an effective opportunity to elect preferred candidates and does not crack or dilute the Latino vote.”

More information: Palm Springs residents can draw and submit their own proposed district maps to the city by visiting mappalmsprings.org. Instructions for taking part in Thursday’s public hearing can be found here. A complete list of the redistricting workshops, held at various locations throughout December, can be found here.

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