A view of Oakland (foreground) photographed from Joaquin Miller Park.
A view of Oakland (foreground) photographed from Joaquin Miller Park. Credit: Amir Aziz

The process of redistricting—redrawing political district boundaries—is in full swing at the city, county, and state level. The outcomes are important for several reasons. 

District boundaries determine who gets to vote for which elected officials. They distribute political power geographically, and because many communities in Oakland and beyond are segregated by race, ethnicity, and income levels, boundaries can be a crucial factor determining whether or not a particular community is represented on a governing board or legislature. The better represented a community is, the more resources they can draw to their district, and the more they can shape policies to their benefit.

Oakland has seven districts for City Council and the Oakland Unified School District board. And, there are five districts for the county Board of Supervisors, three of which currently include large portions of Oakland.

The process of redrawing these maps is coming to an end very soon, so we decided to take a look at each redistricting process, and some of the debates people are having about how to draw the new lines.

Why do we redraw district boundaries? And who picks the new maps?

Lines are redrawn every 10 years based upon U.S. Census data to ensure everyone is represented equally. But the process differs depending on the level of government. 

California voters took redistricting power away from the state Legislature in 2008. The California Citizens Redistricting Commission—an independent group of Democrats, Republicans, and members from neither major party—are now responsible for overseeing new boundaries for state assembly and senate districts, as well as congressional districts. (California, for the first time in state history, is losing a congressional seat.

When are the next redistricting meetings?

  • Oakland’s redistricting commission anticipates adopting a map on Dec. 8 and must adopt the new boundaries by Dec. 31 at the latest. More hearings are scheduled for Dec. 1 and Dec. 6, with workshops on Nov. 30 and Dec. 4. Residents can submit written comments online and propose a custom map using this online tool
  • The county’s next hearing is Dec. 2 at 6 p.m. Supervisors plan to approve a final map at a meeting scheduled for Dec. 7. Residents can still submit comments here, and view an interactive version of Map A and other visualizations here.

Stripping power away from elected officials, who some felt drew maps to benefit elected officials or political parties, is something Oakland voters wanted as well. The Oakland Redistricting Commission, established by a 2014 ballot measure, is now in charge of changes to City Council and school board districts. This year’s process is the commission’s first. 

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors, however, maintains control over boundary changes to supervisor districts. 

Decision makers must comply with the Voting Rights Act, consider diversity and contiguity and minimize divisions of neighborhoods and communities of interest, which can be neighborhood associations or planning zones or where many residents speak the same language and should be kept within a single district. 

State law requires that at least four public hearings be held. The process in Oakland and Alameda County are nearing completion, with new boundaries expected to be approved in December. Residents are still encouraged to submit comments on proposed maps and thoughts on which neighborhoods or communities of interest should be kept intact. 

Where are the county supervisors at in their process of redrawing district boundaries?

As things stand now, most Oakland residents will remain in their current county supervisor district. The Alameda County Board of Supervisors have selected a map that proposes minimal changes. Map A was selected from four visualizations, including some that would have reduced the number of supervisorial districts in Oakland from three to two. 

Under the proposed map, Oakland is in districts, 3, 4, and 5, much like it is today. District 3 includes Chinatown, Jack London Square, Eastlake, and parts of Fruitvale and East Oakland, plus Alameda, San Leandro and San Lorenzo. 

East Oakland, including Eastmont, the Oakland Hills, Castro Valley, and Pleasanton are in District 4. And in District 5, North Oakland, West Oakland, downtown, and Glenview are grouped with Berkeley, Emeryville, and Albany. 

There are some changes based on public comment. Chinatown, Lake Merritt neighborhoods and Glenview are no longer split up. More changes may occur before the map is finalized. 

The Unity Council, in comments submitted to the supervisors, is asking that Chinatown, San Antonio, Fruitvale, East Oakland and deep East Oakland remain together as communities of interest. Map A separates East Oakland from the other neighborhoods, and divides Fruitvale into two districts. 

Other Oakland residents would like to see the East Oakland Black Cultural Zone grouped together. The zone is designed as being from High Street to the San Leandro border. Tracy Wilson, an East Oakland native, said in written comments to the board that it is important to keep the area’s Black churches, nonprofits, and community organizations, such as Roots Community Health Center, as one. 

“We need to keep the BCZ (community of interest) together to secure the Black voices within this community and to make sure that they can continue to speak as one voice that represents all goals, strength and body,” Wilson wrote. “Splitting us up lessens our impact, our values become skewed, and our voices undervalued as well as silenced by others who are unfamiliar with what we have come to know about our community in familiarity and shared experiences.” 

Other proposed maps would have cut Oakland into two districts. Historically, Oakland has had three supervisors—and therefore three votes—on the Board of Supervisors. 

Supervisor Richard Valle, who represents Hayward, Union City, Newark, and parts of Fremont and Sunol, said it did not make sense to take away an elected board member from Oakland. The county’s core mission, Valle said, is to address issues of poverty by providing social services, care, and programs serving the county’s most vulnerable residents. 

“For me as a supervisor to ignore the biggest poverty area of the county just because people believe three supervisors is too much is ignoring the truth. While Map D may look attractive to a lot of people, it is not attractive to me,” Valle said at a recent redistricting meeting. 

As of now, Map A is the preferred map that will likely be approved by the supervisors. Credit: courtesy of Alameda County

At that same meeting on Nov. 16, Supervisor Keith Carson, whose district includes West Oakland, noted that the supervisors had heard from the same community members throughout the redistricting process, disproportionately from the Tri-Valley areas. “The ones who are not participating are the ones we service,” Carson said. 

Some Tri-Valley residents have strongly opposed keeping Pleasanton in a district with Oakland and Castro Valley, arguing the city has more in common with Livermore and Dublin. Supervisor Nate Miley, who currently represents Pleasanton and Oakland, said if that happened “you begin to Balkanize the Board of Supervisors.” Of the four visualizations, only Map A divides Pleasanton from the rest of the Tri-Valley. 

“Creating a district that sets up Pleasanton residents to be disenfranchised is not fair,” said Pleasanton resident Cathy Gabor in written comments submitted to the supervisors. “It does not matter if the supervisor is Nate Miley or someone else, the district is set up to always diminish the importance of Pleasanton.” 

Miley was also opposed to grouping all the unincorporated areas of the county under one supervisor. Those areas have no city government services or representation and rely on county services. “You would have one supervisor representing the entire unincorporated area,” Miley said at a hearing. “It would be a colossal undertaking and a disservice to the unincorporated area.” 

How close is Oakland’s redistricting commission to making a final decision?

The new boundaries in the city of Oakland are still evolving. 

Over the past several months, the redistricting commission has taken a look at several versions of new boundaries for City Council and the Oakland Unified School District board. In October, the commission decided to prioritize two of four proposed maps, including one that would create a district consisting entirely of the Oakland Hills

Some groups representing hills residents resisted the idea, arguing to continue to distribute their neighborhoods into multiple districts. Currently, districts 1, 4, 6, and 7 include large areas of the hills. 

“We don’t believe that placing most of the ‘hills’ neighborhoods into one massive district well serves our City,” Sue Piper, chair of the Oakland Firesafe Council wrote to commissioners in October. “Oakland is a vibrant city with as many opinions as races, ethnicities and communities of interest. What makes Oakland livable and dynamic are the many opportunities for cross fertilization of ideas and opinions. Isolating one group from another … runs counter to that which makes Oakland Oakland.” 

After such feedback, the commission this month decided to reconsider a map that proposes minimal changes, and directed staff and consultants to create four new sets of maps, some of which do not include a hills-only district. Residents can access the maps here

The maps take into consideration neighborhoods residents have requested to keep intact, including Glenview, the current lines of District 2, Rockridge, West Oakland, Dimond, Lake Merritt and Piedmont Pines. 

David DeBolt reported on City Hall and policing for The Oaklandside. He spent 12 years working for daily newspapers in the Bay Area, including on the Peninsula and Solano County. He joined the Bay Area News Group in 2012 where he covered a variety of beats, most recently as a senior breaking news reporter. During his time at BANG, DeBolt covered Oakland City Hall, the Raiders stadium saga and the A’s search for a new ballpark, as well as the Oakland Police Department and police reform efforts. He was part of the East Bay Times staff honored with the Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News for coverage of the Ghost Ship warehouse fire.