Draft Map F3 is the proposal Oakland's Redistricting Commission voted to move ahead with at its January 5 meeting. Small changes will still likely be made at upcoming meetings. Credit: Courtesy city of Oakland

Since October, Oakland’s independent Redistricting Commission has held over two dozen meetings to discuss the pros and cons of various potential changes to the city’s district boundaries, which determine City Council and school board representation. In the weeks running up to Dec. 31—the deadline for the commission to pick a final map—meetings started running as long as seven hours. Dozens of residents and representatives of labor unions and community groups called in to argue late into the night over how to redraw the lines, and the commission received over 1,000 pages of comments.

But the commission blew past the Dec. 31 deadline.

Still needing to pick a final map, the commission will meet tomorrow, Jan. 19. All Oakland residents can participate. But if you’re entering the city’s redistricting debate for the first time, be prepared to do your homework. 

The process of drawing up new district maps is complex and has involved a slew of consultants incorporating new decennial census data, among other considerations. Numerous residents and groups have chimed in about their desires and concerns along the way. Of course, the final decision rests with the commissioners.

Here’s some of what you should know.

Why the missed deadline matters

Oakland voters approved a ballot measure in 2014 that changed the City Charter by taking the power to draw district maps away from the City Council and putting it in the hands of an independent Redistricting Commission.

The amendment required the commission to pick a final map before Dec. 31, 2021—which it failed to do—and according to a legal opinion from City Attorney Barbara Parker, the deadline cannot be extended.

So what happens now? According to the City Charter, the City Attorney is required to ask a state judge to set the new district boundaries. This map would be used in upcoming elections, or until the Redistricting Commission adopts a different plan to replace it.

Parker filed a petition in Alameda County Superior Court on Jan. 7 asking for just that, while emphasizing that the court-ordered map is meant to be “temporary.” “There is still time for the commission to adopt a plan well before the next municipal election,” wrote Parker. The actual deadline for the adoption of a new map by the commission will likely be April 17, which is when the county Registrar needs to know how Oakland will proceed.

Read our redistricting coverage

What’s at stake?

In a nutshell, redistricting is all about representation. Oakland uses a district-based system of elections in which residents get to vote for the person who will represent their geographic part of the city.

Your City Council representative is responsible for writing and voting on new legislation to solve problems affecting the entire city. But a lot of what councilmembers do is provide services for residents of their districts. Oakland Unified School District board directors also bring forth the needs of the families and schools in their individual districts.

It’s well understood that there are many different communities in Oakland that have particular needs or face specific kinds of problems. And because a lot of these communities—such as racial and ethnic groups, people who speak the same language, or people with similar income levels—are often clustered in a particular area of the city, breaking them up across two or more re-defined council districts could result in diluting their political strength. 

For this reason, federal and state laws like the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 have recognized the importance of ensuring that election maps don’t disempower minority communities.

Commissioners have whittled down to one map, but are still tweaking its boundaries

Commissioners considered 11 different maps over the course of the redistricting process, each named using a different letter of the alphabet, A through K. Each of those maps was, in turn, refined into multiple versions, with numbers being tacked on to each new version.

On Dec. 13, the commission voted to toss out all of the maps except for one: Map F3

You might have heard that, earlier in the process, there was a map that would have created an Oakland “hills district.” That map got tossed. F3’s district lines aren’t much different than the boundaries Oakland currently uses for elections, with most of the districts spanning both the whiter and wealthier hills areas as well as the flatland parts of the city where more working class and people of color live. But there are some key differences between F3 and the current elections map we use, and commissioners and residents are still weighing in on changes they’d like to see.

What are some of the big points of agreement, or disagreement?

Major priorities identified by some residents and commissioners include not splitting Fruitvale into two separate districts, which would dilute the electoral power of Latinx voters. Others want to ensure that Lake Merritt is divided among two council districts (D2 and D3) so that this resource-intense and problem-prone part of Oakland gets lots of attention.

Most commissioners and many members of the public have stressed that district boundaries—particularly D3, D6, and D7—should be drawn so as to not dilute the strength of Black voters.

There’s also been broad support for ensuring that Asian communities from Chinatown to areas east of Lake Merritt are all included in District 2.

Residents who live around Dimond Park were unhappy to see that some proposals would have divided their neighborhoods across several districts.

Other questions have proven more divisive: Where should the Coliseum end up? Should this massive property (half-owned by the city) stay in District 7, or be moved into District 6? Should Brooklyn Basin stay in District 2, or shift to District 3?

Each commissioner’s desired modifications to Map F3 have been posted online for the public to review, along with the reasons they want to see these changes.

What happens if the commission deadlocks again?

The commission can only adopt a final map through a supermajority vote, or at least nine of its 12 members.

If they can’t agree by early February, City Attorney Parker wrote in her petition to a state judge that she’ll move forward with the process of asking the court to impose a new map on the city for use in the November election. But it won’t be a random map: Parker wrote that she’ll “propose that the court adopt the plan that has the support of the largest number of Commissioners at that time.”

Before joining The Oaklandside as News Editor, Darwin BondGraham was a freelance investigative reporter covering police and prosecutorial misconduct. He has reported on gun violence for The Guardian and was a staff writer for the East Bay Express. He holds a doctorate in sociology from UC Santa Barbara and was the co-recipient of the George Polk Award for local reporting in 2017. He is also the co-author of The Riders Come Out at Night, a book examining the Oakland Police Department's history of corruption and reform.