Lake Merritt and Oakland. Credit: Darwin BondGraham

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After months of public debate, the Oakland Redistricting Commission on Wednesday evening approved a map that sets new City Council and Oakland Unified School District board director boundaries. The new district lines go into effect ahead of the November election and will be in place for the next decade. 

The Redistricting Commission, which is made up of 12 unelected residents who were to have no monetary ties to city government or school district, narrowly reached the supermajority 9-3 vote needed to finalize the new electoral map. You can view the new boundaries here

The volunteer commission arrived at their decision after more than two dozen meetings held since last fall, some lasting until the wee hours of the morning, after taking public feedback on and weighing the pros and cons of each map iteration. 

This was the first time in Oakland’s history that an independent commission of residents was tasked with deciding how Oakland’s seven Council and school districts should be redrawn. A 2014 voter-approved measure stripped that power away from the City Council to avoid any appearance that elected officials were making decisions to benefit themselves or their friends. 

The redistricting process—which happens every 10 years at the local, state, and federal level following release of the new U.S. census data—is crucial in ensuring that the distribution of political power is fairly represented on elected boards.

It is especially important in a diverse and dynamic city like Oakland, where except for a small handful of elected positions—citywide offices like mayor, the council at-large position, and city attorney—residents elect their council and school board representatives based on the district where they live. 

An “imperfect” map

Some commission members said the first-of-its-kind process by the independent commission was complicated by a national delay in census data, and virtual-only meetings, all caused by the coronavirus pandemic. 

“We are imperfect people involved in an imperfect process and we have an imperfect map,” is how Redistricting Commissioner Jan Stevens, who lives in District 1, summed it up Wednesday evening. 

Most critics of the new map agreed a decision had to be made. Having blown past its deadline of Dec. 31, the commission was facing the possibility of having a superior court judge step in to decide the boundaries if it did not approve the map by this month. 

Any delay could have jeopardized upcoming elections. This fall, there are City Council and OUSD school board director races in District 2, 4, and 6. The new boundaries do not move any current City Council members out of their districts. However, it appears at least one school board member, Mike Hutchinson, was moved from District 5 to District 4. 

Under the final map, the Coliseum Complex is now in District 6. Residents of District 7, which is in deep East Oakland, saw the switch as controversial for focusing on “economic engines” and said the community has been working on Coliseum-related projects since the 90s. 

Joelle Crepsac, a District 6 resident, told the commission that, for the first time, she and other District 6 residents felt heard. Crespac said her East Oakland district, which abuts District 7, has long been overlooked when it comes to representation and economic investment. “Thank you for finally doing something that helps District 6,” Crespac said. 

Rickisha Herron, the chair of the Eastmont neighborhood council in District 6, supports having the Coliseum in District 6, but also wants to work with District 7 residents. “I really do think the infighting does not make sense,” Herron said. “I am hoping we will be able to work together.” 

Other public speakers were pleased that the Glenview area was unified back into one district, but still not happy that a sliver of the neighborhood below MacArthur Boulevard was left out. Representatives of the Lakeshore Homes Association called in upset that homes in the Trestle Glen were split amongst two districts.

Residents of the Bartlett, a residential neighborhood off 35th Avenue, again called on the commissions to answer for why Bartlett was moved to District 5, and out of from District 4, where residents say they spend more time shopping and hanging out along the MacArthur Boulevard shops in the Dimond and Laurel neighborhoods.

Earlier in the process, a map proposed creating a district made up of the Oakland hills, but the commission tossed aside that version.

Complaints filed about alleged ethical violations

Some commissioners expressed misgivings about approving the map given that complaints have been filed by Oakland residents with the Oakland Public Ethics Commission related to the process. That commission has received three complaints filed by residents Ralph Kanz, Nancy Sidebotham, and Sheryl Walton, the Enforcement Chief for the Public Ethics Commission, Kellie Johnson, told The Oaklandside Wednesday evening. 

One of the complaints alleges Councilman Loren Taylor spoke to a member of the redistricting commission last fall about wanting the Coliseum in District 6, which he represents. Another complaint alleges the city did not properly give notice about a December meeting of the commission, in possible violation of the Brown Act, a California law meant to ensure that the public knows about public meetings. 

Johnson, in a response to an email from The Oaklandside, said the “complaints above are currently under preliminary review.”

David DeBolt reports 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.