Merced district maps start to shape up

The effort to bring in proposed maps for local election districts in Merced has drawn 15 submissions from city residents, according to those involved in the process.

Fourteen of those maps, as well as three from consultant National Demographics Corp., were uploaded to the website by Tuesday, when the Independent Districting Advisory Committee had its last public meeting. The 15th map from a resident was submitted too late to be online before the meeting.

The maps are also beginning to show some patterns and possible hurdles before they ultimately go before the Merced City Council for approval.

Eight of the submitted maps have followed the guidelines agreed upon by the city and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Los Angeles-based nonprofit that last year spurred the move to districts. Under those guidelines, three of the six districts are to be drawn south of the Santa Fe railroad tracks, and the districts should be population-balanced.

15The number of maps submitted by local residents

Miranda Lutzow, the city’s assistant city clerk, said the meeting drew about a dozen people, some of whom had drawn the maps. She said the consultant highlighted the eight maps that met all of the guidelines.

“A lot of the feedback they’ve been getting from the people who show up is that they don’t like using the railroad,” she said. “They don’t like breaking up that downtown district.”

The maps that did not meet the guidelines tended to extend some districts north of the railroad until they hit Bear Creek. But the maps that did not follow the guidelines have not been entirely thrown out by the committee.

The move to districts is supposed to lead the council to better reflect the city’s population, according to advocates for districts.

Race can be a factor when drawing lines for the districts, but it should not be the only one, according to a report from the consulting firm. Some of the districts in the proposed maps would have a Latino population above 50 percent. One map had a district with a 60 percent Latino population.

Though the city’s population is 49.6 percent Hispanic, according to the U.S. census, the mayor and five of the councilmen are white. The seventh member of the council is a Hmong man.

We’re pretty much letting people draw maps the way they feel districts should be

Miguel Lopez, the committee’s vice chairman

The three southern districts tend to have the highest percentage of Latinos, ranging from 35 percent to 60 percent, according to a report from the project consultant.

Miguel Lopez, the committee’s vice chairman, said the turnout of submitted maps is a good start. The committee will continue to gather more maps drawn by residents.

He said map drawers should be aware of the guidelines agreed upon for the districts, but said it’s up to residents if they would like to follow them strictly. “We’re pretty much letting people draw maps the way they feel districts should be,” he said.

Draft maps are supposed to be presented to the council in September.

Public participation kits for drawing maps are available at the meetings in Spanish, English and Hmong for residents interested in drawing district lines to propose to the community. Those kits are also available on the city’s website by clicking the “Boards and Commissions” tab and then clicking on the Independent Districting Advisory Committee.

The next public meeting of the committee is 5:30 p.m. July 22 at Rivera Middle School, 945 Buena Vista Drive.

Thaddeus Miller: 209-385-2453, @thaddeusmiller