By KAREN VELIE
As San Luis Obispo County prepares to draw new supervisorial district boundaries, leaders in the SLO County Democratic Party are covertly asking allies to promote redistricting plans that appear to support their candidates.
Several days before a July 20 Board of Supervisors meeting that included a discussion on redistricting, Democratic Party insiders shared a list of 93 contacts they planned to ask to either call or write the county in support of their group’s redistricting plans, according to an email from Ellen Beraud, the vice-chair of the SLO Democratic Party. The email notes that either “Tom” or “Ellen” had spoken to SLO City Mayor Heidi Harmon, Atascadero Councilwoman Susan Funk, Michael Latner and John Alan Connerly regarding speaking at the supervisor meeting, which they all did.
“I am here to encourage you to conduct an open and transparent redistricting process in which all communications are documented,” Harmon told the board. “The city of San Luis Obispo is a countywide community of interest, and as such, it is in the city’s interest to maintain three county supervisorial districts in its boundaries.”
Speakers from the group supported dividing the city of SLO into three supervisor districts: District 2, District 3 and District 5. Including a slice of the largely Democratic city of San Luis Obispo in District 5 makes it more likely a Democrat could win the North County seat.
In addition, the group supported keeping Oceano in District 4. Oceano has a large number of registered Democrats, and removing the community from District 4 would likely support Republican Lynn Compton over her competitor Jimmy Paulding, a Democrat.
However, state law does not permit the redrawing of district boundaries, which is required every 10 years, for political purposes.
“The board shall not adopt supervisorial district boundaries for the purpose of favoring or discriminating against a political party,” according to Assembly Bill 849.
In 2019, the California Legislature amended regulations for redistricting. First, districts need to be contiguous and have similar population numbers. Second, neighborhoods and communities of interest should be in the same district. Third, the division of cities should be avoided.
Beraud’s list includes CAPSLO — a nonprofit that receives funding from the county, the SLO Chamber of Commerce, Bend the Arc SLO Coalition, the Bike Coalition of SLO and the League of Women Voters.
Following the July 20 Board of Supervisors meeting, the group shared several emails discussing the need to promote a definition for communities of interest and critiquing those who called in on their behalf.
“Charles Varni presented solid reasons for keeping Oceano/Nipomo/AG in one district, as did folks who followed him,” said Ellen Boykin. “The translation of Rita’s comments was kind of botched.”
During the July 20 meeting, several public speakers and Supervisor Bruce Gibson demanded openness and transparency in communications regarding redistricting.
“The openness and transparency of this is of concern to a lot of folks that I’ve talked to,” Gibson said. “I just wanted to confirm that any communication from anyone to the staff that’s working on redistricting or any communication from anyone to the consultant through whatever interface, is a publicly disclosable document.”
In Beraud’s July 19 email, she seeks to keep their supporter list and plans for redistricting private.
“This is a valuable, confidential document – so please don’t share outside of this group,” Beraud writes.