(SAN BERNARDINO) – The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors held its fourth redistricting workshop this afternoon in San Bernardino. San Bernardino County is the largest county in the contiguous United States, and at over 20,000 square miles, is larger than any of the nine smallest states singularly and the four smallest states combined.
Despite the difficultly for residents to travel great distances to attend these meetings, the board has so far not made any effort to reach out to the residents in the outlying areas. That has not stopped residents from the San Bernardino mountains from attending the meetings and voicing their concerns about what has become politics as usual in “California’s most corrupt county.”
One estimate is that about 80 percent of all mountain residents who have expressed an opinion have requested that the mountain communities be represented by one supervisor when the new districts are drawn. One of the reasons they feel so strongly is that they have common issues not experienced in the desert and valley regions of the county. Also, as an undivided mountain, they are 50,000 residents strong, making their voice more important to the supervisor who represents them. Divided their voice is weaker and often goes unheard.
When California voters approved Proposition 11 in 2008 and Proposition 20 in 2010, they did so with the intent of taking partisan politics out of the redistricting process. Now that the statewide maps are out, some question if that was accomplished, however, members of California’s Citizens Redistricting Commission insist that politics did not play a role in the boundaries.
At the local level, there was no such mandate by the voters. Yet in many jurisdictions, government leaders have attempted at least to give the appearance of putting politics aside and creating logical boundaries that best serve the needs of their communities.
But not all government leaders have embraced the idea that their constituents should have a say in how and who governs a community. San Bernardino County waited to start the process until long after other counties already had committees formed, websites up and running, and constituents involved in the redistricting process, seemingly in an attempt to avoid citizen input.
San Bernardino County’s first try at the redistricting process began when County Executive Officer Greg Devereaux appointed former Board of Supervisors Fourth District Chief of Staff Mark Kirk to oversee the project to redraw the lines. However, Kirk was quickly removed from the project and later indicted by the county’s grand jury on public corruption charges not related to the redistricting process.
The process seemed to remain stalled with no apparent guiding force obvious to the public. That public conception, however, was not representative of the turmoil and politics going on behind the scenes.
In a county that is well into the second decade of ongoing corruption scandals that have led to its highest-ranking officials facing corruption charges and prison sentences, its moniker of “California’s most corrupt county” continues to be a badge of honor for those at the top. Politics has won out over the will of the people once again as board members play a game of one-upmanship to give the board’s voting majority their choice of potential voters and campaign donors while handing off the less-affluent constituents to those in the minority. Nowhere in the county is that more obvious than in one of the county’s prized jewels−Lake Arrowhead.
Lake Arrowhead has a largely conservative, Caucasian, wealthy population with many residents who participate in the election process, not only by their casting their votes, but also through their financial support of candidates. It is a prized constituency for any Republican.
Second District Supervisor Janice Rutherford was elected to the Board of Supervisors for the first time this past November on a platform of ethics and reform. She quickly showed her political savvy by gaining the trust and votes of two more experienced but less ingenious board members, Chairman Josie Gonzales and Fourth District Supervisor Gary Ovitt as well as enlisting the help of County Executive Officer Greg Devereaux. She set her mind on adding Lake Arrowhead to her district to give her a political advantage come re-election time and gained the votes to do so.
Rutherford’s clout, and lack of concern for her constituents, was proven in today’s meeting when the board voted to go with her choice of maps over the objections of a majority of the public in attendance and who had contacted the board in writing. In a 3-2 vote, Rutherford, Gonzales and Ovitt approved the map that gave each of them the greatest political advantage.
Rutherford’s current district reaches from Fontana to Rancho Cucamonga and up into the Devore area of San Bernardino. She also represents the western portion of the mountain communities. Although a Republican, she represents a significant Democratic and minority population. She is the only member of the Board of Supervisors who does not employ a single minority staff member. Her battle to obtain Lake Arrowhead as part of her district while ignoring the constituents she was voted in to serve and the constituents she claims she wants to serve, have many questioning her dedication to the ethics platform on which she ran last year.
The board’s decision today is not final. It simply narrowed the choices down to one map that can be tweaked several times before it must be adopted by November 1. Significant changes, however, are not expected.