By Francesca Segre
In the past 60 years, only one Latino and one African-American have served on the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors. Every other supervisor has been white. This in a county where one-quarter of the population is Asian and another quarter is Latino.
The lack of diversity in government led to a civil rights lawsuit that claimed the county's at-large voting system was diluting the electoral power of minorities. The county settled the suit last year, agreeing to reconsider its district lines and solicit public input on how they should be drawn.
As part of that effort, San Mateo County is pointing residents to a new online tool where they can redraw the lines of the county's five districts. The tool, created by the organization Healthy City, shows how changing borders would affect the district's population and ethnic makeup, and it allows any user to submit suggested maps to the Board of Supervisors.
In addition to the website, residents also have been invited to a series of meetings to discuss their boundary preferences.
Supervisor Warren Slocum, from District 4, said at one community meeting that people from Atherton, a wealthy residential suburb, already have weighed in, suggesting the town be separated from District 3.
“Their claim is that Atherton has very little in common with the agricultural, more rural coast, so they would argue that they should be part of a different district,” Slocum said.
County Supervisor Dave Pine said last year he thought the new voting system would help diversify the board to better reflect the demographics of the county, as candidates would be able to focus on appealing to just one of the five districts instead of the entire county population.
"With the district election system, more people can run for office because they don’t have the burden of having to raise many hundreds of thousands of dollars or having substantial name recognition."
But Daly City Councilman Sal Torres said if district lines are redrawn, it could create similar problems to ones the lawsuit sought to resolve.
“There is a fear that the lines will be redrawn in such a manner that there will be a partition of minority communities,” he said. “For example, if you take Daly City and you redraw the lines and you cut Daly City in two or three, now you are diluting the area’s Asian population.”
The next meeting to discuss redrawing the lines is Aug. 8 in East Palo Alto.