The Santa Rosa Junior College Board of Trustees oversee everything at the college, from hiring the president to planning construction projects. Each of the seven board members represent a district in Sonoma County of about 70,000 people — except the Santa Rosa 3, 4 and 5 district, where three “at large” board members represent the district of 207,132 people collectively. Candidates from this area have to campaign to more constituents, pay more fees and, hypothetically, all three could live on the same street, which contradicts the intent of creating districts that reflect the community.
At the study session to consider splitting up the Santa Rosa 3, 4 and 5 district, community support for redistricting was overwhelming. The Oak Leaf editorial staff agrees with the numerous organizations that back redistricting, including the SRJC Classified Senate, the All Faculty Association, the Sonoma County Democratic Party and the SRJC Black Student Union.
SRJC created the Santa Rosa district in 1965 when Sonoma County was a very different place. Since then, the county’s population has about tripled, reaching 500,000 people. Latinos made up 5.1 percent of SRJC’s student body in 1970 and that number grew to 30.3 percent in 2013.
The central area of the 3, 4 and 5 district, a proposed district, has the highest Latino concentration in Sonoma County — nearly 47 percent is Latino. If the board decided to break up the Santa Rosa district into three districts, Latinos in the urban core would no longer have their voice diluted in a district three times as populous as the other four. Hispanic students, many part of M.E.Ch.A, symbolically taped their mouths shut at the study session.
Creating boundaries that better represent minority communities also complies with the education code and the California Voting Rights Act. California Education Code Section 72036 states, “The governing board shall set the initial boundaries of each trustee area to reflect substantially equal population in each district as enumerated in the most recent decennial federal census.”
Basically, the board set the boundaries that reflected the county’s population then, and now it’s time for a change.
But this change won’t just happen. The board must move quickly through the complicated process. On KRCB news radio, former student trustee Robert Edmonds said SRJC is considering reexamining all the trustee areas to be cost-effective. This would slow things down. The board has to submit data to the registrar of voters and pay a $30,000 to $40,000 fee to put the proposal on the ballot. Before that the board has to create a committee to conduct the research.
Talking about it isn’t enough. The outdated districts could change with the 2016 voting cycle, or they could remain on the board’s backburner and not come to the table for another two years.
SRJC president Dr. Frank Chong, on KRCB radio news, said he asked the board to study the issue of redistricting. The Oak Leaf urges the board do more than just look into the issue and be expeditious in its redistricting proposal so we can vote on it on the 2016 ballot.