Isai Palma holds up a proposed map with new Merced election districts he along with residents Crissy Gallardo and Adlofo Lopez. Photo by: John Whitaker, Merced County Times
Miguel Lopez is starting to smile and breathe a little easier about the citywide effort to bring in proposed maps for new election districts in Merced.
the 27-year-old Lopez is a member of the Independent Districting Advisory Committee, a panel charged with accepting and reviewing the maps before coming up with a final proposal for approval by city leaders.
he says public interest to take part in the historic change was slow at first despite a longer-than-expected outreach period., but now the tide is turning.
“It’s fascinating to see the people who do are.” Lopez says.”They are about their community. They are willing to help, and they are offering up good, thoughtful suggestions. That makes us optimistic about the process.”
Some 16 maps have been uploaded to the city website as of early this week. as well as three drafts from the consultant from National Demographics Corporation. More are expected to come in as words gets out and interest builds. One entry was submitted by City Councilman Michael Belluomini. Another was submitted by a group of residents – The Downtown Neighborhood Association or DNA.
Interestingly, nearly half of these maps do not comply with the requirements of the city settlement to avoid a lawsuit by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. To allow for more diversity on the City Council both sides agreed to move to district elections through a ballot initiative approved by voters last year. The agreed upon guidelines stipulates that the dividing line of the map would be the Santa Fe railroad tracks , with three districts balanced by population drawn on either side, north and south of the line.
But Lopez points out that a substantial amount of entires extend districts north of the railroad to Bear Creek. he says all maps are being accepted because they all reflect the ideas of community members.
“We may need to have more conversations, perhaps with legal experts, to see if there are further possibilities.” In any case, the districting committee has nailed down a pretty clear line. The next public out-reach meeting is set for July, 22nd at 5:30 p.m. at Rivera Middle School, located at 945 Buena Vista Drive. Maps will be on display, and residents can also turn in new ones then.
On August 1, during a meeting at Tenaya Middle School at 2 p.m., the committee expects to start to formulate plans for all the ideas and again have a community conversation. Committee members expect to present at least two draft maps to the City Council on Sept. 21.
In the meantime, Lopez says his work on the committee so far has been very rewarding on a personal level. Lopez says he is a native of the town of San Joaquin, a farming community where Latinos make up 90 percent of the population. By contrast, Merced’s Latinos population is 49.6 percent. He urges others to step forward and participate in the districting process.
“We need many voices at the table.”
BY JONATHAN WHITAKER