One of two options for new voting boundaries in the Oakdale Irrigation District appears calculated to preserve the current power structure by ensuring that a board member keeps his seat after moving to a new home, the board minority says. Both options will be presented publicly at a meeting Tuesday evening.
Board member Gary Osmundson, who represents Division 5 southwest of Oakdale, is building a new house in Division 4 southeast of town. He would have to leave the OID board upon moving, under the first proposal presented to a committee reviewing the district’s long awaited effort to resize voting divisions.
But the latest revision is radically different, with lines stretching to include Osmundson’s future home in Division 5. That would guarantee a continuation of the board majority composed of Osmundson, Steve Webb and Herman Doornenbal.
Gail Altieri and Linda Santos say it’s nothing more than dirty tricks aimed at keeping them in the minority on a deeply divided board.
It looks like it’s been gerrymandered.
Gail Altieri, OID board
“It looks like it’s been gerrymandered,” Altieri said of the latest proposal, shown in district material as “Option 2.”
Osmundson noted that he is not on the review committee and has had no say in its doings. The new house might be ready for his family in June, he said.
Doornenbal was not available. He serves with Santos on the two-person committee reviewing options for resizing, also known as redistricting or reapportionment.
The Stanislaus County civil grand jury last week blasted OID for defying state and federal law by failing to resize after both the 2000 and 2010 Censuses. A Modesto Bee report exposed the foot-dragging in 2015, before Altieri and Santos were elected, and then-board members agreed to begin the process that is nearing conclusion.
Because of uneven growth over the years, populations in OID’s five voting divisions have been far from legal for many years. For example, the number of people in Altieri’s Division 1 is 30 percent larger than it should be, and Santos’ is 33 percent smaller.
The first proposal presented to Santos’ and Doornenbal’s committee would bring deviations in all five divisions within 1.4 percent of each other – acceptable under the law. But some people also wanted a better balance of acreage and numbers of parcels, they said, leading to Option 2.
Osmundson said he hasn’t formed an opinion, but he likes the idea of a better balance of city people, country folk and like-sized parcels in each division.
The more we do to make it even for everybody, the better off the district will be in elections.
Gary Osmundson, OID board
“They say people in town think differently,” Osmundson said. “Each division should have an equal amount of people in town, an equal amount of small parcels and an equal amount of large parcels. To me, that’s the most fair,” he said, and better conforms to law mandating that “communities of interest” stay together when forming voting areas.
But producing such equality gives the Option 2 map an odd marbling of voting divisions, including noncontiguous islands in Divisions 1 and 2, a near bisection of Division 3, and a large Division 4 peninsula jutting into Division 1 territory. Not to mention Division 5 snaking over to grab Osmundson’s future home.
The weird shapes could run into trouble with the Federal Voting Rights Act, which requires “cohesiveness, contiguity, integrity, and compactness of territory.” Guidelines provided by Stanislaus County say, “each district much be contiguous, which means that the portions of a district must be connected in some way ... This prohibits districts that are made up of separate geographical areas.”
8,366People in Division 1, OID’s largest
4,307People in Division 2, OID’s smallest
6,430Ideal size, if OID divisions were balanced
Santos said, “The districts’ populations need to be represented according to the laws of redistricting. They shouldn’t have the appearance of manipulation of lines for a certain political outcome. But that’s what it looks like.”
Santos faces a recall election set for April 25. If her predecessors had followed the law and resized, her critics would have had to gather twice the number of petition signatures to prompt the special election.
If a majority vote “no” in April, she will keep her seat, but if most vote yes, she will be replaced by Nate Ludlow, the only candidate who signed up. His home is safely within Division 4 under either option.
Tuesday’s OID board meeting begins at 6 p.m. in the boardroom at 1205 E. F St., Oakdale.
Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390