Visalia is a few months away from the legal deadline to redraw political maps
Visalia is months away from the legal deadline to redraw the political maps that will define the boundaries of the five city council seats, but no timeline or guidance for submitting proposals has been released to the public.
Frustrations surrounding the much delayed redistribution process came to a head in an explosive public hearing on Monday. A consultant that the city paid more than $ 65,000 to help oversee the process was criticized by council members, while members of the public criticized both the consultant and city leaders for not having communicated the basic details that will shape the city’s political landscape for the coming decade.
A major point of contention is the lack of digital tools that make the process of cartographic drawing more accessible to the general public. To date, only traditional paper mapping tools are available for Visalia, which has caused disagreements within the board.
Vice Mayor Brian Poochigian said digital tools should be seen as a necessity as the city enters the new decade. He harshly criticized the consultant for not having these tools ready to be shared with the Visalians, saying these tools were an important part of the reasons the council awarded the contract to the National Demographic Corporation in the first place.
“I think it’s crazy that we don’t have a digital card. In fact, it shocks me that we don’t have a digital card yet,” he said. “Sorry if I sound angry, but I’m a little angry because we hired a consultant thinking they are bringing us these tools… which we are still waiting for.” “
The consultant defended the lag, saying delays due to the pandemic in the 2020 US census caused similar problems for municipalities across the country.
Mayor Steve Nelsen disagreed with Poochigian, arguing that the city should go ahead with the old-fashioned paper option since that is what the city has the opportunity to work with in this regard. moment.
“We have to start from square one because we are not even at square one yet,” he said. “We have to move forward with the precise tools that we have, and it seems the only precise tool we have is a pencil, a pen, a piece of paper.”
Public commentators rejected the “colored pencil” approach, comparing it unfavorably to the redistribution process adopted by the Tulare County Supervisory Board. The county paid nearly double – $ 110,000 – for online mapping tools provided by ESRI. The new county boundary map was approved last month and is expected to go into effect on January 4.
The Visalians urged city council to consider donating money for what they said was the most efficient system.
“As a taxpayer in this city, I am appalled that the consultant is not doing an adequate job,” said Luis Sepulveda, a former member of the county carving commission. “I am asking you to invest the $ 110,000 for the electronic card. This is a very important issue for the community… to ensure that everyone’s voice in the town of Visalia is heard.”
Visalia city manager Leslie Caviglia said the city has digital maps, but they are inaccurate with major landmarks in the wrong places. In one of the cards, for example, she said Redwood High School was directly across from Mt. Whitney High School. She was concerned that these inaccurate maps would cause further confusion among the public.
“At this stage, it’s the lesser of two evils: to offer a digital tool that does not faithfully represent the city, or not? said Caviglia. She said all other towns in Tulare County have so far only offered paper maps.
Finally, a compromise was found. City staff will be reviewing the digital maps over the next few days and removing any inaccurate landmarks from them. This would give members of the public a rough canvas to work with online, provided the city manager believes the revised maps meet a standard that wouldn’t further confuse them.
The decision was left to Caviglia’s discretion.
Already, the city has received three map proposals, city spokeswoman Allison Mackey told the council. Residents at the hearing were dismayed that they were not put online for review.
“The county would apologize to every nominator if they did not have their map published the same day they were submitted,” Melkonian said. “They would have published it no later than the next day at the latest fully analyzed.”
On Wednesday, following a Times-Delta request for the submitted maps, the submissions were posted on the city’s website. Paper information packs are also available online, and residents can submit their own maps using their own tools, Mackey said.
“The cards are presented as received from members of the public and do not include any ratings or ratings from our NDC consultants,” she said in an emailed statement to The Times-Delta. “As the submitted cards are evaluated by the NDC and received by us, this page will be updated.”
The city council will have the final say on the map to be approved, or may choose to draw up its own map. However, regardless of which map they decide on, they will have to comply with federal voting rights law and the state’s Fair MAPS law – voters cannot be disenfranchised due to the dilution of the power of their community.
Joshua Yeager is a reporter for the Visalia Times-Delta and a member of the Report for America Corps. It covers the topical deserts of Tulare County with an emphasis on the environment and local governments.