by Bapu Vaitla
On October 5th, the Davis City Council discussed the upcoming process of drawing new Council districts using recently obtained 2020 Census data. I was disappointed that the Council chose to retain the power to draw districts themselves instead of giving that task to an independent citizens’ commission.
Elected officials should not be choosing their constituencies. Incumbent interests clearly played a role in how the districts were originally drawn two years ago. While I have no particular complaints about the current district boundaries, we can do better in terms of process.
Independent citizens’ commissions are currently acknowledged to be best practice in redistricting. This is exactly the kind of issue that Davis can and should lead on. We have a well-informed, engaged populace. For the community to have a conversation about fair representation is the healthiest form of civic progress I can imagine. In contrast, City Council making redistricting decisions themselves widens the gap between elected officials and the rest of us.
Councilmembers expressed concerns that changing the current district lines would frustrate the public. I would argue the exact opposite: a genuinely people-led process would increase the feeling of being listened to instead of being dictated to. I was particularly troubled by the idea of a Council directive that we should “change our current lines as little as possible,” as expressed by several Councilmembers during the last meeting. This is not the right way to start redistricting.
Independent commission-drawn lines may not radically differ from what we have now, but it’s the process—the trust that Councilmembers place in our citizens to lead, and the trust we give in return to them—that’s at stake here, not the outcome. A well-designed process could, by infusing our politics with a sense of community and shared futures, be transformative for Davis. I urge the City Council to reconsider their decision and establish an Independent Citizens’ Redistricting Commission.
Bapu Vaitla is a Davis resident and Chair of the Social Services Commission