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Communities of Interest?

Transient Voters Are Here to Stay


Saturday, August 6, 2011

So, can someone explain to me what a "community of interest" is?

The term has been thrown around quite a bit these past few months during hearings on redistricting. More specifically, the Board of Supervisors was repeatedly begged and badgered either 1) not to split communities of interest; or 2) to redistrict so as to save one community from having to share a district with another that supposedly did not share its interest.

Lee Heller
Click to enlarge photo

Lee Heller

Now, I’m not stupid. I understand that redistricting is about as intensely political an activity as you can find and that in Santa Barbara County the battle is between the South-County-progressive and the North-County-conservative power bases. Of course, interested parties (and I am one) will offer every argument they can, rational or just rational-sounding, for their position. For most of the mostly conservative Lompoc City Council, this meant an impassioned appeal not to “split” the supposed community of interest that is Lompoc.

The reality is that a strong contingent of Lompoc folks didn’t want dual representation by two supes, one of whom swings further left than they like. Since they’d still have had Joni Gray, who has been their reliably conservative advocate these many years, I don’t see what the harm would have been — if anything, they might have persuaded Doreen Farr to see their perspective, at least some of the time. But let’s be honest about what really motivated their argument about being a community of interest. The “interest” is entirely political in nature, and the “community” is those people who feel well-represented by a conservative supervisor and want to keep it that way.

The same mantra about community of interest was repeatedly invoked by Santa Ynez Valley residents, who keep trying (127 years and counting) to get Isla Vista moved out of the 3rd and into the 2nd District. I do have sympathy for some of these folks, who feel like their political representation is being determined by people without a long-term investment in the area: People come to school for a few years, vote, then leave. But the fact is, a lot of communities have transient populations that vote and move on. Wherever a university dominates an area, there is town-gown conflict. Moving I.V. into the 2nd District wouldn’t solve that; it would just transfer the objections to wealthy Hope Ranch residents, who also have little in common with college students.

There really is no such thing as an electoral district composed only of people who have your same interests. Hell, I’m not sure there is any community — other than, say, a cult — where you can count on agreeing with everyone who lives in your immediate geographic area. Look at Summerland, my corner of things. Other than a lack of racial diversity, we’re a pretty various bunch: rich Montecito wannabes in biggish new houses, artist types, retirees, a few old hippies. I know we’re politically diverse: I walk this precinct every four years, and I don’t visit more than half the houses (i.e., the ones whose residents vote for the party I’m representing). I know we have diversity of opinions.

A few months back I sat in a Summerland Citizens’ Association meeting, listening to talk about getting big sound barriers down at the freeway to cushion us from the constant whoosh of traffic. Do I think that that’s a good use of money in this economy, with so many important social services going begging or being shut down entirely? Not hardly. So—even though I too suffer from freeway traffic sounds, I don’t agree with those who want to lobby for funds to increase their peace and quiet. Where’s the community of interest there?

Now, all this isn’t to say that 1st District Supervisor Salud Carbajal doesn’t deserve praise for presenting a redistricting map that keeps Lompoc in one district. But Carbajal knows as well as anyone in this county that a supervisorial district is inevitably a hodgepodge of interests — he’s forced to juggle them all the time, dealing with everything from the working-class community of Carpinteria, to some pretty significant ag interests, to Montecito’s super-rich. He prides himself on constituent service, and rightly so. But he cannot please all his constituents all the time, and his constituents have to accept that no one electoral district is going to be composed of people with uniformity of interest.

This is what makes democracy interesting, folks!

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