This year, California will redraw its state and congressional district lines. For the first time in California’s history, the new voter-approved Citizens Redistricting Commission will be charged with the task of redrawing those lines in conformity with strict, nonpartisan rules designed to create districts of relatively equal populations that will provide fair representation for all Californians.

How the lines are drawn will determine whether communities have a fair opportunity to elect the candidates of their choice in legislative, Board of Equalization and congressional elections. The commission is comprised of five Democrat, five Republican and four Independent commissioners.

The commission is holding seven public input hearings–in Los Angeles, Riverside and Orange counties–April 27-May 6. The hearings will take place in Los Angeles April 28, San Gabriel April 29, San Fernando April 30, Lancaster May 1, Norco May 5, and Santa Ana May 6.

The panel concluded its first round of hearings in Northern and Central California on April 16. The hearings in Redding, Marysville, San Luis Obispo, Bakersfield, Hanford and Merced attracted hundreds of people who shared their thoughts with the commission. The body was created by California voters to draw congressional, Assembly, Senate and Board of Equalization districts.

The public is being encouraged to present testimony about the community they live in, describing the kind of people who live there, important issues, community centers and community history.

Giving the people the opportunity to speak up about their communities is critical to ensuring that district lines are drawn to keep neighborhoods whole and grouped with nearby communities with similar interests. This also ensures that the community’s voice is heard concerning such decisions as to the quality of schools and tax rates.

Along with census data, publicly submitted comments will be used to assist the commission when it begins drawing district boundaries.

“Ten years ago we weren’t involved in this process. There is a lot at stake economically and geopolitically and a great deal depends on our ability to participate in this process,” said commission member M. Andre Parvenu. “It’s important for us to prevent district lines from being arbitrarily drawn by city and state officials, and it is important that people have a sense of space and place and are connected with others.”

“Many minorities have an affinity for their communities. They’ve established Neighborhood Watch groups and various other organizations for their protection. Its imperative that we ensure the preservation of these.

“African Americans have been apathetic politically,” said Parvenue. “When [President] Obama was first elected, we experienced overwhelming turnouts at our hearings. It hasn’t been at all the same. We have to get involved and vote. The demographics may have shifted, and our vote may not be as strong as it used to be. But if we don’t vote, it won’t matter at all if we don’t participate.

Having a community that is silent is not of interest to our commission. The people need to come out and speak for themselves so their voices can be heard loud and clear.”

The Commission is taking testimony before drawing its first round of draft maps, which will be released June 10. Final district maps must be approved by the commission by Aug. 15.

Anyone wishing to speak at the meetings should note that comments may be limited to 3-5 minutes, depending on the number of speakers.

Visit www.wedrawthelines.ca.gov for more info.