Where to split Eureka? That’s perhaps the biggest of the questions facing the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors’ Redistricting Advisory Committee, which has been plugging away for the last couple of months and is set to publish a set of draft maps as soon as tomorrow.

Humboldt County must be split into five supervisorial districts. It has four major population centers – one of which, Eureka, is roughly double the size of the other three. So the most expeditious solution, as well as the one that probably hews most closely to the letter of the law, is to split the Eureka area more or less in two, each half serving as the major population center for its respective district. In recent memory, this has always been done on a north-south basis, with the line between the First District and the Fourth running more or less down the Harris/Henderson corridor.

But now, after receiving a surprisingly small amount of testimony in favor of a very strange idea, the Redistricting Advisory Committee seems to be looking seriously at dividing the city between east and west … and then giving a western corner of the city, incongruously, to Arcata’s Third District. (“Incongrously,” because they are literally not congruent, except perhaps by sea.)

One map submitted to the Redistricting Advisory Committee that incorporates this idea.

Why do this? Well, the bits of public testimony received so far argue that Eureka’s West Side is dominated by renters, as is Arcata, and as such they form a “community of interest” – one of the criteria for how districts should be drawn.

But it’s impossible to ignore another effect that a map like this would have. Depending on how it ends up being drawn, it would also likely move Eureka City Councilmember Natalie Arroyo — a declared candidate for Fourth District supervisor in next year’s election — out of that district entirely. Rather than running against incumbent Virginia Bass next year, she may have to run against the Arcata-based Mike Wilson in 2024.

Jenna Catsos, chair of the Natalie Arroyo for County Supervisor campaign, told the Outpost yesterday that the Arroyo campaign has not followed the redistricting effort so far, but she said that they would likely wish that the city stay together as much as possible — and to follow the north-south split that has divided the city in recent decades.

“This has been an interesting campaign so far, because there are a lot of things up the air,” Catsos said. “Overall, it’s a bit of wait and see. We’ll keep moving ahead and hope that things will be resolved sooner rather than later so we can make concrete plans.”

The idea of moving Eureka’s northwestern corner into Arcata’s district is so geographically odd that it’s something of a wonder that at least a couple people offering feedback to the committee seem to have landed it on it, with similar arguably valid though unusual rationales. 

As one person put it in a letter to the committee:

With the majority of the west side of Eureka being made up of residents that rent their homes, it makes sense to align this area of Eureka with Arcata. Our needs for public transportation and other services are a much better fit for this district, and our community interests are far more similar with Arcata than the rest of Eureka. There is a lot of value in these two areas being combined and I would like to see this considered as the redistricting committee moves forward.

Two people — one of whom may or may not have written the above letter — spoke at a Nov. 26 community outreach workshop making the same points:

Audio from Nov. 26 community outreach workshop

Finally, one person submitted a “community of interest” map showing the idea on DistrictR, the Internet platform the county is using to solicit feedback.

Probably because of the relative paucity of public feedback around Humboldt County’s “communities of interest,” these four pieces of testimony — some of which may or may not have come from the same person — seem to have had strong sway within the Redistricting Advisory Committee.

During yesterday’s meeting, the committee asked Redistricting Partners — the contractors actually drawing the draft maps to come back with a refined version of a different map drawn on the DistrictR platform, possibly drawn by committee member Lisa Dugan. (She couldn’t say for sure whether the one they were looking at was hers.)

That map — which you can see here — conducts some eye-popping gymnastics to incorporate the West Eureka-Arcata alliance and other community suggestions, including moving Blue Lake and environs into Rex Bohn’s First District, as well splitting the city of Fortuna down the middle. As pictured above, it would also move Arroyo’s home out of the Fourth District.

So that will be the basis for one of the draft maps presented later this week. Another, at the committee’s request, will seek to maximize rural representation on the board — to join more rural areas up together, so that fewer of them are in the same district as a major population center.

The next meeting of the Redistricting Advisory Committee is scheduled for  October 13, at which point the committee will take testimony on the draft maps it will consider forwarding to the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors for feedback or a final decision. Those maps should be published well in advance, and the committee will accept feedback from the public at that meeting. The Board of Supervisors — which has the final decision on the new map — is scheduled to consider the committee’s recommendations on November 2 and again on November 16.

The county is required by law to adopt a new map before Dec. 15. Alannah Smith of the California Center for Rural Policy, which is working with the County in the redistricting process, tells the Outpost that there is a “hold” date for a final vote on the Board’s Dec. 14 agenda, just in case supervisors reject all the draft maps during the November meetings.