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The Bay Area will likely lose legislative seats to faster-growing inland regions after its population in the past decade failed to keep pace with its eastern neighbors.

The populations of the districts of nearly every Bay Area member of Congress, state Senate and Assembly fell short in census data released this week.

"An incumbent congressman or -woman in the Bay Area is probably going to lose a seat," said Tony Quinn, co-founder of the California Target Book, the state's bible for political analysis. "The Bay Area (population) is about a half a district short, and the patterns are similar for the Assembly and the Senate."

Under the constitutional "one person, one vote" requirement, states redraw their political boundaries every decade to reflect the results of the decennial census.

Coastal California regions grew more slowly than their eastern neighbors, which leaves most Bay Area legislators -- all Democrats -- with too few constituents to keep their existing district boundaries.

Underpopulated districts must expand in order to comply with new, equal population targets for each of the state's 53 congressional, 80 Assembly and 40 Senate seats. That means the Bay Area will likely have bigger but fewer districts.

Members with the largest gaps between their current populations and the newly calculated district sizes include:

  • Congress: Reps. Barbara Lee, of Oakland; Jackie Speier, of Hillsborough; Anna Eshoo, of Palo Alto; and George Miller, of Martinez.

  • State Senate: Leland Yee, of San Francisco; Joseph Simitian, of Palo Alto; Loni Hancock, of Berkeley; and Mark Leno, of San Francisco.

  • Assembly: Sandre Swanson, of Alameda; Fiona Ma, of San Francisco; Richard Gordon, of Menlo Park; and Jared Huffman, of San Rafael.

    In contrast, legislators' districts that straddle the Central Valley are overpopulated, including Reps. John Garamendi, of Walnut Grove, and Jerry McNerney, of Pleasanton; state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, of Concord; and Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, of Alamo.

    Legislators sandwiched between the urban Bay Area and the Central Valley could see some of the largest pressures as districts on both sides expand and contract.

    In 2001, redistricting was a political matter solved largely behind closed doors for the benefit of incumbents. Democrats and Republicans cut a deal with the Bush administration and drew safe districts for both sides.

    Angry voters subsequently stripped lawmakers of the job and assigned the task to a 14-member redistricting commission comprised of an equal number of Democrats and Republicans plus a few nonpartisans and third-party members.

    The commission is busy interviewing mapping consultants and lawyers, but no one knows quite yet what California's fledgling mappers will produce by the Aug. 15 deadline.

    The panel cannot consider incumbents' home addresses and political party registration. Acceptable criteria include city and county boundaries, geographic features and communities of interest such as a neighborhood or minority population. The plan must comply with federal voting rights law or risk Department of Justice invalidation.

    Factoring the new rules, Quinn, who helped write the independent commission ballot measure, predicts for Bay Area congressional districts an elimination of the Altamont Pass straddle in McNerney's four-county district and the reunion of Santa Cruz and Monterey counties.

    He also envisions a new seat centered in San Joaquin County, and one that encompasses the predominant Asian and Latino neighborhoods in San Jose, Milpitas and Fremont.

    Sandwiched between the Bay Area and the Central Valley, Garamendi and McNerney's districts will probably see the greatest changes, Quinn said.

    "The commission will have to more or less collapse one seat someplace in the Bay Area, and they will probably push the underpopulated districts outward," Quinn said.

    Unlike previous redistricting efforts in which legislators privately lobbied party leaders for more favorable lines, the panel's process forces everyone into public hearings.

    Minority advocacy groups such as the Asian Pacific American Legal Center and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund have formed a coalition focused on preserving and improving their representation. Federal law prohibits the drawing of political boundaries designed to dilute minority political clout.

    But politicians might find it counterproductive to testify about the configuration of their own lines.

    That will fall to members' constituents, said Democratic political consultant and redistricting specialist Paul Mitchell.

    "I don't think redistricting should be used like a tool to separate people from those they have elected," Mitchell said. "There are natural constituencies in every district, and there may be interest in keeping those communities together."

    Contact Lisa Vorderbrueggen at 925-945-4773 or IBABuzz.com/politics.

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