After months of speculation and discord, California's "citizen" mappers Thursday unveiled nearly final congressional and legislative district lines that portend significant changes in the state's political landscape.
The California Citizens Redistricting Commission's new maps suggest that Democrats could easily gain a two-thirds majority in the state Senate and that minority groups will gain more clout, political analysts say.
Dozens of other winners and losers emerged from the myriad line decisions the commissioners made in recent weeks.
In the past few years, voters in two statewide ballot measures stripped from legislators the job of drawing political maps and created the independent panel.
The 14-member group released draft maps in mid-June and has worked hundreds of hours on revisions. They are set to vote Friday morning to put the 177 district maps on public display for a mandatory two-week review period before the maps are made final Aug. 15.
If adopted, the maps will go into effect in time for the 2012 election unless the U.S. Department of Justice rules them inconsistent with the federal Voting Rights Act. Residents could also force the new maps onto a statewide ballot, or a group could file a lawsuit.
California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro swiftly panned the Senate plan and repeated an earlier promise to pursue a referendum if warranted.
"The Senate map is very concerning and we are going to spend the next 48 hours in hard analysis, meeting with people and trying to make a judgment," Del Beccaro said. "We don't think California can afford to have one-party rule in the state Senate."
Under the new maps, Democrats could easily gain two-thirds of the 40 seats in the state Senate but are expected to fall short of that level in the Assembly, analysts said. It takes a supermajority vote in both houses to pass new taxes -- something that Republicans used to their advantage in the recent budget battle against Democratic lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown.
Communities identified as gay and lesbian-friendly were also protected throughout the state, including "gayborhoods" in San Jose, Sacramento and Long Beach.
The maps should also make it easier to elect Latinos because they increase the number of districts where voting-age Latinos are the majority.
Overall, the number of congressional and legislative districts where minorities make up a majority of the voting population will surge from 20 to 30, said mapping consultant Paul Mitchell. Of those, 29 are Latino.
Blacks kept three favorable congressional seats in Los Angeles, even though their declining numbers suggest they were entitled to just one, according to veteran GOP redistricting expert Tony Quinn.
Quinn criticized the commission's maps as full of racial gerrymandering. Ironically, though, it will help save Republican seats and discourage the election of moderates, Quinn said.
"Republicans will hold ultrasafe rural and suburban districts and Democrats heavily minority urban districts, and there will be fewer moderates or anyone who can make deals," Quinn said. "This is the single greatest failure of this commission."
Independent redistricting proponents such as Quinn had argued that a nonpartisan process would produce more competitive seats. In turn, contested races would elect more moderate lawmakers, ease the polarized partisan environment and yield more rational policies.
Although Bay Area congressional Democrats had feared that at least one of them would lose a seat, that apparently won't happen.
Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, announced his re-election campaign Thursday shortly after the commission released the lines of a new San Joaquin-East Contra County district that includes two-thirds of his old one. He doesn't live in the new district yet, but he plans on moving.
There had been speculation that Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, who will take on much of McNerney's Tri-Valley and San Ramon territory under the new maps, would come under pressure to retire.
Richmond's pleas were heard and it was returned to the Contra Costa-based district held by Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez. Earlier maps placed Richmond in the Oakland seat held by Rep. Barbara Lee. The smaller city had worried that Oakland would overshadow it.
State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, will see his district expand beyond Contra Costa County and into the Tri-Valley towns of Livermore, Dublin and Pleasanton. He's fine with his new boundaries, although he agrees with critics such as Quinn who say the mapping job should have gone to judges rather than "citizen" amateurs.
"There are a lot of weird things in these maps," DeSaulnier said. "My sense is that you don't suit up nine people to play in the World Series who have never played baseball. It's complicated."
Oakley complained but it remains anchored in Stockton-centric congressional and Assembly districts.
It may not be all bad. Mappers carved a new East Contra Costa-Solano County Assembly seat, adding a fourth representative in the lower house for Contra Costa County.
Its current three -- Assemblywomen Susan Bonilla of Concord, Nancy Skinner of Berkeley and Joan Buchanan of Alamo -- will see less dramatic geographical shifts.
Bonilla's district shifts north into Benicia and Vallejo and she loses Antioch and Brentwood to the new East Contra Costa seat. Buchanan will represent Lamorinda instead of Skinner.
"I don't see the new district as a bad thing," Bonilla said. "It will take some time to get to know the issues in Solano County, but I have already gotten phone calls about it. I will move quickly to get up to speed."
Martinez is unhappy, though. It has been moved out of Contra Costa-based Senate and congressional districts and attached to neighbors as far north as Calistoga and Clear Lake.
But it has company. Despite a fierce letter-writing campaign, Pleasant Hill will join Martinez in the new Senate configuration.