Look out, Cupertino. The city of Sunnyvale is making a major push to be included as a whole in county supervisorial District 5, which would mean muscling Cupertino out of its longtime home.
It’s a tricky situation for the 11-member Citizens Redistricting Commission, appointed by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors in March to redraw district lines in response to the 2010 Census. The commission will decide on a recommendation for the supervisors at its final meeting, 6:30 p.m. May 19.
At last Thursday's meeting at county headquarters in San Jose, Sunnyvale officials lobbied the commissioners heavily, emphasizing the city’s close ties to District 5 cities Mountain View, Palo Alto and Los Altos.
They presented a map that would put Cupertino and neighboring Saratoga in District 1, hugging the western portion of the county all the way down to the southernmost cities of Morgan Hill, San Martin and Gilroy.
“That would make no sense. Where is the common interest?” Cupertino Mayor Gilbert Wong said in an interview on Friday. Wong said he would not support any plan that would throw Cupertino into a district with the southern cities.
He said he would support either keeping Cupertino in District 5, or joining other West Valley cities in District 4.
Wong pointed to strong relationships among Saratoga, Monte Sereno, Los Gatos, Campbell and Cupertino through the West Valley Cities Managers and Mayors Association, which has met for the past decade.
Right now, Sunnyvale's district is split in two with 62 percent—mostly north of El Camino Real—situated in District 3, represented by Supervisor Dave Cortese, along with a part of San Jose along San Francisco Bay, and Milpitas. The other 38 percent—mostly south of El Camino—is in District 5, represented by Liz Kniss.
Because Sunnyvale is the second-largest city in the county with 140,000 residents, moving it as a whole means displacing 86,000 residents, which turns out to be almost exactly the combined populations of Cupertino, at just over 58,000, and Saratoga,nearly 30,000.
Commissioners face a delicate balancing act in deciding new boundaries. They are required by law to avoid political decisions that would gerrymander district boundaries to favor one political faction or party over another.
Besides reflecting changes in population numbers reported in the census, commissioners must also take into account “communities of interest," which can include anything from ethnicity, to industry, to environmental concerns. The idea is to not dilute those communities’ issues by subdividing them among multiple supervisors.
At Thursday’s meeting, Sunnyvale Mayor Melinda Hamilton, Vice Mayor James Griffith and Councilman Christopher Moylan told the commission that Sunnyvale is in a community of interest with its neighbors to the northwest and should be included as a whole with cities it shares numerous ties with.
“It is definitely to our advantage to be grouped in with cities with which we are alike,” said Griffith.
He pointed to the fact that Sunnyvale, Mountain View and Palo Alto all share a coastline with San Francisco Bay and could face climate change issues together. They also share Cal Train and VTA light rail routes, a landfill and proximity to Moffett Field, and plan to consolidate some public safety services in the near future with the North County cities, including Los Altos.
Griffith said Sunnyvale shares little in common with Milpitas, San Jose or Santa Clara.
The commission’s main purpose is to create several maps showing potential new districts so that it can make a recommendation to the supervisors at their meeting at 1:30 p.m. June 7.
“We’re really approaching from trying to be very rational about identifying maps showing what can be done, but identifying what problems can occur,” Wilson said in an interview. “Our goal is 356,328 people, plus or minus per district,” within 10 percent of that number.
Up until last Thursday the commission had considered various maps that either put all of Sunnyvale in District 3, keeping Cupertino and Saratoga intact in District 5, or put all of Sunnyvale in District 5, placing the two cities in District 4, along with Campbell and parts of San Jose. They also considered maps that still had Sunnyvale split in two, including one that kept boundaries more or less where they are now.
But on Thursday, Moylan shared the map with commissioners that places Cupertino and Saratoga in District 1, which would include Los Gatos, then hug the western portion of San Jose and encompass the southernmost cities of Morgan Hill, San Martin and Gilroy. Campbell would remain in District 4, where it currently sits.
Both Cupertino Mayor Wong and commission Chairwoman Susanne Wilson suggested that while Sunnyvale may want to remain whole, its size could preclude that. Pieces of San Jose are in all five county districts.
“When you are second largest city, it makes it difficult to keep it whole,” Wilson said.
At the meeting Wilson suggested a plan that would more evenly split Sunnyvale between Districts 3 and 5, saying it would be less disruptive to the boundaries overall, while acknowledging it was a less-than-perfect solution.
The last meeting of the commission on May 19 will be in the Board of Supervisors Chambers, 70 W. Hedding St., San Jose, and will be live streamed on the Web. Any county resident can address the commissions with concerns.
From there, the commission’s recommendations will go to the supervisors, where at least two hearings will take place before a final decision on boundaries on Aug. 15.
Wilson said she had confidence her commission would make wise recommendations to the supervisors.
“They are good people struggling to help us do a good job and give the board enough choices that are good choices,” she said.