The Lost California Seat

Los Angeles, California-area Congressional Districts

By Jim Ellis

Aug. 24, 2021 — Continuing our series about the states losing seats in reapportionment and which members might be on the outside looking in, today we analyze the Golden State of California. The largest US House delegation will downsize one seat, meaning it will send 52 members to the next Congress.

To put the California population change into historical perspective, during the 1980 census the state gained seven new US House seats. In the 2010 census, for the first time in history, California did not add, and now we see actual reduction.

For the second time, the California Citizens Redistricting Commission will draw the congressional map and under specific criteria. The districts are supposed to be constructed on a nonpartisan basis without regard to specific incumbents’ residences or political situation, adhere to the Voting Rights Act pertaining to their substantial number of majority minority districts, and keep cities and counties whole where possible.

Looking at the actual census population by district as opposed to the previously published census estimates, changes in which districts may be on the chopping block are evident. Under the estimates, it appeared that Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) was the low population CD, but his 28th District seat now is 12th from the bottom. The new low is veteran Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Los Angeles), whose 40th District needs to gain 70,139 people.

Of the current 53 districts, 35 must gain population while 18 will shed; hence, the reason the state is losing a seat. From a county perspective, it appears the Los Angeles members will be most at risk. A total of 18 congressional districts encompass LA County including nine that are wholly-contained. The other nine districts cross county borders into such places as Kern, Orange, San Bernardino, and Ventura.

Of the 18 districts wholly or partially within the LA County borders, Democrats represent 15 and Republicans just three. Only one of these 18, the 23rd District of House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), must shed population. Though certain other places in the state are also resident-low, there is a good possibility that the seat reduction will come from one of the Los Angeles districts, particularly among the nine seats wholly within the county since all of those contiguous seats must gain residents.

In addition to Rep. Roybal-Allard, the other wholly-contained LA County districts furthest away from the mandatory California per district population number of 760,350 are: Reps. Jimmy Gomez (CA-34, -56,933), Grace Napolitano (CA-32, -55,323), Nanette Barragan (CA-44, -49,992), Tony Cardenas (CA-29, -49,228), Adam Schiff (CA-28, -47,386), Karen Bass (CA-37, -38,173), Ted Lieu (CA-33, -36,309), and Maxine Waters (CA-43, -32,817). Combined, the wholly-contained LA County districts are 436,300 people below the aggregate nine-district population quota.

The nine districts that touch Los Angeles but also include parts of other counties are also worth watching. Three more districts are almost fully in Los Angeles County, meaning the principal domain houses over 95 percent of those constituencies and all are also under-populated. Those districts belong to Reps. Linda Sanchez (CA-38, -53,907 people), Judy Chu (CA-27, -51,618), and Brad Sherman (CA-30, -12,655). Adding the LA portion of these districts increases the county’s population deficit to approximately 554,000-plus individuals.

Orange County is an interesting study because its three wholly contained districts are both hugely over and under-populated. Rep. Katie Porter’s 45th District is the most over-populated CD in the state, having to shed 53,645 people. But, Rep. Lou Correa’s adjacent 46th District is the third most under-populated seat in the state, falling 57,544 residents below the population quota. The third self-contained Orange County seat, the coastal 48th District of freshman Republican Rep. Michelle Steel, must gain 40,017 individuals.

Rep. Alan Lowenthal’s 47th District could be a candidate for elimination. His seat is 45,679 people under quota and about 60% of the Long Beach anchored district lies in Los Angeles County with the other 40 percent crossing into Orange. Eliminating this district may be possible because it would help feed both the LA and Orange County areas that are population low and could save a minority district from being collapsed.

While northern California Reps. Doug LaMalfa (R-District 1; -58,395 people) and Jared Huffman (D-District 2; -41,411) also must gain significant population, both seats will likely survive. The other Sacramento area CDs and those north of San Francisco are all over-populated, meaning the shortfall can be relatively easily contained thus allowing all of the NoCal seats to remain.

The official population numbers suggest that the eliminated seat should come from the Los Angeles metropolitan area and the Democratic column. Yet, with so many districts and such a large number of people to move, many elimination angles and possibilities exist making California redistricting one of the most interesting scenes to follow.

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