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Redistricting panel set amid debate over expertise

December 15, 2010 |  1:00 pm

A citizens panel that will redraw legislative districts in California finalized its membership Wednesday amid debate over whether those appointed have enough expertise to achieve the monumental task by the Aug. 15 deadline.

California voters approved an initiative in 2008 that took the power of drawing political districts every 10 years away from the legislators and gave it to a 14-person Citizens Redistricting Commission. Under the ballot measure,  the first eight members of the commission were selected randomly by the state auditor from a pool of 36 finalists last month, and those members then appointed the last six members from the same pool Wednesday.

The majority of the first eight members opposed a last-minute effort Wednesday to replace one proposed member with Paul McKaskle, who served as a court-appointed special master in helping the California Supreme Court redistrict California in the 1970s and 1990s.

"I think Mr. McKaskle has a level of experience that we would find very useful in the short period of time we have," said Commissioner Stanley Forbes, a bookstore owner.

However, Forbes dropped his proposal to substitute McKaskle for proposed panelist Michelle DiGuilio-Matz of Stockton after most of the other commissioners said it was more important that the San Joaquin Valley have a representative on the panel than to have McKaskle’s expertise. 

In addition to DiGuilio-Matz, who is a decline-to-state voter and a teaching coordinator at a university, those appointed to the commission Wednesday are:

--Gabino Aguirre, a Democrat and resident of Santa Paula in Ventura County who is a consultant to a county mental-health agency.

--Maria Blanco, a Democrat who recently moved from the Bay Area to Los Angeles, where she is a vice president for a foundation.

--Lilbert "Gil" Ontai, a Republican from San Diego who is a college math lecturer.

--Michael Ward, a Republican chiropractor from Anaheim. 

--M. Andre Parvenu, a Culver City resident who is a "decline to state" voter. He is a zoning analyst for the Los Angeles Planning Department.

In the end, only one commissioner voted against the slate of finalists.

Some 111 people sent e-mails to the panel regarding the final members, with some arguing that McKaskle's expertise is needed, and others complaining that there is not enough representation from counties in the far northern part of the state.

But the ethnic, gender and geographical diversity of the 14-member commission was generally praised by civil rights and good-government advocates.

"As a whole, the slate is a very strong group and one that we think will represent the people of California well," said Katie Fleming, a spokeswoman for California Common Cause.

The commission will begin meeting next month to use new census data to redraw the district boundaries for 120 state legislative seats, 53 congressional seats and four seats on the state Board of Equalization.

-- Patrick McGreevy