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By Kiko Aebi                   
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Posted on Tuesday, August 23, 2011  
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With the approval of California’s new political districting maps on August 15, 2011, Highway 101 became both the physical and political border separating the Belle Haven community from the rest of Menlo Park. 

In fact, Belle Haven and East Palo Alto have moved closer together.

The redistricting decision was made at the behest of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, which is charged with redrawing state and federal political boundaries to reflect the 2010 census figures. The commission was established by the Voters FIRST Act in 2008, which sought to take the responsibility of political redistricting out of the hands of Sacramento politicians. 

The fourteen-member commission is composed of five Republicans, five Democrats, and four individuals who declined to state their party affiliation.  Following the stipulation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the commission is mandated to redraw district lines to fairly represent all Californians and to create districts of equal population. 

Menlo Park residents have responded to the decision to split the city into different congressional districts with ardent protest.  The community feels that the commission’s decision will isolate the lower-income, minority community of East Menlo Park from the rest of the city and it conflicts with efforts to revitalize the area.

From the beginning, Matt Henry, president of the Belle Haven Homeowners Association, has been one of the most outspoken opponents of the decision to split up Menlo Park. “It is advantageous for Belle Haven to be tied to Menlo Park,” Henry said. “If anything, Belle Haven needs to move closer to Menlo Park.  The commission’s decision is just another obstacle for the community.”  

Menlo Park council member, Kelly Fergusson, also voiced her objection to the decision, saying, “We have worked very hard to create one Menlo Park, and the commission’s decision to split the city along Highway 101 is an unfortunate act of segregation.”  

Previously, U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto represented all of Menlo Park.  In the new maps, West Menlo Park remains in Rep. Eshoo’s district, while East Menlo Park is placed under the representation of Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo.  Rep. Speier also represents East Palo Alto and most of Redwood City. 
   
Though the commission has not given specific reason for dividing Menlo Park into two districts, it did note that the communities represented in Eshoo’s new district “share common social and economic characteristics based on income level and reliance on high technology economies, as well as interests in open space and environmental concerns.”

The commission also stated that Belle Haven, East Palo Alto, and Redwood City consist of similar demographic groups.

Unless Menlo Park brings its objections of the new congressional map to the California Supreme Court before elections in June 2012, Menlo Park will be one of thirty-five cities in California with two or more representatives in Congress.  
 



To contact the author of this article, Kiko Aebi, send an email to epatoday@epatoday.org.


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