NEWS

Residents of Santa Paula-Fillmore area seek split from Camarillo in supervisorial district

Camarillo Premium Outlets continues to be a bustling area for retail businesses in Camarillo, which advocates want to split from its current county district when the Board of Supervisors meet to discuss boundary changes.
Kathleen Wilson
Ventura County Star

Advocates want to remove Camarillo from Ventura County's far-flung Third District and replace it with predominantly Latino communities sharing interests with the working-class agricultural population in the Santa Paula-Fillmore area.  

"In order to have fair representation, the Third District must change," commented Laura Espinosa, president of Santa Paula Latino Town Hall, a nonprofit group that focuses on issues affecting Latino populations.

Espinosa said the area known as the Santa Clara River Valley has little in common with Camarillo, a city of more than 70,000 with a predominantly white population, high incomes and upscale stores. With its larger base of registered voters, wealth and fundraising capacity, Camarillo dilutes the voice of people in the valley, she said.

Others from the valley and some in the Oxnard-Port Hueneme area agreed that Camarillo belongs elsewhere as they provided public comments in a series of meetings that began late last month. Their comments and others from around the county went Tuesday to the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, which is studying changes in the boundaries of its five districts.

Fillmore Councilwoman Lynn Edmonds said valley residents would feel more comfortable with communities with a heavier Latino and farming influence than Camarillo has.

"Agriculture is our culture," she said. "Don't link us with non-rural areas."

The suggestions for Camarillo's removal followed the board's request for residents from across the county to identify their "communities of interest." Those are defined as contiguous populations sharing social and economic interests that should be included within a single district to ensure fair and effective representation.

Differing populations

Santa Paula's population is 82% Latino, and advocates hope to split it from its current Third District with Camarillo, which is 27% Latino.

Results from the 2020 census identified 82% of the population of Santa Paula as Latino, while 77% were identified as Latino in Fillmore. The census showed that 27% are Latino in Camarillo.

The board establishes the boundaries for the five districts every 10 years after the census results are released. The process is supposed to ensure that each of the five supervisors represents roughly the same number of residents, prevent political boundaries from being manipulated to tip election results and keep communities from being split into separate districts where their influence will be diminished.

Removing Camarillo and replacing it with predominantly Latino communities would boost the valley's political strength, political scientist Gregory Freeland said. He said it also increases the chance that a second Latino could be elected to the five-member board. One serves there now: Supervisor Carmen Ramirez of Oxnard.

"It would certainly swing (the board) in favor of social justice areas, whether farmworker rights or some other immigrant issues," said Freeland, a professor at California Lutheran University who has researched redistricting issues in the county.

No precedent set

No Latino from the Santa Paula-Fillmore area has apparently ever been elected to the board in the nearly 150-year history of the panel. Rancher Adolfo Camarillo, a historic figure in the Camarillo area who served in the early 1900s, was the first Latino from anywhere in the county to be elected to the board.  

John Zaragoza of Oxnard became the second in history in 2008. He was succeeded by  Ramirez, who was elected in 2020. 

In recent decades, every supervisor elected to represent the district has been a resident of Camarillo, all of them white women.

By law, supervisors must make the districts roughly equal in population so each of them represents about the same number of people. That likely means the Third District and Ventura-based First District must be reduced because both have both grown far more than the three other districts anchored in Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks and Oxnard.

While there's a call in the Third District for removing Camarillo, other commenters on the redistricting process were more concerned with staying in their districts. Some wanted to make sure that residents living near Channel Islands Harbor are not divided into separate districts, while others called for Ojai to remain the first district with Ventura.

'Equitable share'

Espinosa advocates marrying the Santa Paula-Fillmore area into the same district with the heavily Latino working-class areas of El Rio, Nyeland Acres, Saticoy, Cabrillo Village and a portion of Oxnard.

She does not criticize the three supervisors who have represented the district over the past several decades: Maggie Kildee, who served for 16 years starting in the 1980s; Kathy Long, who served for 20; and Kelly Long, who is in her second term. But she argues that the change in the district should make it easier to bring educational, health and other services to the valley.

"It's about getting an equitable share of county services," she said.

The district is a little over half Latino, according to 2020 census figures with around 40% being of voting age. Camarillo represents about half of the almost 100,000 registered voters with Santa Paula and Fillmore containing about a quarter. 

The Camarillo City Council has not yet taken a position on proposals to remove the city from the Third District. Councilman Kevin Kildee, the stepson of Maggie Kildee, said he would oppose it. 

Kildee said there's a long history of Camarillo being part of the district over at least the past 30 years, plus the supervisors he has known have worked hard to represent the Santa Paula-Fillmore area.

"I think the third is the best district in representation and inclusivity and working with the county and cities," he said.

He said political races have been competitive in the district and suggested that a Latino from the valley could win. 

"It doesn't necessarily mean it can't happen," he said.

Kelly Long said the advocates' concerns over the makeup of the district would be considered as part of the process for developing maps of the districts. The supervisor said she and her staff have worked "very hard" since 2017 to address issues with health care, transportation, disaster response and fires in the valley.

"I am very proud to serve all of my community," she said.

Initial maps of the proposed district boundaries are due to be published Oct. 8 or possibly a few days later. The board must make a decision by mid-December, but has hearings scheduled before that on Nov. 16 and Dec. 7.

Kathleen Wilson covers the Ventura County government, including the county health system, politics and social services. Reach her at kathleen.wilson@vcstar.com or 805-437-0271.