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Ornellas rolls out voter initiative to undo splitting of Manteca by county
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STOCKTON – Supervisor Leroy Ornellas wants Manteca unified as one city when it comes to representation on the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors

And the Tracy dairyman is willing to bankroll an initiative that could end up doing just that.

After the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Tuesday to approve the ordinance that will formally reapportion supervisorial districts that kept Manteca split, Ornellas informed his colleagues that he would be pursuing an initiative that will put the matter in the hands of voters.

He hopes to collect enough signatures to put it on the ballot in June of 2012.

“There’s no legitimate reason to continue dividing Manteca between supervisor districts. It’s either political expediency or laziness – I don’t know which one – but in any case it’s wrong to ignore the wishes of the representatives of 68,000 people,” Ornellas said. “The entire process has been flawed. The only interests being served are the interests of the people on this dais, and that is wrong. All the closed-door deal-making between Supervisors and their staff in my opinions runs perilously close to violations of the Brown Act.

“Therefore, I feel obliged to place an initiative before the voters to compel this board to end the practice of splitting cities for political purposes.”

Tuesday’s vote was supposed to mark the culmination of several months of work between supervisors, county staffers and members of the public in regards to the required reshuffling of district boundaries that comes with the decennial census.

Because Ornellas’ district gained more than 50,000 residents, it was decided that he would lose Ripon to help create as close to an even balance as possible among the other four districts. While losing one of the key pieces of the South County didn’t sit well with Ornellas – who let those constituents know as much at the Ripon Chamber of Commerce installation dinner last month – the continued splitting of Manteca became the key focus of his reapportionment efforts.

Even before the official vote on Tuesday formally took place, Ornellas asked the other supervisors to put the brakes on and allow for more time to look at all of the options. Stanislaus County, he reasoned, is turning to a panel of constituents for their input and don’t plan on acting before November.

The petition fell on deaf ears, and seemed to strike a chord with Supervisor Steve Bestolarides – who represents the northern segment of Manteca.

Bestolarides felt that there was a lot of “political hyperbole” being thrown around both in meetings and in newspapers regarding the issue – something that he felt muddies the waters and prevents the five member panel from being able to constructively work together.

After Ornellas announced that he would be pushing an initiative following the vote – of which he was the lone dissenter – Bestolarides called the move “contrived” and said that Ornellas was operating under his own set of rules while the other four supervisors were expected to follow a completely different set of principles.

“It appears that much like Sacramento the power to draw your own legislative district to your benefit is a temptation too hard to ignore,” Ornellas said. “The unfortunate truth is that the interests of the citizens has been subordinated to the political interests of board members.”

Ornellas has hinted that he’s willing to spend campaign funds to help bankrolling the initiative in a bid to make Manteca whole. The initiative itself would require that any city less than one-fifth of the size of the county should be placed in its own supervisorial district. It means that Stockton would be the only San Joaquin County city represented by multiple supervisors.

The proposed initiative reads as follows:

“The County Board of Supervisors, when redistricting supervisorial districts shall place each incorporated city in one supervisorial district unless the city’s population exceeds one fifth of the population of the County. The Board of Supervisors shall adopt a map conforming to this ordinance by January 1, 2013.

“Districts established by the adopted map shall also apply to the County Board of Education.

Any registered voter in San Joaquin County may file a writ of mandate in Superior Court within 45 days of January 1, 2013 to require compliance with this ordinance.”