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Southern California Could Lose Two Congressional Seats After 2020 Census

A car caravan rolls through Oceanside to drum up support for the 2020 Census. (Caroline Champlin/LAist)
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This week President Trump released a memo meant to stop unauthorized immigrants from being included in the census numbers, which are used to apportion seats in Congress. If he were to have his way -- which looks unlikely -- California could take a big hit politically.

But Trump's wishes aside, a new study from Claremont McKenna College predicts that California could lose two representatives anyway, simply because the state's population growth has slowed and immigration into California has declined.

That team, led by research affiliate Douglas Johnson, predicts one seat would likely be taken from the San Gabriel Valley, which has grown particularly slowly over the last decade.

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The loss of one seat has been predicted for some time, but lately it's looking more dire: According to new calculations from data firm ESRI, the margin for California to lose a second seat is only 1,300 people -- and that's assuming every Californian completes the census, something that's not likely to happen.

Using that information. and looking at regional population growth, Johnson's team ran a model to predict which California district could be the second loss in that worst-case scenario. They identified the 49th district, stretching from Dana Point to Del Mar, as one possibility.

"It's on the border of Orange County and San Diego, so it's getting pressure from both sides," Johnson said. If either county loses population as reported in the census, they may need to balance out neighboring districts by absorbing constituents from the 49th.

"Some area is going to lose their voice in D.C. and be grouped together with a larger area and no one wants that," he said.

Johnson said that people living in the 49th should be particularly motivated to get counted in the census if they want to preserve their district.

Rep. Mike Levin (D-San Juan Capistrano) speaks at a car caravan in Oceanside. (Caroline Champlin/LAist)

Last weekend, Mike Levin, a Democrat who currently represents the 49th, participated in a car caravan to drum up census support. He drove through Oceanside along with several vintage car owners, who honked horns and shouted census-related slogans.

Levin is aware of the risk to the 49th, but isn't taking it too seriously...yet.

"It's premature," Levin said. "Talk to me in a year."

At this point, Levin said he's more interested in the federal funding that census participation provides. But if the California Citizens Redistricting Commission does consider cutting up the 49th, Levin said they'd be dividing a cohesive community.

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"I think I represent the most beautiful district in the United States, 52 miles of Pacific. People (here) care very deeply about our beaches, our air, our water," Levin said. "Last I saw, we have the second highest percentages of veterans in the United States."

Chema Navarro, an Oceanside resident, came out to the car caravan in her light pink 1957 Lincoln Premiere. She's heard about the possibility of California losing a seat in Congress, and the possible threat to the 49th.

"California is huge and we need to do everything possible to conserve what we've got already," Navarro said.

Ultimately, the fate of the district will be in the hands of the still-forming redistricting commission. This week the first eight members of the team were sworn in; they're now training to learn how to make major redistricting decisions fairly.

But even the commission can't stop a district from being removed -- that will depend on how many Californians participate in the census.

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