By Jason Everitt / Two Cathedrals / April 21, 2011
Redistricting is, without question, one of the most important and rare opportunities for civic engagement. Offered only once every ten years, immediately following the federal census, redistricting is more than just the process of corralling thousands of San Diegans into arbitrarily drawn boundaries. Done right, redistricting draws out the qualities and priorities that best describe our neighbors, neighborhoods and ourselves. By drawing districts around these qualities and priorities, we indirectly define the kind of individual we wish to elect to the San Diego City Council.
With redistricting hearings starting up in March and continuing through July, I’ve started to get a lot of questions about redistricting and how citizens of San Diego can contribute to the process. Here is a brief FAQ.
What is redistricting?
Redistricting is the decennial process by which some cities, counties, the State of California, and the Federal Government adjust City Council, County Board of Supervisors, State Assembly/Senate, and Congressional districts to accommodate population variance.
Most other cities in California don’t redistrict. Why does San Diego?
In 1988, the City of San Diego was forced to create district elections in order to comply with the Federal Voting Rights Act. Previously, it was determined that citywide elections largely disenfranchised minority voters.
Who does the actual redistricting?
An independent commission of seven citizens living in the City of San Diego makes up the redistricting commission. An independent panel of judges appointed the commissioners. Click here for more information about the commissioners.
How do we know that these commissioners won’t continue to draw districts based on partisan politics and the whims of current elected officials?
The Commission is specifically prohibited from drawing lines for the purpose of advantaging or protecting incumbents.
How does the Redistricting Commission go about redrawing the lines?
The Redistricting commissioners must respect a number of guiding principles in drawing city council districts. With as little variance as possible, a district must be 144,624 people. It’s important to note that “people” does not mean registered voters or adults. People means living and breathing total people. All of ‘em.
Districts must also be geographically compact and composed of contiguous territory. Basically, they should be shaped more like a closed fist than an open hand. Residents should be able to easily access population centers throughout the district. Natural boundaries (freeways, rivers, mountains, etc) should encircle a district, rather than artificial lines that arbitrarily separate neighborhoods.
Lastly, districts must preserve “communities of interest.” Almost anything can define a community of interest: a school and its parents, teachers, and children, a church and its parishioners, a population of artists or art lovers, etc. Literally any quality can define a community, but the community itself must define it. North Park must define North Park. Rancho Bernardo and Barrio Logan must speak for themselves.
There has been a lot of talk about the new 9th city council district. I’ve heard that it will be an Asian district. Is this true?
While the commission cannot define districts strictly according to race, the plan “shall provide fair and effective representation for all citizens of the City, including racial, ethnic, and language minorities, and be in conformance with the requirements of the United States Constitution and Federal statutes.” The question is how to fairly represent the large and growing Asian and Pacific Islander population, without defining a district strictly according to race. A number of other factors weigh heavily in favor of a so-called “Asian district”, including natural boundaries and lines of transportation around the area east of the 805, west of the 15/163, and south of Mira Mesa Blvd, to the intersection of the 805 and 163, which is the epicenter of the API community. This area currently consists of four separate districts (1, 5, 6, and 7), which is hardly desirable. The northern portion of the district may continue to be in what is now District 1 or 5, but it’s hard to argue against the logic behind a district in this area, which also happens to have a large API population.
That isn’t to say that this round of redistricting is all about the voice of the Asian community. The creation of a 9th city council district is the equivalent of dropping a bowling ball into a kiddy pool. A ton of water is getting displaced. Every single council district is going to shift and shrink. That means that residents of every district must participate.
Why should I get involved?
Recently, I was speaking at a community meeting about redistricting. A woman raised her hand after hearing 20 minutes of talk about population figures, city charter provisions, and wonky banter and said “I’m not an expert on population growth or maps or anything. What does a average person like me say at these meetings?”
I told her that no data geek, wonk, elected official or reporter could describe a neighborhood better than the people who live there. As much as redistricting is about numbers and laws, it’s about offering our residents the opportunity to define what makes their communities so great, how they’ve changed, and what they expect for the future. The input of “average people” is the most important thing.
I was watching KUSI and I heard that liberals are infiltrating the Redis….
Just stop it. The hiring process for the Redistricting Commission Chief of Staff was conducted in the light of day. Their selection, Midori Wong, was debated in a public meeting where her qualifications, credentials, strengths, and weaknesses were laid bare for every San Diegan to see. One of the primary qualities the commission looked for was the ability to be impartial. In her last role, Ms. Wong worked for SANDAG, taking direction from an overwhelmingly conservative board and doing so with distinction. The Chief of Staff makes no decision about the way that lines should be drawn. She serves the needs of the commission and was hired because of her ability to do so.
San Diego has become an increasingly diverse and Democratic community. The new council districts will reflect that. The story by KUSI, no doubt seeded by Republican operatives, is a clear attempt to cast doubt on the process before a map proposal has been issued. This kind of explicitly biased argument against a person before they have demonstrated any bias is the equivalent of throwing a rock through your own window and then calling a press conference to blame the opposition. If the SDGOP had serious doubts about Ms. Wong, they should have raised those doubts like adults during the public meetings during which her hiring was discussed.
How can I get involved?
There are a number of upcoming Redistricting Commission meetings.
(All meetings at 6pm, unless otherwise noted)
Monday, April 25 (District 5)
Qualcomm Headquarters Main Services Building -Main Lunch Room
5775 Morehouse Drive, San Diego, 92121
Wednesday, April 27 (District 7)
Tierrasanta Recreation Center- Rooms 2 and 3
11220 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, San Diego, 92124
Saturday, April 30 (10am)
Balboa Park Club – Santa Fe Room
2144 Pan American Road West, San Diego, 92101.
Monday, May 2 (District 3)
Regional Transportation Center-Showroom
4001 El Cajon Boulevard, San Diego, 92105
Wednesday, May 4 (District 2)
Point Loma/Hervey Library-Community Room
3701Voltaire Street, San Diego, 92107
Monday, May 9 (District 6)
Bayside Community Center-Grand Hall
2202 Comstock Street, San Diego, 92111
Wednesday, May 11 (District 1)
La Jolla Library-Community Room
7555 Draper Avenue, La Jolla, 92037
Additionally, there are regular meetings on first and third Thursdays of every month in the 12th floor committee room City Hall, 4pm.
If you’d like to submit comments or ask any questions, contact Redistricting Commission,
1010 Second Avenue Suite 1060, San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 533-3060 / firstname.lastname@example.org