Rearranging San Diego

by on November 3, 2021 · 1 comment

in San Diego

By Norma Damashek / NumbersRunner / November 2, 2021

Each and every ten years, as decreed by Article I Section 2 of the United States Constitution, we engage in the ritual of counting the number of people living in our country.

We then use the updated population numbers to reapportion our Congressional districts and the political boundary lines in our state, county, and city governments–aiming for reasonably balanced districts.

In practical terms, reapportioning and redistricting determine which representatives you’ll be eligible to vote for in upcoming elections.

Ten years ago, San Diego faced a bigger-than-usual redistricting challenge.  Voters had recently agreed to a charter change amendment that catapulted the mayor out of the city council and into the office of chief executive in a new “strong mayor” government system.  Consequently, the 2010 Redistricting Commission was charged with redrawing neighborhood boundary lines to carve out an additional city council district (we went from eight to nine) while ironing out usual population disparities.

Today, San Diego’s redistricting ritual is simpler and more straightforward.  Population numbers in some parts of the city have increased and decreased in other areas.  The job of the 2020 Redistricting Commission is to iron out the disparities among our nine council districts while preserving the likelihood that a handful of our districts will continue to elect a councilmember who identifies as Hispanic, Black, LGBT, and/or Asian.

Sounds simple enough.  But trouble is brewing in what has formerly been an orderly and cooperative redistricting process.

In the real world, the fiercest fighting and conflict surrounding decennial redistricting derives from the partisan tug-o-war between Democrats and Republicans.  But not in today’s San Diego, where the Democratic Party has safely secured most political cat seats.

So how can we explain the uptick in sharp-tongued, vitriolic public input at current Redistricting Commission (zoom) meetings?  What’s been prompting the descent into accusatory complaints invoking race, elitism, and social class?  Who initiated the script for scores of UCSD students claiming that their lifestyle is thwarted by alien neighbors and their true destiny will only be found when their college gets moved to another city council district?  And why are lobbyists giving support to such spurious claims?

To ask the question another way: once the smokescreen of misleading and diversionary arguments has blown away, who emerges as the winner?

To get some answers, let’s start from the bottom up.  Our nine-member Redistricting Commission gets the final say on where the lines get drawn on San Diego’s council district map.  In other words, Commissioners decide which voters will be entitled to vote for which city council representative over the next ten years.  That’s a weighty responsibility.

Six of the nine appointed Commissioners happen to be lawyers with professional expertise in real estate and private property transactions.  As a consequence, they have assorted connections to a wide range of land development interests.

According to the rules, however, the duty of Redistricting Commissioners is limited solely to “ensure fair and equitable redistricting for all racial, ethnic and language minorities” and to create districts that will “preserve identifiable communities of interest” and “be geographically compact… to the extent practical.”

Nowhere in the official Commission bylaws does it suggest that the business interests of any private enterprise–big or small–should impact the redistricting equation or influence a Commissioner’s decision about where one council district should end and the line for another district begin.

But high-powered voices from San Diego’s Life Sciences industry and its mega-million dollar portfolios are telling a different story.  The industry and their lobbyists have a single, gold-plated message for our Redistricting Commissioners.

Tune in to the vice-president of Alexandria, a prospering San Diego REIT, as he makes his case to the Redistricting Commission (note–a Real Estate Investment Trust is a company that owns or finances income-producing real estate across a range of property sectors.  Most REITs trade on major stock exchanges):

“We own eight million square feet of Life Sciences in D1 and D6… Life Sciences is growing…into the communities of Sorrento Valley, Mira Mesa and UTC… the industry really deserves council representation that doesn’t compete with communities that have disparate interests… so the entire Life Science community should be united, we believe, in District 6 including UCSD, UTC, Sorrento Valley, Torrey Pines.”

And here’s the Director of Regional Policy and Governmental Affairs for BIOCOM as she hammers home her industry instructions (note–BIOCOM is a life science trade association that lobbies public officials “to pass legislation that is positive to the California life science industry, while working to defeat proposals that would be detrimental”):

“I think it is unfortunate that (planning group members) say that they represent the community… the industry’s voice has been drowned out by residents who contribute to local campaigns in large numbers and do not share the interests of the life science community, as we continue to grow into Sorrento Valley and Mira Mesa… and as this is the largest employment center in the City… the industry deserves a united community in district 6 with a representative that looks out for our interests and helps us continue to grow…”

And then there’s Healthpeak Properties–currently engaged in office/life science construction at the edge of the biologically sensitive Del Mar Mesa Preserve and US Fish and Wildlife Refuge–making no bones about the fact that the health science/ real estate/ development industry looks to the redistricting process as their winning ticket on Wall Street:

“Our portfolio is purposely designed to provide stable earnings and dividend growth through inevitable industry cycles…”

It would seem that the word going around is that Wall Street corporations “deserve” special treatment at the hands of our Redistricting Commission in order to lock in political representatives who will “look out for our interests.”

As we near the end of this decennial mapping process, let’s be sure we get something straight:

  • While the economic fortunes of San Diego’s major economic drivers–the life sciences, military, and tourism industries– are of major importance to our city’s future; and
  • While we each have a personal stake in seeing San Diego grow and prosper as a socially responsible, environmentally sustainable, livable, and economically healthy city; and
  • While we also recognize that proposals for significant growth in any corner of San Diego should get the attention and involvement of every one of our elected officials; and
  • While the mayor and city council are accountable to ensure that increased demands from growth in our city (for housing availability and affordability, parks, safety provisions, environmental protection, water supplies, transportation options, pipes and sewers, roads, air quality, hidden infrastructure) are planned, paid for, and provided; and
  • While we expect that the thriving real estate investors and their shareholders who profit handsomely from our city’s assets will take responsibility for their share of the city’s unwieldy burdens that accompany the growth of their industry;

We must insist that the clout of private industry is not a valid or legal tool for determining City Council districts or for carving out political advantage in the redistricting process.  That’s the only message the Redistricting Commission needs to heed.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Angie November 3, 2021 at 3:41 pm

Hear, hear!!

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