Redistricting Could Set San Diego Back Ten Years

by on November 10, 2021 · 10 comments

in San Diego

Current city council districts.

By Norma Damashek / NumbersRunner / Nov. 9, 2021

Take a long look at the outcome of San Diego’s 2010 Redistricting Commission process.  You’ll be impressed by the success of that former Commission in drawing boundary lines for our City Council districts that have enabled San Diegans to elect a range of culturally diverse leaders in our nine council districts.

We now have what is popularly designated as a Black District (D4), an Asian District (D6), a Gay District (D3), and two Latino Districts (D8, D9).  All five of the councilmembers elected from these districts are “of color.”  Two councilmembers identify as belonging to the gay community.  Four councilmembers are women.  And eight out of nine councilmembers call themselves Democrats.

Nothing’s perfect in the world of politics.  But if you happen to be a forward-thinking, reformist Democrat in San Diego, this would be called good progress.  (Not so much for our Republican constituents, though.)

Now zoom ten years later to San Diego’s 2020 Redistricting Commission process.  You’ll notice that something peculiar is underfoot.

With only a few weeks left to finish its job, the current Redistricting Commission is being bombarded by demands to drastically rearrange San Diego’s map of neighborhoods and communities.  The demands are for changes that far exceed necessary boundary adjustments due to new census data or community streamlining due to population shifts.

Most peculiar about this turn of events is that the very groups that would be negatively affected by a drastic overhaul of community boundaries are partnering in the pressure campaign to force the Redistricting Commission to enact these changes.  It is ironic that their involvement threatens to reverse ten years’ worth of forward momentum toward fair representation at the City Council.

Which is why a person might be driven to ask herself: What’s going on behind the scenes to generate such an incongruous disconnect?  How can we connect the dots?

Here’s what it looks like from the outside: Starting this past summer, individuals and organizations were invited to submit maps of their own making to the Redistricting Commission, creating their ideal boundaries for their personal district or for the entire city.  And all San Diego residents were invited to participate (via zoom) in regular Commission meetings to voice their comments and recommendations to the Commissioners.

Working under a tight schedule, the Redistricting Commission approved a tentative map at the end of October–a composite of public recommendations from the previous months of public petitions and testimony.  Another round of public discussion devoted to fine-tuning this map was scheduled to promptly begin.

But at the very last minute a new redistricting vision–dubbed the San Diego Communities Collaboration map (let’s call it the SDCC map)–was submitted for consideration by a Chula Vista resident.  This map deviated sharply from the map generated by the Commission.  It wiped clean the boundary lines north of I-8 that traditionally defined five council districts (D1, D2, D5, D6, and D7) and sketched in completely new ones.

Some supporters of the SDCC map say they jumped onboard as a statement of solidarity with the ethnic goal of Asian undergraduates at UCSD and other Asian residents and businesses to guarantee them an even stronger ethnic concentration in the existing Asian District.  They claim they can achieve this goal by moving the entire UCSD campus and greater environs out its present district and into D6.

The SDCC map is actually a dead-end for any San Diego resident who wants to see our city move forward.   It’s a devious setup that forecasts an undesirable return to the San Diego of old, when conservative perspectives dominated the City Council.

* On the one hand, it supports a stronger Asian district and many supporters of the SDCC map are among San Diego’s most socially progressive advocates who regard this use of identity politics as a positive force.

* On the other hand, it creates new concentrations of conservative-leaning voters in its newly-invented council districts, strategically diluting the voting clout of liberal cohorts in the northern and coastal sections of San Diego while also diluting the influence of the Latino population in five districts.

So why support a redistricting map that would weaken the voices and clout of Democratic allies to the north and ultimately undermine progressive momentum citywide?

Look closely and the dots will start to connect as you:

  • identify the cadre of savvy Republican operatives who have seized the redistricting opportunity to make a comeback;
  • catch sight of certain other proponents of the SDCC map expertly undermining the redistricting process and manipulating public opinion;
  • come across student organizers encouraging fellow students to unleash their frustrations by condemning local neighborhoods over the inadequacy of social opportunities and housing rather than criticizing the policies of their own university chancellor;
  • notice the stamp of approval provided by BIOCOM and related business industries;
  • get wind of the corporate real estate investors calculating their next moves into environmentally sensitive regions–formerly protected from development but soon to be in the hands of compliant newly-elected city officials.

Redistricting is dirty business in many other parts of our country.  We can close our eyes and hold our noses and pretend that San Diego is immune to partisan politics and sneaky actors with self-serving agendas.

Alternatively, we can support the better angels among our Redistricting Commissioners by encouraging them to gird their loins and move forward in the public interest to prevent San Diego’s backward slide into a politically retrograde, unpromising future.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Sam November 10, 2021 at 9:35 am

I’m no republican but I do think we need some more conservative voices in the city council to balance things out. Too many voices on one side of an issue or another, whether it is progressive or conservative, is a recipe for disenfranchisement of a large portion of the population. Left and right ideological policy making is what led us to January 6th. It’s time to bring things back to the center, listening to everybody rather than the few on the fringes.


Frank Gormlie November 10, 2021 at 10:33 am

I hate to say it, Sam, but you are formulating a false moral equivalency between left and right; it wasn’t the left who staged the attempted coup and halt to our electoral process on Jan. 6. The left never rioted to try to overturn the Bush election in 2000. I do understand your point, however, in that discussion can become muted, irrelevant, boring, duplicative if one point of view is the only one heard. We all who lived through the trump years understand that.


Sam November 10, 2021 at 2:10 pm

To be clear, I was in no way intending to imply that the left is, in any way, even approaching the ridiculous behavior of the Q-ultists that stormed the capitol. I was only trying, in my less than elegant way, to write that the lack of listening, empathizing and compromising is what these misguided souls have been fixating on, and ultimately acting out against, in the only way they know how. Through threats, thuggery and violence, behavior that was modeled by their president. When we take away their only voice, people feel threatened and lash out. I believe it is time to stop all of the extreme views espoused by both right and left, in order to bring us closer together. As the Governator so eloquently put it:

“I think it is important that we go and bring both of the parties together. The more we go to the left, the more we go to the right, I believe of what President Eisenhower said, “Politics is like the road. The left and the right represents the gutter, and the middle is drivable.”


Frank Gormlie November 10, 2021 at 2:14 pm

Fair enough. Ike did warn us of the “military-industrial complex.” Yet, since college, I’ve realized it’s been the left that has advocated for civil rights, women’s rights, against unjust wars, for no nukes ….


Sam November 10, 2021 at 2:48 pm

I would certainly agree with that Frank. I just think that sometimes the over the top reactions portrayed in the press, about trivial things like what bathroom someone gets to use, is what pushes a lot of buttons. I say let’s get back to solving real, existential, problems like climate change, the failing state of democracy and perhaps the pandemic, before we start getting into the nitty gritty battles over things that ultimately don’t really matter. Because if we can’t fix the big problems there will be no point in trying to fix the little ones.

And before everybody shames me into oblivion, I of course think that everybody can and should fight for the little things that immediately make the community a nicer place, we just can’t lose sight of the big stuff!


norna damashek November 10, 2021 at 11:08 am

Thank you, Sam, for making that point. I agree that a wide range of perspectives is not only valuable but essential for good policy making.

The City Council is nominally a non-partisan legislative body but at this time in San Diego history, Democrats outnumber Republicans across all nine council districts. The composition of the City Council reflects that.

But Dems in San Diego are generally politically moderate. Also true for most local Republicans. (Ideological politicians pop up every now and then but don’t usually gain traction.) At any rate, policies promoting growth and development are assured of advocates across party lines.

But there’s a difference—San Diego Dems are still more inclined to protect the environment and focus on social issues. So when districts are gerrymandered to artificially create concentrated voting blocs that will override environmental and social concerns, we lose the ground we gained.


Frank Gormlie November 10, 2021 at 11:21 am

Yes, Democrats in San Diego have reached a before-unseen “maturity”: there are actually different camps of Dems. Exhibit 1: last November’s mayoral election where both contending candidates had Dem support. It actually was one of the most divisive elections in recent San Diego Democratic history. One side, for instance, called the candidate of the other side a “Republican,” a “Trump-supporter,” and an adherent to the Qanon conspiracy. Whew!


kh November 10, 2021 at 3:13 pm

So are D1, D2 the white empowerment districts? Nobody seemed interested in going there, as I’m sure it would highlight the lunacy of such titles. Will only gay candidates be allowed on the D3 ballot going forward?

Cultural diversity is appreciated, but to imply melanin diversity is equivalent to cultural diversity is cheap. And separating council districts by race, even if by name only, sounds like something from the Jim Crow era.


Frank Gormlie November 10, 2021 at 4:01 pm

Yeah, but you’re ignoring decades when nobody but straight, White (mainly) men were ever elected. The number of African-Americans who have served on the city council can be counted on one hand. Same with Latinos. One one hand. San Diego has been one of the most segregated large cities in the country, certainly on the West Coast. To malign communities of color for finally achieving enough demographics and voting power to elect someone from their communities on councils and boards is walking backwards. It is complex, as Norma has lessoned us, and it’s far from perfect. (Why can’t we have more districts?) The Board of Supervisors is a prime example. Literally for decades, it was governed by a majority of White, straight Republicans – until just recently, some ceilings have been broken.


kh November 10, 2021 at 5:01 pm

Those white/straight candidates were elected by the voters, not appointed by some racist institution. Are you implying previous district boundaries have somehow maliciously marginalized representation of racial minorities?

I’m not maligning communities of color, I’m maligning anyone who thinks that segregating districts by race is progress. The author even contradicts themselves on this. “more asians in a district = good, more conservatives in a district = bad”. Huh?


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