By Joe Tash
With the results of the 2010 U.S. Census soon to be released, the County of San Diego is embarking on an exercise it undertakes every 10 years — redrawing the boundaries of the county’s five supervisorial districts to equalize their populations.
The process — which is required by state and federal law — is both complex and, at times, controversial. The county successfully defended itself against lawsuits over its redistricting process after both the 1990 and 2000 census counts.
In 2001, a rift occurred between members of the Board of Supervisors when a majority voted to remove Rancho Santa Fe from District 3, represented by Pam Slater-Price, and add it to District 5, represented by Bill Horn. Escondido was moved from Horn’s district to Slater-Price’s. The board approved the change on a 4-1 vote, with Slater-Price opposed.
For the current redistricting effort, supervisors in February appointed a five-member advisory committee that will study the census data when it is released April 1, hold a series of public meetings, and then recommend up to three potential maps to the Board of Supervisors. The board is expected to vote on a final map in August.
“We’ve set up a process that’s open, transparent and public… to give as much opportunity as we can to have the public participate,” said Nicole Temple, a county staffer who is overseeing the redistricting process.
“I think our mandate is pretty straightforward, to comply with federal and state laws and the county charter and come up with balanced districts,” said Adam Day, a member of the redistricting advisory committee appointed by Horn.
While detailed population information is not yet available, according to the San Diego Association of Governments, the population of San Diego County grew to 3.2 million from 2.8 million between 2000 and 2010. According to Horn, preliminary information shows the population will have to be reduced in District 5, which covers a wide swath of North County from the coast to the Imperial County line.
Slater-Price’s District 3 includes Del Mar, Solana Beach, Encinitas and Escondido, along with the San Diego communities of Carmel Valley, La Jolla and Torrey Hills. According to preliminary information from the San Diego Association of Governments, District 3’s population stood at 659,000 in 2010, the second-highest of the five districts after District 5.
In spite of assurances that the redistricting process will be fair and open, some in the community remain skeptical. They point to the fact that all five members of the current Board of Supervisors are white Republicans, and that the current makeup of the board has remained unchanged since the mid-1990s. Horn was recently elected to a fifth four-year term, and Slater has announced she will run next year for a sixth term.
Critics charge that one of the factors posing a steep hurdle to potential challengers —including minority candidates — is that after the supervisors receive the recommendation of their advisory committee, they have the ultimate authority to set their own district boundaries.
Former San Diego city attorney Mike Aguirre, who brought unsuccessful lawsuits against the county over its redistricting process following both the 1990 and 2000 census counts, likened the county’s political system to that of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi: “It’s the same kind of system here, the same people are in power for decades at a time.
“If you allow the politicians to select the voters, in essence you’re allowing politicians to select themselves. It subverts the whole process,” Aguirre said.
The solution, Aguirre said, is for the county to create an independent commission to set district boundaries, following the model of a voter-approved panel in Sacramento that will be setting boundaries this year for legislative and Congressional districts. City council districts in San Diego are also set by an independent commission whose members are appointed by a panel of retired judges.
Aguirre said he doesn’t plan to file a lawsuit this time around, but will be watching closely to see if the process is as open and fair as possible.
In a written response to questions from this newspaper, Horn did not respond directly as to whether he would support the creation of an independent commission to set the boundaries of supervisorial districts.
John Weil, chief of staff for Slater-Price, said, “the supervisor would prefer an independent commission.”
Creation of an independent redistricting commission for the county, however, would require both state legislation and an amendment to the county charter, which would also require a vote of the public, said County Counsel Tom Montgomery.
Because the current redistricting process is under way, and must be completed before the next election, a change in the way the county creates its supervisorial district boundaries would not be feasible this year, and would instead have to be implemented for the next round of redistricting following the 2020 census.
Steve Danon, a Carmel Valley resident who plans to run against Slater-Price next year, agreed that an independent commission should set supervisorial boundaries, and questioned his rival’s sincerity on the issue.
“She’s been there for 20 years," Danon said. "Why doesn’t she move it forward?”
The redistricting committee seems poised to embrace other suggestions by Aguirre to improve public access. For example, the committee will be holding meetings in all five supervisorial districts to gather public input, and those meetings will be held at night, when most people are off work and able to attend.
The committee is not allowed to meet in closed session, and both Horn and Slater said they don’t see a need for the Board of Supervisors to meet in closed session to discuss redistricting in the absence of a redistricting lawsuit.
Finally, Aguirre said the county should make its redistricting software available to individuals and groups who want to submit their own maps for consideration. The software will be used by the advisory committee and county staff along with census data to create supervisorial districts with populations that are as equal as possible.
Day said committee members agree that making the software available would be beneficial, and have asked county staff to research what that would cost.
“That’s a great idea. That would make the maps easily accessible for any member of the public from any area of the region. That’s something we would like to see,” said Weil, adding that Slater-Price would support the concept if the cost is not prohibitive.
The public can get information about the redistricting process, including the advisory committee’s meeting schedule, at a website set up by the county:
- The site allows people to sign up for email updates about redistricting activities.
WIll Carmel Valley stay or leave the third supervisorial district?
By Joe Tash
Rumors are flying about whether Carmel Valley will be carved out of the county’s third supervisorial district as the once-a-decade process of drawing new district boundary lines begins.
The question has political significance, because Steve Danon, a Carmel Valley resident and chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Brian Bilbray, announced in 2009 that he plans to challenge five-term incumbent Supervisor Pam Slater-Price for the seat next year.
If Carmel Valley is removed from Slater-Price’s H-shaped district, Danon would become ineligible to run for the third district seat unless he moved his family to live within the district’s new boundaries.
The district now includes Del Mar, Solana Beach, Encinitas and Escondido, along with the San Diego communities of Carmel Valley, La Jolla, Del Mar Heights and Torrey Hills.
The redistricting process is legally required every 10 years following the U.S. Census. Official census data will be released by April 1, but preliminary information shows that District 3’s population in 2010 was 659,000, the second highest of the five supervisorial districts.
Any contention that Slater-Price is planning to cut Carmel Valley from her district is “silly talk,” said John Weil, Slater-Price’s chief of staff. He said the issue has not come up even once in office discussions.
“I think that was a preemptive strike by our opponent to make sure Carmel Valley is still in District 3,” Weil said.
But Danon said rumor has it that the notion of removing Carmel Valley from District 3 came from Slater-Price’s office.
“Absolutely, unequivocally, the rumor did not start from me,” Danon said.
Danon said any such move would require at least three of the five supervisors to vote for the plan. He said Carmel Valley is a large population center at the heart of the district, and would be difficult to slice away.
He said that if such a move happens, he would not move his family, because they are established in Carmel Valley, where his children attend school, play in Little League and take part in other activities.
“I hope that she doesn’t play dirty politics with it,” Danon said.
In the last round of redistricting following the 2000 census, the supervisors voted over Slater-Price’s objections to remove Rancho Santa Fe from her district and add it to District 5, which is represented by Supervisor Bill Horn. Escondido was moved from Horn’s to Slater-Price’s district.
The county’s redistricting advisory committee, which was appointed by the Board of Supervisors, held its first meeting Feb. 23. The committee will meet through the summer, analyzing census data and taking public input while putting together proposed new district maps that balance the county’s population among the five supervisorial districts.
Preliminary information also shows that District 5 — with a population of 678,000 in 2010 — will need to be trimmed, while District 2, represented by Dianne Jacob, may need to be enlarged because its population stood at 593,000 in 2010.
The Board of Supervisors has the final say on district boundaries under the county charter and current state law. The board is expected to approve a final map in August.