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.