By Joe Tash
Attendees at a meeting of the San Diego Redistricting Commission on Wednesday, May 11, at the La Jolla Woman’s Club got a taste of the complex task facing the panel as it redraws City Council district boundaries.
The seven-member redistricting commission, which was appointed by a panel of retired judges last year, is charged with balancing the populations of the current eight City Council districts based on census data, and at the same time carving out a new ninth council district.
The May 11 meeting was the last in a series of public hearings in which the public was invited to speak on redistricting issues before the commission drafts its first version of a map outlining the new district boundaries.
City Council District 1, now represented by Sherri Lightner, which includes the communities of La Jolla, Carmel Valley, Del Mar Heights, Torrey Pines, Rancho Peñasquitos, and University City, will be trimmed during the process, as it now has the largest population of any council district in the city.
Census data shows District 1’s population at 199,464, and the target population for the redrawn City Council districts is 144,624. In an earlier interview, Lightner said she expects Rancho Peñasquitos to be moved to another district, and that she would like to see La Jolla reunited. La Jolla was split between districts 1 and 2 during the last round of redistricting in 2001.
Lightner told the commission she doesn’t want to lose any of the communities in her district, but understands that change is inevitable.
As the process moves forward, the redistricting commission will sift through the testimony of hundreds of San Diego residents who have attended the hearings in each of the current City Council districts, said Midori Wong, the commission’s chief of staff.
Seven or eight groups have already submitting proposed new maps, some of which focus on specific council districts and some of which cover the entire city, said Wong.
A number of speakers supported the Coast and Canyons map, which keeps most of the current District 1 intact, adding in sections of La Jolla and University City while placing Rancho Peñasquitos in a different council district.
Bill Bowers of La Jolla told the commission that it should keep La Jolla, University City, the Golden Triangle and UCSD together in the same council district. He drew a laugh from the crowd when he said that each time he looks at the golden statue of the angel Moroni atop the Mormon Temple next to I-5, he imagines the figure calling out, “Remember the Coast and Canyons plan.”
Rancho Peñasquitos residents, for their part, told the commission that they don’t want to be placed in a new council district with the communities of Mira Mesa and Kearny Mesa, as advocated in a plan proposed by the Asian and Pacific American Coalition, or APAC. The coalition wants to concentrate Asian voting power in the new district.
But several Peñasquitos residents said their community has much more in common with neighborhoods in the northeast section of the city, which are also part of the Poway Unified School District.
“APAC’s desire to put Peñasquitos in District 9 seems more like a race grab than a benefit to the people of Peñasquitos,” said resident Julie Adams.
Another map, called the “Community of Unity,” was presented for the first time to the commission at the May 11 meeting. That map consolidates district maps proposed by a number of different communities, including Latinos, African-Americans, and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community.
“You can see that, feel that, (San Diego) has become more diverse day by day,” and the unity map would bring more diversity to the City Council, said Murtaza Baxamusa, who presented the unity map to the commission.
Barrett Tetlow, executive director of the Republican Party of San Diego, offered the commission another take on a city-wide map, which he said includes nine districts whose populations don’t vary by more than 2.5 percent, are compact and contiguous and contain no “gerrymandering.”
The Republican plan, he said, creates three Latino districts and one Asian district. “This is a legal map that does everything,” Tetlow said.
Some questioned why ethnic and special interest groups are pushing so hard to create district maps that favor their demographics, which the groups have labeled “empowerment.”
Susan McKnight said her grandfather emigrated from Germany and never sought an “empowerment district” for people of his ethnic background.
“What concerns me is what happened to being a San Diegan, and an American citizen and not fighting for every bit of empowerment?” McKnight said.
La Jolla resident John Beaver said he supports the Coast and Canyons plan, and the reunification of La Jolla.
“When the rubber hits the road, there will be a lot of forces trying to influence your decision. I hope you keep in mind what the citizens have to say,” Beaver said.