With new San Diego district boundaries official, panel looks forward to 2031 effort

San Diego City Hall.
(John Gastaldo/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Concerns raised about ethics, lobbying, costs, procedures


San Diego’s new City Council district boundaries, which boost the voting power of minorities and reunite several neighborhoods that had been divided, have become official after surviving a 30-day referendum period.

Deputy City Attorney Kathy Steinman said the new boundaries remain vulnerable to potential litigation, but the period has closed for citizens to launch a referendum challenging last month’s approval of the boundaries by a volunteer panel.

Critics say new map, which was approved 7-2, doesn’t do enough to boost voting power of minority groups

Dec. 15, 2021

Meanwhile, the nine-member panel issued a series of recommendations last week for the city’s next redistricting commission, which is scheduled to begin meeting in 2031 after the next U.S. Census.

Panelists have also defended themselves against a variety of criticisms of the new boundaries, including some complaints that they don’t do enough to boost minority voting power.

Panelists and members of the public also continue to raise concerns that lobbyists played a highly active role in the redistricting process without identifying themselves as lobbyists, which could violate city ethics rules.

The end of the referendum period means the boundaries will take effect after the city’s next general election this November — unless opponents file a lawsuit.

But even before that, the new boundaries have impacted the June 7 primary by determining who can run for which City Council seats based on where they live.

The recommendations for 2031 approved Thursday, Jan. 20, by the panel mostly cover procedural items like setting a budget earlier in the process and requesting official city email addresses for commissioners.

The panel also suggests assigning city staff to help with technical issues like the difference between a neighborhood and a “community planning area.”

And the panel notes that costs should be expected to rise in 2031, because all the meetings this time around were online over Zoom instead of in-person, which would require room rentals and chairs and other expenses.

The panel also recommends not forcing the volunteer commissioners to take important votes after sitting through several hours of public testimony that this time around typically lasted until 10 p.m. or 11 p.m.

“The Commission should consider a process to debrief and decompress after lengthy hearings and be given time to consider the input before taking action,” the panel says in its 2031 recommendations.

Another key recommendation is to give the public access to a mapping tool like the tool used this time around. It displayed total population, voting age population and citizen voting age population statistics for several ethnic groups.

More than 300 maps were submitted by the public during this redistricting process, including a map called “Clairemont United” that served as a blueprint for the final map approved by the commission.

Another recommendation says the 2031 commission should hire outside counsel with expertise on voting rights before data from the 2030 U.S. Census are released.

The panel also suggested the city’s Ethics Commission could help develop a procedure to investigate and adjudicate allegations of conflict of interest made against commissioners.

Val Hoy, a member of the panel, suggested the 2031 recommendations should include additional specific warnings about undisclosed lobbyist activities.

“I do believe there was an organized lobbying effort going on,” said Hoy, singling out efforts in support of a proposed Communities Collaboration redistricting map. “It should be transparent. We shouldn’t be guessing at who’s behind this.”

But neither his concerns, nor any proposed efforts to address them, were included in the final list of recommendations.

Raul Campillo, a candidate for City Council in District 7.
Raul Campillo, a candidate for City Council in District 7, poses for a portrait in the newspaper’s photo studio on October 23, 2019 in San Diego, California.
(Sam Hodgson/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Many of those who have criticized the final map adopted by the commission are supporters of the Communities Collaboration proposal, which would have boosted minority voting power more than the adopted map.

Commissioner Roy MacPhail defended the approved map on Thursday, Jan. 20.

“We not only created four majority-minority districts out of nine, we created one — for the first time ever — that is an AAPI empowerment district with an AAPI population of over 40 percent,” he said.

He was referring to the newly drawn District 6 in the north central part of the city, which is more than 40 percent Asians and Pacific Islanders. The other majority-minority districts are Districts 4, 8 and 9, where Latinos are the largest ethnic group.

City Councilmember Raul Campillo praised the panel.

“Your responsiveness to the public comment was admirable,” he said. “I saw each of you dig into details and listen to the concerns and work through the complexities and consequences of every block and neighborhood and every weirdly shaped census district that might get moved from one district to the next.”