For weeks, San Diego’s Redistricting Commission has been winding down its work to draw new City Council boundaries. When it’s done, the city will have a new 9th District likely to include City Heights, Kensington-Talmadge and the College Area.
But as the commission has come closer to finalizing its map, city officials have realized a problem. Once the map is adopted, the 145,000 residents of that new 9th District will not have a councilmember.
The City Charter requires the new district boundaries to take effect 30 days after the map is adopted. But the new 9th District won’t have an election until next year, leaving them essentially voiceless at City Hall until the new representative takes office in December 2012.
That’s clearly a problem considering one of the fundamental goals of redistricting: To ensure that all communities have equal access to political representation.
The new 9th District was added to the City Charter when voters made the strong mayor form of government permanent in June 2010. But the changes, drafted by the City Attorney’s Office, didn’t include instructions for how the city would make sure its residents weren’t left in limbo for a year.
Now Council President Tony Young is scrambling to figure out a fix. To create the new 9th District, the Redistricting Commission carved away at the districts of three council members: Todd Gloria, Marti Emerald and Young. On Thursday, Young proposed that each of them continue representing their old territory, along with their new territory, until a council member for the 9th District is inaugurated in December 2012.
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Young has yet to work out the details and hopes to pass an ordinance by Sept. 25. That’s when the new boundaries are expected to go into effect. Young said he was willing to take on the added responsibility of representing his new communities as well as the ones he’ll lose to the new district. But Young’s district will only see minor changes.
The request is sure to be a considerably more taxing for Gloria. Under Young’s proposal, Gloria will not only represent the large swath of City Heights that his 3rd District is likely to lose, but also Mission Hills, Old Town, Bankers Hill and downtown, which his district will gain under the new proposed plan.
“I think it’s well understood that I don’t have a social life,” Gloria said. During that time, Gloria will also be campaigning for re-election and finding a new place to live, since the proposed redistricting plan draws him out of the 3rd District. On Thursday, Young said he would ask the council members to take on the added responsibilities without an increase in their budget or added staff.
Council office staff members are often the first point of contact for residents wanting a pothole filled, a dangerous tree trimmed, or some other basic city service performed in their neighborhoods.
“I’m game for it,” Gloria said, “and I think my staff has shown that they enjoy their work.”
But community leaders in the new 9th District have already expressed concern about the charter ommission and what it could mean for representation in their neighborhoods.
Young, Emerald and Gloria will represent the communities for the next year, but not be politically accountable to them.
“If that’s in the City Charter and people didn’t anticipate this was going to be the situation, that’s really bad,” said Jay Powell, a longtime advocate who recently retired as director of the City Heights Community Development Corp. “That’s part of the job of the city attorney writing the ballot summary, to say, ‘Oh by the way, you won’t have a representative for a year.”
A spokeswoman for City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said his office was working with Young to resolve the issue, but didn’t immediately respond to questions about why the glitch happened.
Adrian Florido is a reporter for voiceofsandiego.org. He covers San Diego’s neighborhoods. What should he write about next?
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