For Park Village’s Asian Residents, Redistricting Pits Neighborhood Against Identity

Government

For Park Village’s Asian Residents, Redistricting Pits Neighborhood Against Identity

In 2011, redistricting commissioners split the Park Village neighborhood from the rest of Rancho Peñasquitos and into an Asian-empowerment City Council district. Some Asian Park Village residents want to see the community reunited, and argue their neighborhood ties matter more for redistricting purposes than race.

Adolphia Street in Rancho Peñasquitos Park Village / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

The redistricting process in 2011 still leaves a bad taste in Gloria Kuramoto Monroe’s mouth.

Monroe has been a resident of Park Village, in the southwestern portion of Rancho Peñasquitos, for 19 years. She and her family decided to move there for the quality local schools, but she found a quiet, tight-knit, family-oriented community where everyone is invested in the community and the schools’ success.

“Moving to Park Village and being a part of that school, I see the demographics of our community,” Kuramoto Monroe said. “It’s diverse. There are a lot of Asian-Americans at our school, but no one has ever said ‘we’re this’ or ‘we’re that.’”

That is until 2011, when a push to create an Asian-empowerment City Council district— a district with a high enough percentage of Asian voters that they would have a significant influence in district elections — ended up splitting Park Village and other neighborhoods from the rest of Rancho Peñasquitos.

Park Village became part of the newly created Asian-empowerment district in District 6, while the rest of Rancho Peñasquitos is part of District 5. Rancho Peñasquitos residents, including Kuramoto Monroe and several other Asian residents, made clear they want Rancho Peñasquitos to be reunited into one district in the new round of redistricting taking place, although some residents said they were indifferent as to which district the community ended up in.

Kuramoto Monroe, a third-generation Japanese American, said she took offense at the idea that she and other Asians in the community needed to be represented differently. She even recalls being asked if she was mixed race at one meeting in 2011 after she expressed that it was more important to her to be retained within the Rancho Peñasquitos community than in the Asian-empowerment district.

She was one of many Asian residents in Park Village who didn’t want to be part of the Asian-empowerment district if it meant that they would be separated from the rest of Peñasquitos. More than 1,000 Asian residents signed a petition and showed up to public meetings at the time to request they not be split off from the rest of Rancho Peñasquitos.

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Efforts in 2000 to create an Asian-empowerment district weren’t successful. But in 2011, the Asian Pacific American Coalition led the efforts and organized early on to make its case.

At the time, there was a Latino-empowerment district, an African-American district, an LGBTQ district and even districts formed around the needs of coastal communities. But while nearly one in every four Asian American and Pacific Islander city residents lived in either Rancho Peñasquitos or Mira Mesa in 2011, those neighborhoods and the Convoy district were split between three different Council districts, effectively diluting the voice of the AAPI community.

The AAPI community was nearly 16 percent of the city’s population and the fastest-growing racial group in the city in 2011.

The Asian Pacific American Coalition had initially proposed a map that included all of Rancho Peñasquitos, Mira Mesa and the Convoy district in its proposal for how the Asian-influenced district should look.

But many other groups submitted their own maps, and other communities made their cases to be included in specific districts. As a compromise, the commission split Rancho Peñasquitos, but created an Asian-influenced District 6.

Vince Vasquez, a founding member of the Asian Pacific American Coalition who helped with the data analysis and map creation during the 2011 redistricting process for the organization, said there are many ways an AAPI district can look. In 2011, there were suggestions that Linda Vista be fully within District 6 and there are large Asian communities in places like UTC.

“There’s no one way that Asian representation can look like,” Vasquez said. “But the demographic change continues to head in the direction of more API residents and they should have representation within the district map the way other communities do.”

During redistricting, various communities have the opportunity to tell redistricting commissioners about who their community is, what makes it unique and how they want to be represented. At its best, the process can be empowering for communities, especially historically marginalized ones. At its worst, it can unearth racist, classist and other problematic views of how different neighborhoods and communities view themselves compared with others.

A March letter from the Rancho Peñasquitos Town Council to the redistricting commission drove home the uglier side.

“It is a fact that a large number of ‘RP’ residents moved out of [Mira Mesa] to be part of the [Poway Unified School District], to move up to the newer housing in ‘RP’, and be part of the vibrant cultural and ethnic milieu that ‘RP’ shares with the PUSD communities,” read the letter.

Mira Mesa, the letter contends, has older housing stock with lower home values and more renters, households with lower incomes and higher crime rates.

“Lastly, MM is an older, poorly planned community, with very few parks, horrible traffic flow, older infrastructure, and poor drainage,” the letter reads.

“Unfair views about other communities are just unfair,” Vasquez said. “There has to be a sense of understanding who your neighbors are and who is a part of your community. Often times people get the wrong message about who belongs in their community and it often brings out biases.”

Similar arguments were made in 2011, and the Asian Pacific American Coalition pushed back against the idea that Rancho Peñasquitos and Mira Mesa were fundamentally different. It argued the two communities had more in common with each other than with a community like Rancho Bernardo.

The group presented data showing that although Mira Mesa had a higher crime rate than Rancho Peñasquitos, Rancho Bernardo and Carmel Mountain Ranch also had higher crime rates than Peñasquitos. Mira Mesa’s median household income was $90,139 in 2009, only $6,000 less than Rancho Peñasquitos. It also noted that 91 percent of Mira Mesa homes had a mortgage, and 95 percent of homes in Rancho Peñasquitos had a mortgage, while only 67.8 percent of homes in Rancho Bernardo had them.

Tim Nguyen worked with APAC in 2011 to make the case for an Asian-empowerment district. Nguyen grew up in San Diego, first in City Heights, then Linda Vista, then Mira Mesa. Today, he said, he has many family members living in Mira Mesa and Rancho Peñasquitos. That is the connection he’s always seen between the communities.

“But folks like my parents, who saw that connection, wouldn’t come out and advocate,” he said. “That was my role.”

Nguyen said that being able to form the Asian-empowerment district was a huge win that has made a significant impact on Asians living in those areas.

“Once you have a seat at the table – or if your sibling, kid, neighbor has that seat – it will inspire people like them to follow that career path or even to just be more engaged in the community,” he said. “The stereotype of Asians is that we stick to ourselves, put your head down and focus on school or business, but Asian Americans, from my experience, can be as engaged as anyone and that redistricting process opened up opportunities.”

Tom Hom was the first Asian-American elected to the San Diego City Council in 1963. Todd Gloria, who is part Filipino, was the next in 2008. But after District 6 was created in 2011, the first election for that Council seat included four Asian candidates, and the seat was won by Councilman Chris Cate, who is Asian.

Nguyen said that’s a good indicator the Asian-empowerment district led to tangible results.

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Wesley Quach, the director of the Asian Business Association, wasn’t involved in the 2011 redistricting process, but said he, too, sees the importance of having a City Council district with strong Asian representation. Cate’s presence on the Council has helped businesses on Convoy significantly, he said.

“We made a lot of strides in the Convoy district and Mira Mesa,” he said. “The past 10 years has been a lot of the exposure and good things coming our way and a lot of those roots are in the creation of the Asian-empowerment district.”

Quach also noted that Asian voter turnout was higher in the 2014 District 6 Council race than in previous elections, and he believes it was because of the redistricting process that empowered several Asian candidates to run.

“I’m not opposed to [Rancho Peñasquitos] being united,” Quach, who grew up in Rancho Peñasquitos, said. “I think there could be a situation where [Rancho Peñasquitos] could be united within District 6 or in District 5, and District 6 gained other high-[Asian American and Pacific Islander] areas. But we don’t know what it looks like yet because we don’t have the Census data.”

The release of the new Census data had been delayed this year due to COVID-19 and moved by the Trump administration. It should be released in late August or September.

Current estimates put the Asian population in District 6 at 33 percent, and Quach said that regardless of which communities end up in the district, it’s important that the percentage of Asians in it doesn’t fall below the current numbers.

The redistricting process can also force people to grapple with the different layers and complexities of their identities to choose and prioritize how they are represented politically. For some Asian residents of Park Village, that meant – and continues to mean – identifying more with their neighborhood than with their ethnicity when it comes to what they need from a City Council representative.

Arlene and Brad Chang were vocal and active in 2011 in trying to keep Park Village in District 5 with the rest of Rancho Peñasquitos. They’ve since moved to Poway, though not because of the redistricting outcome.

“The argument for putting us in District 6 was that they wanted to have an Asian empowerment district,” Brad Chang said. “We didn’t feel like we had those issues in our community. We were very colorblind. It didn’t matter the nationality of the person who represented us, but more somebody who would represent our interests as a community.”

The couple said Rancho Peñasquitos was a tight community because of its natural boundaries, including the canyon to the south and I-15 to the east, the fact that all the residents were part of the Poway Unified School District, that they face more wildfire risk than other parts of District 6 and that many of their activities – shopping, the Post Office, the library – are to the north.

When the redistricting commission decided to split Rancho Peñasquitos in its final map in 2011, “it felt like we were a residential offshoot that was cut off from its body,” Brad Chang said.

“We did understand it was a difficult decision,” he said. “It was either us or Scripps Ranch. Some community was going to have to be split. Peñasquitos was divided because it would help in creating that Asian-influenced district, and that was a goal at the official level and for some in the community. We’re in the community and we’re Asian. We didn’t think the city was doing a bad job at race relations, but we thought they could do more to have cohesive communities.”

Yunqing Shi got involved in redistricting when Arlene Chang told her about the process. Many in the community only got wind of the commission’s decision to split Rancho Peñasquitos toward the end of the process.

Shi, who has lived in San Diego since she moved to the United States from China in 1997, helped mobilize residents to sign petitions, send e-mails to the redistricting commission and participate in public hearings.

Shi said although Cate has done a good job, she thinks that Park Village residents’ concerns and issues align more with other residents in District 5.

She said she thinks the Chinese community does need leadership and representation within the city, but her lifestyle as a Park Village resident is rooted there and in communities to the north.

“Our kids, they don’t eat Chinese food daily,” Shi said. “For me, it’s a must, for them, it’s not, so our daily life isn’t a very Asian style. I just want any kind of leader who represents our interests as a Park Village resident, not as a Chinese resident in Park Village.”

In 2011, Ramesses Surban was involved in the Rancho Peñasquitos Town Council. At the time, he advocated that Rancho Peñasquitos be united and located in District 5.

“I do remember, though, that I felt whatever the outcome, whether you identify as Asian American or as a Peñasquitan, that at the end of this process there is a life we have to live together as a community and we need to be cool with whatever the outcome is,” he said.

Now, Surban is a county redistricting commissioner. He doesn’t feel comfortable weighing in on the debate over which district Rancho Peñasquitos should be located in, but said that people and communities examining their identities and what that means for how they want to be represented politically is what redistricting is all about.

“These are questions about identity,” Surban said. “What it means to be part of a neighborhood. What it means to be part of a group. Part of the process is seeing that unfold, seeing how communities of interest identify their members, the polygon that contains their community and how they define that. The end result will be a final map, and that’s a cool place to get to, but the way residents of San Diego decide which community they identify with and how they organize around that, that’s the story.”

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