Groups Complain Redistricting Commission Is Catering to Coast | Voice of San Diego

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Groups Complain Redistricting Commission Is Catering to Coast

A coalition of residents recently proposed a city political map that would unify inland neighborhoods, increase the Asian population in District 6 and cut UC San Diego from its political ties with La Jolla. But the city’s redistricting commissioners backed a different option last week.

La Jolla / Photo by Megan Wood

A coalition of residents from inland and marginalized communities recently came together to propose a city political map that would unify inland neighborhoods historically split between districts, increase the Asian population in District 6 and cut UC San Diego from its political ties with La Jolla.  

During four hours of public testimony Thursday night, dozens of speakers told the redistricting commission what they wanted out of the city’s new political map and what was wrong with the preliminary maps the commissioners had proposed. Most of these speakers at this meeting supported a new map – one that more than more than a dozen community organizations and neighborhoods throughout the city had helped draw and endorse.  

“My voice should count just as much as theirs,” Ravi Gopinathan, a 20-year resident of Carmel Valley in favor of the coalition’s map, said on Thursday.  

“Theirs” refers to another organized group of residents. Throughout the redistricting process, residents from the city’s coastal neighborhoods have advocated for another goal: ensuring that the city maintains two council districts dominated by coastal areas. Doing so, though, turns achieving the coalition’s goals into something of a math problem. 

The coalition includes some UC San Diego students, Mid-City CAN, Pillars of the Community, Asian Solidarity Collective, San Diego LGBTQ Latinx Coalition and Environmental Health Coalition. In addition, some 15 organizations throughout the city have signed onto the map and about 50 people spoke in favor of it Thursday. 

The coalition’s map moved UC San Diego and some of its neighboring areas, like north University City and Sorrento Valley into District 6. It combined La Jolla with other coastal areas with many single-family homeowners, like Pacific Beach and Point Loma. It reunited communities like Clairemont Mesa and Rancho Penasquitos in one council district. It created a District 6 where the Asian American and Pacific Islander population reached roughly 41 percent of the total district. Those outcomes were consistent with the general priorities the redistricting commission laid out early in the mapping process. 

A screenshot of a map created by a coalition of San Diego community organizations in response to issues they had with the redistricting commission’s preliminary map.

Many of the speakers in favor of the map were UC San Diego students who were in the middle of midterms. They’ve been advocating for months during this round of redistricting to become a part of District 6.  

Students struggling with housing costs feel that having City Council representation from an elected official that also represents La Jolla, which includes mostly wealthy homeowners, means their housing woes are ignored 

On Thursday, many also pointed out how the student body and some of the neighboring areas were more diverse than La Jolla and other areas that were advocating that District 1 remain as is. They would rather be in a district like District 6 with more diversity than in a district with communities that are predominantly White. 

“Every time we go into this redistricting process for the past few decades, it’s ‘Let’s go into these other communities and split them up to have an outcome that is favorable to District 1,’” said Aidan Lin, student and associate vice president of the Associated Students’ of UC San Diego’s Office of Local Affairs, one organization involved in drawing the map.  

Even the life sciences industry advocated for the map at Thursday’s meeting. 

Melanie Cohn, director of regional policy and government affairs at Biocom California, the statewide trade association for life sciences that is headquartered in San Diego, said areas like Carmel Valley, Sorrento Valley and UCSD shouldn’t be in the same district as La Jolla. The City Council representative from the district has always been from La Jolla and hasn’t advocated for the concerns of the life sciences industry or its workers.  

“These communities don’t share the concerns of single-family homeowners in La Jolla,” Cohn said. “We deserve to have representation who will speak for the interests of the industry.”  

Despite these efforts, the city’s redistricting commissioners voted Friday to move forward with a different map that was drawn by Commission Chair Thomas Hebrank. Hebrank’s map left UCSD in District 1 and maintained two separate coastal City Council districts. It also left communities like Clairemont Mesa and Rancho Penasquitos divided between districts – although a previous map divided Clairemont into four districts. The commissioners made slight amendments to Hebrank’s proposed map, including in which districts the Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal and the airport were located. 

For many people who supported the coalition’s map, the decision sent a clear signal about the way things work in San Diego: What single-family homeowners on the coast want is prioritized over what everyone else wants. These different communities had come together in hopes that as a group, they could finally matter more than the coast, but they were disappointed. 

“I think the commission is sending a clear message about which voices count and which ones don’t in San Diego,” Lin said. “Based off of the map that they adopted today, it seems the voices that count are single-family homeowners with particular deference to those on the coast. The ones that don’t are the young, BIPOC communities and the communities that have been historically divided.” 

Preliminary Map Adopted by the City’s Redistricting Commission

On Friday, the San Diego Redistricting Commission adopted this preliminary map, created by Chair Tom Hebrank, with some amendments related to which districts the airport and 10th Avenue Marine Terminal would be located. 

The commissioners who didn’t like the coalition’s map primarily cited its impact on coastal communities. 

Commissioner Ken Marlborough, from District 4, said that one coastal district was a “non-starter.” 

Commissioner Fred Kosmo, from District 2, said he was troubled by the dramatic, adverse impact the coalition’s map would have on Districts 1 and 2.  

“District 1 gets destroyed and all the people who just voted get moved into another district,” Kosmo said. 

Commissioner Val Hoy from District 1 said that he felt the map created a large District 6 that connected disparate communities and that he, too, wasn’t in favor of a single coastal district. 

“I don’t like the coastal district,” Hebrank said. “I think District 1 and District 2 won’t like that.” 

Hebrank said the coalition’s map contained too many large shifts from the current districts. 

“Apparently the commission’s goal is to preserve the status quo,” Lin said. 

Lin said while the redistricting process has been an exciting opportunity for UCSD students to engage in local politics, having their voices ignored will be discouraging to many students. 

There was one commissioner who voted against using Hebrank’s map as a preliminary draft. Commissioner Justine Nielsen from District 7 said she couldn’t vote in support of the map because it had too many deficiencies. 

Nielsen said she supported the coalition’s map. Other commissioners had also expressed support of the coalition map, but eventually agreed to support Hebrank’s map. Nielsen was the sole hold out. 

“My decision was primarily informed by a desire to prioritize empowerment districts and reunification of historically divided communities across the City,” wrote Nielsen in a statement to VOSD. “While I am disappointed my fellow Commissioners did not agree, I understand and respect their perspectives. I look forward to working with the Commission over the next several weeks on the Chair’s Preliminary Map to help realize those priorities.”  

Debbie Espe, the president of Neighborhood Voices San Diego, which has been advocating for an Asian empowerment District 6 that has at least a 40 percent Asian population, also felt that the approval of the map that ended up being adopted showed how the commissioners were not listening to marginalized communities, like the Asian American and Pacific Islander population. 

“I was very disappointed with how the commissioners seem to only be listening to those certain voices and dismissing entire communities,” Espe said. “There are those who have taken the time to attend the public hearings and they weren’t heard.” 

Espe said there are potential ways to draw the map that get District 6 to a 45 percent AAPI population, and she feels 40 percent is a reasonable thing to ask of the commission. Hebrank’s map keeps District 6 as an Asian empowerment district, but the percentage of Asian voters in the district as drawn is less than 40 percent.  

“In other districts, our interests are not being heard,” Espe said. “By having a stronger AAPI-influenced district, that allows us to help drive who our representative is going to be and have our voices heard.” 

Even single-family homeowners in inland communities have so far taken from the redistricting process that their voice matters less than of homeowners on the coast, in places like La Jolla. 

“I had a feeling going into the meeting yesterday at 5:30 that it was a done deal,” said Kate Glenn, a Rancho Peñasquitos resident and member of the area’s town council, who also supported the coalition’s map. “Is there deference to a segment of San Diego that has a power lock over the rest of us? It sure looks like it.” 

Rancho Peñasquitos was divided between two city council districts in 2011 and many residents, including Glenn, have been advocating to be reunited in a single district along with other neighborhoods in the Poway School District and along the I-15 corridor.  

The preliminary map voted on by the commissioners Friday keeps Rancho Peñasquitos divided between Districts 5 and 6. It also puts Torrey Highlands in a separate district.

“They’ve really broken our ability to move forward,” Glenn said. 

District 1 United, a group formed to keep current District 1 as intact as possible through the redistricting process, did not respond to VOSD’s request for comment on Hebrank’s preliminary map prior to publication. 

During Friday’s meeting, Hoy addressed the concerns of people who felt like the commissioners weren’t listening to them. 

“We’re listening to everyone,” he said. “It’s our job. But it doesn’t necessarily mean I agree with what I hear because I hear conflicting things. There is no perfect solution. We are listening and we do care. But not everybody can get what they want.” 

There will be another meeting Thursday, Nov. 4 where the public can give feedback on the map that was adopted Friday. During that meeting the commissioners will discuss changes to the preliminary map just adopted and vote to adopt another draft of a map. 

“Our job as a commission is to try to draw a map that’s fair for everyone,” said Commissioner Kosmo said during Friday’s meeting. “I’m impressed with the college students and their enthusiasm, but a lot of people who have families and jobs – they came out, too.” 

Kosmo then went on to quote The Rolling Stones: “You can’t always get what you want, but you get what you need.” 

Lin and Glenn said that they are far from done fighting, though. 

“I am not rolling over for this game,” Glenn said. “The ripple effect of this is ridiculous. It will create an ineffective city council that doesn’t represent a lot of us. They’re counting on us to fold, but don’t underestimate the power of the people.” 

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