North County Report: Old Concerns Remain Over Fallbrook's New Electoral Map - Voice of San Diego

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North County Report: Old Concerns Remain Over Fallbrook's New Electoral Map

Poway’s mayor wants to subsidize granny flat construction, the accuser who upended an Assembly race last year has pleaded guilty and more in our biweekly roundup of news from North County.

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Some 60,000 people live within the boundaries of the Fallbrook Union Elementary School District, a third of whom identified as Hispanic in the last U.S. Census. It’s a significant voting bloc, but not necessarily enough to sway any election toward one of their own. They’d like to change that.

For years, Latino civil rights groups have pointed to electoral systems like Fallbrook Union Elementary’s as unfair because they require minority candidates to compete districtwide against predominantly white candidates and for predominantly white voters.

Similar complaints have been leveled against San Diego Unified School District by the county Grand Jury and others.

Faced with a serious legal threat, the Fallbrook school board trustees approved the boundaries for their own seats Monday. Representatives serving four-year terms will now come from five separate districts.

That may sound like a victory for the area’s minority communities. But whether the new electoral system will actually provide Latino residents with greater representation is an open question.

Community members lobbied for a new electoral map of their own design but were overruled by the board. The dispute was in the details.

The map ultimately approved by Fallbrook Union Elementary devised a district where 50 percent of residents were Latino citizens of voting age. An alternative map put forth by Latino residents and their allies would have increased the number of voting-age Latino citizens to 52 percent, and it would have pitted two board members against each other in an election.

The one approved by the school board also puts the majority-Latino district seat up for grabs in 2022 rather than 2020. That’s significant because 2022 is a midterm, when fewer people go to the polls, and it’s after the next U.S. Census count, when officials will have to sit back down and redraw the lines, potentially delaying the process even longer.

In the end, the board voted 4-1 on two occasions in recent weeks to proceed with a map drawn by an outside demographer.

On Jan. 24, the lone no vote, Caron Lieber, said members of Fallbrook’s Latino community had spoken clearly about which map they preferred, and she would be honoring their request.

Other trustees argued that it wasn’t so simple and there were competing goals at stake.

Patty de Jong, for instance, said she’s not planning to run again, meaning her district will soon be up for grabs — for anyone. Susan Liebes also argued that, while none of the maps was ideal, the community’s could have had the unintended and adverse effect of requiring that the board make appointments to fill gaps during staggered election years.

But to Leticia Maldonado-Stamos, a retired teacher who helped draw the community map and mobilize support for it, the process has been a giant let-down. “I was floored,” she told me.

Attorney Julia Gomez for the Los-Angeles-based Mexican American Legal Defense Education Fund warned school district officials before Monday’s vote that the map they were about to approve “evinces a discriminatory intent to deprive Latino voters of their ability to elect candidates of their choice.” She raised the specter of a lawsuit.

Attorney Kevin Shenkman, whose initial threat to sue Fallbrook Union Elementary caused the district — and many others — to act, was similarly unhappy. He said the map approved Monday perpetuates the problems of the old system.

“Voters are supposed to choose their officials, and not the other way around,” he said.

When drawing the lines of a district, officials are expected to put like-minded communities together because their interests tend to align. Race can be considered, but it’s not supposed to be the predominant factor. Whether officials should consider the past preferences of voters when drawing district boundaries is an important question.

Shenkman believes it should not be a factor, and said judges in recent cases have not been favorable to electoral lines drawn with the home addresses of incumbents in mind.

The National Demographics Corporation, which works with public agencies across the state on the map-making process and which Fallbrook Union Elementary hired in this case, disagrees. Nearly two years ago, pointing to a Supreme Court case from the 1980s, the company president told me that incumbency is a perfectly legitimate variable, so long as the overall goal of the new electoral system is nondiscriminatory.

Several trustees echoed that line of reasoning at a special meeting last month. They argued for continuity.

Board President Siegrid Stillman said that putting current trustees in the same district and forcing them to compete was inappropriate. She encouraged community members to move on.

“To me, this is kinda like childbirth,” she said. “It’s new for everyone and it’s painful. There’s been division in the community and we need to get past that.”

Still, Maldonado-Stamos and others plan to take their challenge to the County Board of Education, which has the final say over these types of electoral maps. If that fails, Maldonado-Stamos said, “the courts are the next resort.”

Granny Flats, Coming to a Backyard Near You

Encinitas, in an attempt to boost the city’s housing supply, is providing residents with free, ready-to-use architectural plans for building stand-alone accessory dwelling units, also known as “granny flats,” as The Coast News reported last month.

Now comes the news that Poway Mayor Steve Vaus wants his city to subsidize granny flat construction in the backyards of property owners who agree to rent them for the long-term. The rent money, the Union-Tribune reports, would be split between the property owner, a nonprofit manager that screened for low-income tenants and the city.

Affordable housing advocates encouraged the proposal this week, while others portrayed it as a government benefit to the already well-to-do. Officials agreed to study and talk about it further.

In any case, it’s not a coincidence that Poway and Encinitas are throwing new ideas at the wall. The mayors of both cities are, respectively, the chair and vice chair of SANDAG’s executive committee, which divvies up the housing goals across the region. They understand the increased pressure coming down from the state.

Encinitas officials, by the way, are keeping an eye on the California attorney general’s office, which is suing Huntington Beach for failing to draft a legally adequate plan showing where new housing could eventually go. Cities need to do this roughly every decade.

“It’s a warning for the city as the next housing cycle looms,” Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear told me.

Her city is also out of compliance with California housing laws but, unlike Huntington Beach, is working with regulators to meet a mid-April deadline set by the San Diego County Superior Court. In December, a judge temporarily suspended a local law giving residents final say over major land use changes.

Graham Accuser Pleads Guilty

The woman who falsely filed a police report accusing Republican Assembly candidate Phil Graham of sexual misconduct was sentenced to two days in jail, the Coast News reports. Even after the Sheriff’s Department cleared Graham of wrongdoing, Nichole Burgan’s allegation was spread by Graham’s opponents.

He finished the primary in third place, allowing two Democrats to compete in the 76th District general election.

The allegation, Graham told the court, had “interfered and corrupted an election,” and left “a devastating impact on my reputation and my life.” He encouraged a harsher sentence.

Republicans Look Back on Losses

Check out the Sacramento Report on Friday for a quick Q&A with Assemblywoman Marie Waldron, the former Escondido city councilwoman and leader of the Assembly Republican Caucus. She gave me her impressions of GOP losses in the last election, arguing that Republicans have suffered from a lack of money and a lack of communication rather than a deficiency of ideas.

We also talked on the side about Escondido’s new majority-Democrat City Council. She paid tribute to outgoing Mayor Sam Abed and outgoing Councilman Ed Gallo in December. Abed said the November election was not about policy, according to the Times-Advocate.

“They registered eight thousand voters at the DMV and harvested their votes,” he said, referring to Democrats. He went on to predict that under the city’s new leadership “illegals are welcome and marijuana is welcome in our city.”

Waldron told me that Abed and Gallo were likely casualties of the controversy surrounding Rep. Duncan Hunter, who was indicted on campaign finance violations last year. Yet Hunter himself narrowly survived his challenge, in a very conservative congressional district.

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