By Andy Cohen/Cross-posted at OB Rag
San Diego Redistricting Commission holds 7th of 9 public hearings to help determine redistricting fine points.
Residents of the beach communities of City Council District 2 took to the microphone last night to express their concerns that the city’s redistricting commission might be inclined to split up communities that have a lot of common interests and concerns.
The City of San Diego Redistricting Commission held the seventh of nine pre-map public hearings last night at the Pt. Loma-Hervey Library, the primary purpose of which is to hear the concerns of residents regarding how their city council representation will be apportioned. Think of the pre-map hearings as a sort of listening tour that gives the commissioners a chance to better get to know the individual districts, the neighborhoods that comprise them, and the areas of common interest that bind different communities together. The commissioners then take that information into consideration when determining where to draw the district boundaries.
The commission operates under regulations and guidelines that must be in compliance with the United States Constitution; the San Diego City Charter sections 5 and 5.1; the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965; and the various statutes and case law that have been determined to set precedent for redistricting plans.
Per Section 5.1 of the City Charter, the council districts must “preserve identifiable communities of interest;” be geographically compact, be composed of “contiguous territory with reasonable access to population centers” within the district; and must not be drawn in a manner that would deliberately serve to preserve an incumbent councilmember’s seat. Additionally, the Charter calls for the each district to be defined by natural boundaries such as streets, freeways, or any other naturally occurring marker whenever possible.
It’s a daunting task made all the more difficult by the approval of Prop D in the June 2010 election. Prop D changed the San Diego City Charter to make permanent the switch to a strong mayor form of government and mandated the addition of a ninth council district.
But it was the “identifiable communities of interest” that created the most concern amongst the residents who spoke. “Identifiable communities of interest” can be defined as a planning area, a group of neighborhoods that share a similar socio-economic makeup, have similar housing types, or are made up of particular ethnic groups. All of these must be considered when drawing the district boundary.
Residents in attendance expressed apprehension that the commission was considering a plan that would divide communities that share a common identity into separate districts. The most earnest pleas came from residents of the beach areas and residents La Jolla/University City.
Ed Harris, one of only 80 full time lifeguards in San Diego and a Pt. Loma Heights resident, said that by splitting the beach and bay communities—generally defined as Pt. Loma, Ocean Beach, Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, Bay Ho and Bay Park–into separate districts it would become more difficult to advocate for the resources necessary to keep San Diego’s beaches safe. By having two separate City Council representatives—with potentially diverging agendas and priorities—the unique needs of the beach communities would not easily be met.
He noted that the lifeguard service already lacks the funding to repair one of the few firefighting boats in their arsenal, and that even with their current threadbare funding the lifeguard service makes more rescues in one year than the police and fire departments make in a decade. He pointed out that the beach areas are a vital economic engine that serves as the backbone for tourism in San Diego—after all, people come to San Diego for its beaches. By creating a City Council District that is focused on the beach and bay communities, it will be easier to meet the needs of not only the residents, but the business community that depends on the tourism dollars generated by having safe, clean beaches to enjoy.
Jeanne Brown, an Ocean Beach resident since 1971, cited the need to separate the beach communities from Downtown San Diego. She said that the priorities of Downtown are very different than those of the beach and bay communities, and by combining two such diverging interests into one council district it is difficult to adequately serve the needs of both. It was a theme shared by several speakers, including current District 2 representative Kevin Faulconer, who briefly spoke to the commission on the need to keep the beach communities together.
In District 1, several residents expressed anxiety over the prospect of portions of University City being torn away from La Jolla-UCSD. Over the years, speakers said, University City and La Jolla have become increasingly intertwined and interdependent, particularly as the university has expanded and scientific research firms have spread throughout the vicinity. As the bio-tech, clean-tech, and healthcare industries grow, the two communities will become even more enmeshed, therefore residents feel it is vital to represent them with one city council voice.
According to Census data, San Diego has seen a 6.4% increase in population since the 2000 Census. Even so, two districts—current districts 3 and 4—have seen a decline in population, while districts 1 and 2 have seen significant increases. The Commission must decide how to divvy up San Diego into nine council districts of as close to 144,624 people with as little deviation as possible while preserving the unique characteristics of the existing constituencies. And they’ve been given a September deadline to do it.
The Redistricting Commission has only two pre-map hearings left: Monday, May 9th (District 6) at the Bayside Community Center Grand Hall, located at 2202 Comstock Street. The final pre-map hearing will be held on Wednesday, May 11th in District 1, at the La Jolla Women’s Club, 715 Silverado St. in La Jolla. Both meetings begin at 6pm.
The Commission also meets on the first and third Thursday of every month until the final redistricting plan is completed on the 12th floor of City Hall. Those meetings are held at 4pm and are open to the public.