July 27 2011 10:49 AM

San Diego Redistricting Commission pleases—and peeves

Will Lorie Zapf compete in District 6 in 2014?
Photo by David Rolland

“Power is the ability not to have to please.” —Starship Capt. Elizabeth Janeway

If the all-volunteer San Diego Redistricting Commission were a thoroughbred racehorse, it would be zipping past the three-quarter pole, heading to the finish line. Unfortunately, up ahead lie several obstacles—most notably legal quicksand—so any hope for a smooth trip to the wire appears to be fading.

The good news is there's one map now to probe and dissect. After nearly three-dozen meetings over nine months that generated 23 redistricting proposals from a wide spectrum of interest groups and armchair cartographers, the commission last Thursday hung its hat on a slight variant of the so-called “July 21 Plan”—but it has its detractors.

The opposition includes two commissioners from opposite ends of the political spectrum: progressive Teresa Quiroz and her conservative panel mate Ani Mdivani-Morrow. They both trained their barbs at the proposed map's representation of San Diego's Asian / Pacific Islander community, which they found unacceptable.

“I cannot vote for a map which does not have a district which allows the sizable Asian-American community to feel that they are a part of this city, that their vote counts and that their vibrant and multifaceted culture is a strong part of San Diego's future,” Quiroz said.

Mdivani-Morrow agreed, noting that while protecting other communities with lower overall population percentages—notably African-Americans and LGBTs— the commission, in essence, has turned its back on 16 percent of San Diego's population.

“This is nonsense,” she said.

Leaders in the Asian / Pacific Islander community appear ready to continue the fight. A protest is planned prior to the commission's “post-map” hearing on Thursday, July 28, in Scripps Ranch. Allen Chan, whose Asian Pacific American Coalition has from day one led the call for an Asian council district, sounded ready to do battle, including in court, if necessary.

“APIs in San Diego are no longer the stereotypical quiet Asians and not asking what we want,” Chan wrote in an email to Spin Cycle this week. “We are not the ‘Sick Man of Asia' of the 19th century. We are Americans just like others.

“We are not demanding special treatment but fair treatment like the commission has given to other smaller minority communities that are only 1/3 our size. We will not accept deliberate neglect and discrimination….”

Linda Perine, head of the LGBT Redistricting Task Force, which is coming out a big winner in the redistricting sweepstakes with a District 3 map that expands its reach west and south into Downtown and a more LGBT-friendly District 9 that centers on City Heights, did acknowledge some guilt about the API community's plight.

“Sure,” Perine said, “the map works well, but it could work better.”

Even the Latino Redistricting Committee appears not pleased, despite a proposed map for the new District 9 that would be 50-percent Latino. Mateo Camarillo, chairman of the committee, seemed puzzled by the commission's decision to add the Kensington-Talmadge area and portions of the College Area, mostly white enclaves, to the district.

“What do these communities have in common with the multicultural, multilingual (80 languages spoken), diverse immigrant communities of City Heights?” Camarillo queried in an email. He also hinted at a possible legal challenge.

The federal Voting Rights Act precludes race from being the predominant factor in carving out new political districts, but the art in redistricting is seeking a balance that avoids diluting the voting strength of so-called “communities of interest,” a legally fuzzy term that means different things to different people.

LGBT folks, for example, developed their map based on population data that demonstrated support for marriage equality. Residents of Rancho Peñasquitos, on the other hand, focused on common child-related bonds shared within the Poway Unified School District, which encroaches into the city of San Diego. Not your run-of-the-mill arguments for shared interests, but they so far have swayed a majority of commissioners.

In voicing her opposition to the proposed map, Quiroz noted that council district lines do not a fence make. She aimed her chastisement at the Poway argument.

“Whatever this commission decides, the same children will go to the same schools and play with their same friends at the same parks,” she said. “The argument is not want of representation. None of those people have been underrepresented or lacked the ability to have the candidate of their choice elected.”

Commissioners also aren't permitted to consider the plight of City Council incumbents in their deliberations, but the proposed map does put two council members' futures in limbo.

Under the proposed map, Lorie Zapf, a Bay Ho resident, would no longer live in District 6, where she was elected in 2010. The City Charter would allow her to finish her four-year term as the D6 representative, but for 2014, she'd have to decide whether to move into the new D6 or stay in the expanded District 2 and compete there.

In the meantime, District 3 Councilmember Todd Gloria, a City Heights resident, told Spin Cycle that he plans to move west to stay in the new District 3, which, as drawn, appears to be—influence-wise—the 800-pound gorilla of council districts. He's up for re-election next year.

There's also been much speculation about Councilmember Marti Emerald, who confirmed last week that her Tierrasanta home is in the midst of a short sale due to financial constraints compounded by the health-care needs of her husband, who died in February.

While she has told many people that she plans to move within District 7, there are portions of the district—just south of Interstate 8 in the College Area—that would become part of District 9 under the new map, eliciting whispers that she might compete for the culturally diverse District 9. That would leave District 7 open for competition in the 2012 election.

Camarillo, an old hand at redistricting, suggested that potential candidates “wait until November when the ink on the redistricting lines begins to dry. The redistricting process may go on longer if there is litigation….”

Vince Vasquez, who helped formulate APAC's mapping argument, fears that the commission of private citizens has just run out of gas.

“There's just this feeling that they're rushing towards the finish line,” Vasquez said. “APAC is saying, ‘Hold on!' But it seems like everybody just wants to go home.”

Five commission votes are needed to finalize a map. If opposition grows beyond commissioners Quiroz and Mdivani-Morrow, then no one's going home any time soon.

Got a tip? Send it to johnl@sdcitybeat.com.


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