Ultimately, it'll be the 2000 census that's deserving of credit, not San Diego voters, for bringing an end to the divisiveness that's plagued San Diego City Schools Board of Education for nearly four years.
Last Tuesday, the board approved new boundary lines for the five trustees' districts. Under federal law, every 10 years governing bodies are required to redistrict-to tweak the lines that divide up the area they govern in order to assure there's equal and fair voter representation in each district.
A trustee must live in the district he or she represents, and the map the trustees approved Tuesday (see above, right) put the board's two most combative and ideologically divided members-Fran Zimmerman and Ron Ottinger-out of their districts (Districts A and D respectively) and into District C, currently held by incumbent John de Beck. De Beck, re-elected to his third term last year, isn't going anywhere until 2006, leaving Zimmerman and Ottinger with the choice of physically moving themselves into districts with seats up for grabs in 2004 (A, D or E), challenging de Beck in three years or opting to get out of the school board gig altogether.
Both Ottinger and Zimmerman voted in favor of the new map but only after two other maps failed to get the three necessary votes.
Ottinger, who's been under attack by a local parent group for dividing his time between a downtown loft and a spacious Coronado home (outside school district boundaries), says he hasn't yet decided whether he'll run in 2004, since that would mean taking up residence in a new district.
Zimmerman, who lives in La Jolla, told CityBeat on Friday that she doesn't plan to run for a third term. She said she likes where she lives and has had enough of district Supt. Alan Bersin's reign. “I had decided months ago not to run again for school board under any circumstances, with or without a district, but I wasn't going to announce until it was necessary,” she said in an e-mail.
Zimmerman and de Beck together are the minority voice against Bersin's aggressive school-reform policies. Ottinger and trustees Ed Lopez and Katherine Nakamura comprise the board's majority voting bloc that's been labeled pro-Bersin. Nakamura was elected last year to represent District B. Lopez's term as District E representative is up in 2004, and he's said he won't run for re-election.
The map that put Ottinger's and Zimmerman's abodes into District C was one of three maps the board had to choose from July 22. Those three maps were generated after a board meeting earlier this month at which both the trustees and the public took a look at three different maps submitted by a board-appointed redistricting committee. Despite four months of meetings, the committee was unable to decide on a final map.
All maps submitted to the board included a racial breakdown of voters in each district ostensibly to give the Black, Latino and Asian-American communities a chance for representation on the board. Though racial and ethnic groups account for 74 percent of the school district's overall student population, four of the five board members are white. The lesbian and gay community also voiced strong support for a map that would put a considerable number of gay voters into a single district.
Brian Polejes, who represented the gay community during the process and who plans to run for the District D seat in 2004, said the district's underrepresented communities were able to get behind a single map-labeled “A3” by district staff-and even held a meeting a few days before the July 22 board meeting to make sure they were all on the same page.
What Polejes and company got-the map the board ultimately approved-was relatively close to map A3, at least in the southern part of the school district. The northern half of the map, however, was entirely reshaped at the request of Nakamura, concerned that A3 lopped off the upper portion of her District B, thereby moving affluent and conservative Scripps Ranch into District A. Nakamura argued that she feared Highway 52 would, like Interstate 8, become a north-south dividing line used to characterize school performance.
Nakamura successfully lobbied to have District B stretch further north. That, combined with lobbying from the La Jolla community to create an “all coastal” district morphed A3 into an entirely different map.
Polejes said the Asian-American community, whose largest concentration is in the northern half of the district, wasn't pleased with the change. “Many of the kids that live in Mira Mesa feed into Scripps Ranch High School,” said Polejes. Map A3 would have kept the northern half of the school district and its schools together.
Nakamura was unavailable for comment.
Activist-attorney Michael Aguirre, who worked on the redistricting committee, said there's a reason elected officials shouldn't be allowed to meddle in the redistricting process. In 2001, Aguirre filed a lawsuit, ultimately unsuccessful, against San Diego County, alleging county supervisors had worked behind the scenes to make sure they ended up with districts full of like-minded voters.
Aguirre says he wonders to what extent Lopez and Ottinger saw redistricting as a chance to get de Beck and Zimmerman off the board, an allegation Ottinger denied, insisting redistricting wasn't about incumbency. However, a map favored by Ottinger last Tuesday would have put de Beck into District B, forcing him to resign next year, and Zimmerman into District C. At the time of the meeting, Zimmerman had not yet announced her plans not to run, so as far as anyone knew, that map would have forced Zimmerman into a battle with de Beck, her frequent ally.
However, when the map Ottinger recommended came to a vote, Nakamura broke the board's lockstep 3-2 pattern and opposed Ottinger's preferred map. She suggested the board vote on the only map that would keep de Beck in District C. That map passed 4-to-1 with de Beck voting against it because it wasn't the map the community wanted. “The key issue is the board totally ignored the community and went their own political way,” he said.
Though Aguirre is critical of Nakamura's push to have the Scripps Ranch area included in her district, he sees her initiative to keep de Beck around as promising. “What she did is she broke the 3-2 pattern and I think she made it possible, or increased the possibility that on each issue there's going to be different [voting] alignments, which is the way it should be.”
As to whether this round of redistricting will result in a more diverse board, Aguirre was skeptical. “None of this matters unless there's district-only elections,” he said. Currently voters from each district send a candidate on to a citywide election, which tends to favor white candidates, thanks to low voter registration among non-whites. City Schools attorney Ricardo Soto said the board has hired a consultant to look into whether minority candidates are at a disadvantage with citywide elections. If that's found to be the case, City Schools, under the California Voting Rights Act passed in 2001, will be required to move to district-only elections.
Jay Powell, who heads the City Heights Community Development Corporation, said his organization went on record with the board not just for district-only elections but also more districts. He'd like to see at least seven or-ideally-nine to better represent the more populous regions. “All the schools in City Heights are way beyond the standards in terms of attendance,” he said. “[It's a] community that is growing younger and there are serious issues regarding cultural and linguistic issues.”
The goal, he said, should be to limit the number of schools and students each trustee has to represent. “If there's less numbers of schools and less numbers of students [for each board member] to pay attention to, you'd think that's going to translate to better representation.”
Living Wage backers garner support with pie
Douglas Marmol is an example of what could be. Six years ago the janitor from El Salvador couldn't pay rent, let alone afford a car. But with the passage of Los Angeles' living wage law in 1997, Marmol can afford the basics that a lot of people take for granted. He was even able to send money back home so his sister could finish law school.
Marmol spoke at a rally Tuesday afternoon where several hundred supporters gathered at the Civic Center Plaza downtown to build support for a living wage ordinance. Volunteers handed out pieces of apple pie-a play on the day's theme that workers deserve a bigger piece of the pie.
The ordinance, aimed at lifting city workers out of poverty, is slated to go before the City Council's five-member Rules, Finance and Intergovernmental Relations Committee sometime in September-a necessary step before it goes to the full council.
Though the actual text of the ordinance is not yet finalized, the Center on Policy Initiatives, the nonprofit think tank behind the living wage drive, released a preliminary picture of what the wage law will likely look like. In terms of living wage ordinances passed in other cities, it's an ambitious list that targets some of the city's lowest paid employees: childcare workers, janitors, landscape and groundskeepers and security guards.
Specifically, the ordinance would guarantee that city employees, employees of businesses who have contracts with the city, employees of businesses that receive subsidies from the city greater than $25,000 and employees of city-owned facilities (Qualcomm, convention center) are paid at least $11.95 an hour-an amount estimated to provide basic needs for a family of four. Employers who don't provide health insurance will be required to either provide insurance for the worker and any dependent or raise a worker's pay to cover outside insurance costs.
CPI spokesperson Paul Karr said that what CPI's proposing is fair. “Anytime we use tax dollars,” said Karr, “we have to make sure it's for jobs that support a family.”
Gene Terry, who works as a security guard for a company that contracts with the city, laughs when asked if he has a family to support on his $8 hourly wage. “I couldn't afford to,” he said. Terry's single. He's attending Grossmont College part-time, working toward a degree in law enforcement. He's halfway through the program and says recent tuition increases have been difficult.
Karr said that so far, organized opposition against a living wage law had been minimal. The ordinance's biggest hurdle, it seems, will be the rules committee, which comprises the City Council's more conservative element-Mayor Dick Murphy and Councilmembers Scott Peters, Brian Maienschien and Jim Madaffer. None of the four have taking a position on a living wage. The fifth committee member, Ralph Inzunza, has said that he supports a living wage, though he might have a problem with the ordinance if it covers businesses that receive city subsidies.
Councilmember Donna Frye, who, along with Councilmember Michael Zucchet, spoke at Tuesday's rally in favor of a living wage, said the ordinance might face some amending when it hits the committee. “The first time you're going in, you don't get everything you want,” she said.
It's estimated that a living wage law could cover roughly 3,000 workers currently getting by on poverty wages. CPI policy analyst Sundari Baru said the city doesn't keep numbers on how much the contractors they hire pay their workers. She said Bureau of Labor Statistics surveys put it at around $8 to $9 an hour. The less a contractor pays its employees, the more likely it is that the contractor will pitch the lowest bid and get the city contract. With a living wage, Baru said, the emphasis is on creating quality jobs.
Voting-age population in City Schools districts, before and after redistricting
District Before After
A 62.6 percent White 61 percent White 14.6 percent Asian 22.9 percent Asian
B 64.1 percent White 72 percent White 19.2 percent Asian 9.2 percent Asian
C 80 percent White 75.7 percent White 11 percent Hispanic 11.5 percent Hispanic
D 40.3 percent Hispanic 41 percent Hispanic 39.6 percent White 39.7 percent White
E 32.7 percent Hispanic 32.7 percent Hispanic 24.6 percent Asian 24.5 percent Asian 21.5 percent Black 21.6 percent Black 17.6 percent White 17.6 percent White