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Roundtable: Will Supes Create A Majority Minority District?

Aired 8/5/11 on KPBS Midday Edition.

The racial and ethnic demographics of San Diego county have changed dramatically but the look of the county board has not. It's still comprised of five white Republicans. Can this be affected by drawing new political boundaries that give more power to minority voters? That's the question at hand.

This week was a big one for San Diego County politics. On Wednesday, the County Board of Supervisors approved a new land-use plan that's aimed at containing sprawl in the rural backcountry. On Tuesday, the Board agreed to consider a redistriciting proposal, one that would create a supervisorial district where most voters are racial minorities.

The racial and ethnic demographics of San Diego county have changed dramatically but the look of the county board has not. It's still comprised of five white Republicans. Can this be affected by drawing new political boundaries that give more power to minority voters? That's the question at hand.

Guest: John Warren, Editor and Publisher, San Diego Voice and Viewpoint

Tom York, Contributing Editor, San Diego Business Journal

Kent Davy, Editor, North County Times

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

This week was a big one for San Diego County politics. Of on Wednesday, the county Board of Supervisors approved a new land use man that's aimed at containing sprawl in the back country. On today, the board agreed to consider a redistricting proposal, one that would create a supervisorial district where most voters were racial minorities. The racial and demographic elements of San Diego County have changed dramatically. But the board is still composed of all white people, all of them Republicans. And Kent, there were a series of events that sort of led up to our current situation. Does the county have a redistricting plan that they're considering? What is it, and what are some of the issues that come up when you look at it? DAVY: Redistricting obviously driven by the census, every ten years, the county unlike the state legislative districts are set by an independent commission in the county. The supervisors themselves get to appoint their minions to go do a map for them. FUDGE: Okay. So it's a political process still controlled by the politicians. DAVY: And Ken years ago, when the county did its redistricting, they went into a smoke filled room and came out with a map that did a real interesting gerrymander and pushed Pam Slater's district which was mostly a coastal district with a big thumb all the way up to include Escondido into her district and tipped all of the Rancho Santa Fe area to Bill Horn in the 5th district. There was -- and it's a pretty dramatic gerrymander. This time around, the people came back with maps that are slightly changed but fundamentally identical to where they currently are, leaving that general arrangement with this bad gerrymandering. The voting rights act gives -- makes it permissible for a redistricting to be challenged when there is a minority group who could be a majority in a district if it was -- if the maps were drawn correctly. That there's some history of voting that would show that this grouping of people would vote the same direction, and that there's some evidence of them being somehow disenfranchised by the way things are ordered. Here the ACLU has said because south county is split in two, that it disenfranchise the minority groups of Hispanics and blacks in those two, and therefore is going to be subject to potential challenge. FUDGE: Once again, listeners, if you want to talk about the county redistricting, based on representing racial minorities or talk about the county land use plan, give us a call. 1-888-895-5727. So the ACLU, it's their opinion that the plan that is -- has been presented bay the county board violets the voting rights act. Have they presented an alternative plan? DAVY: Yes, they put forward a map that joins south county into basically one big district. I can't tell you the details. I don't have the map in front of me. I can't tell you the details about it, other than it would in fact create this kind of minority/majority district and probably would -- a district that would survive any kind of legal challenge. The supervisors having thought about this -- FUDGE: And considered the possibility of being sued? DAVY: Yes, on Thursday, yesterday, said we're going to take another look, and did not vote on the map. And it's delayed until next week. FUDGE: Let's be clear about one thing, or let me and you one thing, has any member of a racial minority ever served on the county Board of Supervisors? WARREN: Yes, Leon Williams, are the only one, he was elected in 1982. And he served until he retired. So he's the only one that's ever served. But you have the areas involved, they are now representing the two divisions, part by Ron Roberts, and part by Greg Cox. And the panel that grew up the plan that was initially put before them had a scenario in which Greg Cox had to give up at least 49,000 because each district is supposed to have about 620,000 people in it. And many of the people in the communities affected said that they did not go to any hearings because they had no confidence in the politically created panel. And that's why they went to the ACLU. I think it's a smart move on the part of the Board of Supervisors to consider the ACLU plan and consider a degree of flexibility based on the numbers. FUDGE: I think that Mike Aguirre, ten years ago, sued the county over this issue and lost. Does the ACLU have I better case today? John Warren? Document to respond to that? WARREN: Yes, I do think they do have a better case. Their case is zeroing in on two key components of the voting rights act. You're looking at an area in which there has not been representation. So the years of white Democrats Republican representation in the areas where you have 32 to 48% Latino population suggest this is a prime candidate for this ACLU action. I think those factors are different as opposed to the Aguirre efforts of ten years ago. FUDGE: And John Warren is editor and publisher of San Diego Voice and Viewpoint. Tom York is contributing editor to the San Diego business journal. Kent Davy is editor of the New York Times. You're listening to the Roundtable on KPBS. If you want to give us a call to join our conversation, please do. 1-888-895-5727. The census figures tell us that today, San Diego County is less than half of San Diego County is non-Hispanic whites. So white folks in one sense are no longer the majority. Yet we still have a county board that is all white. Tom, is there something wrong with that? Is this something that the legal system should address. YORK: I think so. If there's all white people on the Board of Supervisors, then a large part of the county is nonwhite, there's something wrong with the system. Inherently wrong. And I think the voting act addresses that in terms of bringing up some fairness. WARREN: It's been address indeed two manners. The first part of this whole issue, let's take a look at an example. We have the term limits that have been exposed, it was approved, the referendum. So the members of the Board of Supervisors will now term out. That's the first step in correcting it. To get an example how this gerrymandering has worked, you have Pam slate are's district, which includes Lemon Grove and Spring Valley, and those areas have heavy African American populations. But that district goes all the way up to the El Cajon, east county, toward Poway, so that part of it is like 66% white. So now you've created a situation with an imbalance. And the fourth district which Robert it is represents is a part of this readjustment that's taking place. So this is the example that's being pointed to as why historically it's been the way it is, and it should be changing. FUDGE: Kent? DAVY: The real problem it seems to me with the counties redistricting is the fact that it is the politicians themselves who. YORK: Right. DAVY: Pick their people to draw those maps. And this county would be well served if it went to some sort of an independent commission just like the state has done and said we want somebody from the outside to sit down and draw maps that make sense and geographically with the communities we have. FUDGE: Let's funny that some of these political tends are finally just catching up with the county Board of Supervisors. For a long time they didn't have term limits. That changed 1 or 2 years ago. Unlike so many other legislative bodies, they still allow the politicians to draw their districts. WARREN: The City of San Diego has just gone through redistricts, and it has 100 and 27 neighborhoods that need to address these issues. And it created a ninth district. And it did so with the three retiring judges appointing people, and they have had a lot of flack over it. The difference this time I think is this panel was receptive. When Aguirre brought his objection, they said they made the deals in a smoke filled back room. This time there's been a major effort to include the public. FUDGE: What should we be looking for in the coming days and weeks. DAVY: I would assume that the supervisors are going to take a look on seeing whether or not they can twist or change the boundaries of their maps to satisfy or remove the threat of lawsuit from this. Whether it means that they go full adoption of the ACLU map or not, that I don't know. FUDGE: Well, stay tuned and we'll see if we can find out. Before we leave this subject, let's take one call from Ron in Bonita. Ron, go ahead. NEW SPEAKER: Thanks for take my call. You made a community a moment ago regarding the fact that in essence all of the county supervisors, for example, are white. And what role all this plays in that. And I have a question. I'm just curious if anybody's got the information on this. But what percentage of voters from the different ethnic or minority groups voted in each of the last elections or had an opportunity to elect a county supervisor? And I and ask that because if I recall, the percentage of voters from those ethnic groups is less than those of whites from the same election. Let me know if I'm wrong. FUDGE: Thanks very much for calling. I don't think you're wrong. I think it is true that white voters vote more frequently than members of certain racial minorities. John? WARREN: There was more activity this time in the fourth district where Ron Roberts was you know running because you had an African American woman run, Sheila Jackson. You had more people coming out in a three way race. That made a difference. But as far as east county, no. You don't see a change with Diane Jacobs, you don't see a change in the other three, Craig Cox, those individuals. So it used to be more of an issue of how many people voted. It has a lot to do with gerrymandering and it sets it up on whether or not people feel their vote's going to make a difference. And I think that's been a factor in low vert turn out. FUDGE: Before we're out of time, with the Roundtable, let's talk about another bit of big county news. The adoption of a new general land use plan. This plan puts stricter requirements on the ability to development 20% of the parcels in the back country, the properties in the back country. The incorporated parts of the county, I guess I should say that. Debt, what do you make of this? Was this an attempt to limit urban sprawl? DAVY: Sure it is. If you go back and read the reluctantly material to the plan itself, it incorporates a couple principles. Generally, it's an articulation of small growth. And it's an attempt to comply with California's Greene house gas emission standards. So in essence, what it tried to do was to create communities, pockets of urban density inside the back country. For example, in Valley Center, there would be the kind of the village concept of Valley Center where what growth comes in would go into that specific smaller area rather than allowing it to spread more generally across all of the Valley Center area. The smart growth concept also tries to put density toward transportation routs into the other routs so it's not quite as big a burden on the infrastructure. It removes a whole lot of people from the future of the back country by simply limiting, it down zones or puts lower density limits on a number of properties. It leaves the bulk of them the same. But it will give a new set of rules. There is one more thing, and that is there's a caveat. A whole set of exceptions that were sitting out there that have been argued about by the sups, and there have been an agreement by the sups, in I think November, to take a look at all those exceptions one by one. Which creates an interesting question of did they just put a plan in place or in the? FUDGE: It's interesting. I've been covering this story ever since I moved to San Diego 13 years ago. And it's amazing that it took this long to revamp the county let's hear from the other folks at table. John? WARREN: I think it's a great idea. San Diego has one of the largest land mass counties we have here. One of the county down sides to this is that it's going to affect property value. And one of the up sides is that it's going to eliminate the need to construct 780 miles of additional roadway. Having lived in east county, and how this is coming together, I think it's a great idea. And I think it's important because of what was beginning to happen was this development. We didn't want this to look like what happened in east lake has to be taken in proportion. That was 23,000 acres designed to hold 60,000 homes on a 20-year plan in terms of development. But we don't want to lose all the rest of it. And I think too often there's a disconnect between the cities in the county and the rural areas. YORK: I think at some time Sacramento was looking at taking over the whole land use planning issue on a state wide basis, taking it away from the county. Is that -- DAVY: That's not something I know about. YORK: Simply because of the restrictions is that the supervisors are placing on private landowners, and they want to have the ability to do what they want to do with their land, kind of thing. DAVY: The big driving against this plan, the big driver, has been those people who adamantly, Bill Horn, believe if you take my property and tell me that where I used to be able to have -- I'm going to make up numbers -- 20 houses per acre and now tell me I can only have three, you have just cost me economic value. YORK: Yeah. DAVY: It is. FUDGE: The farmers don't like it. DAVY: The farmers don't like it, the landowners don't like it. Developers don't like it. WARREN: Of course not. DAVY: But there is the argument of is there -- is that taking or not? This kind of stuff has been challenged, been upheld, but there is a pretty strong argument to say you guys just took something away from me that I had. FUDGE: I think we know already that exceptions if the future will be made, and whether you get an exception to the land use plan may depend on how politically initial you are. And there will be some exceptions. YORK: Well, it's financially influential. I think you have to follow the money in these cases. FUDGE: Any last word on this subject, Kent? You look like you were drawing breath. DAVY: I'm out of talking. FUDGE: Okay. Thanks very much to our listeners, and thanks very much to the journalists who joined us at the Roundtable. They have been John Warren, editor and publisher of San Diego Voice and Viewpoint, John, thank you for coming in. WARREN: Thank you, Tom. FUDGE: And Tom York is contributing editor to the San Diego business journal. Tom, thanks. YORK: Thank you Tom. FUDGE: And Kent Davy is editor of the of the New York Times. Thanks Kent. DAVY: You're welcome. FUDGE: And thanks to our listeners.

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