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Vote Set For Today On New San Diego Council Districts

Aired 8/25/11 on KPBS Midday Edition.

You might find yourself in a new council district without even leaving the house. Today the city redistricting commission will finally vote on the new map. We'll have details on the changes and the politics.

The final map being considered for adoption by the City of San Diego Redistricting Commission.
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Above: The final map being considered for adoption by the City of San Diego Redistricting Commission.

The City San Diego Redistricting Commission is expected to approve a final map of new council districts this afternoon. All the districts are a least a little different some have had major changes to accommodate the creation of a new 9th city council district. Not everyone is happy about the new boundaries and there's still some confusion over who's going to represent the newly divided districts between now and next year's election.

Guests

KPBS Metro Reporter Katie Orr

Midori Wong is the Chief of Staff for the City of San Diego Redistricting Commission

Read Transcript

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.

CAVANAUGH: Which City Council district are you in? We'll discuss the changes in the final San Diego City redistricting map. And San Diego gets a lesson in the exotic world of Lucha Libre. This is KPBS Midday Edition.

I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. It's Thursday, August†25th. Coming up this hour, a cover story in this week's San Diego City beat heralds the return of Lucha Libre, Mexican wrestling to San Diego. We'll hear about one of the most exotic wrestlers. And a lantern festival, a thinking person's art exhibit, and salsa dancing all ahead on our weekend preview.

First, the San Diego City Council is expected to approve a final map of now council districts this afternoon. All the districts are at least a little different. Some have had major changes to accommodate the creation of a new ninth City Council district. Not everyone is happy about the new boundaries, and there's still some confusion over who's going to represent the newly divided districts between now and next year's election. Joining me to talk about this is KPBS metro reporter Katie Orr. Hi Katie.

ORR: Hi, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: And Midori Wong joins us too, chief of staff of the City of San Diego's redistricting commission. Good afternoon.

WONG: Thanks for having me on again.

CAVANAUGH: We'd like to hear from our listeners if you've got a question or are perhaps upset about the new City Council district boundaries. You can give us a call at 1-888-895-5727. That's 1-888-895-KPBS.

Midori, is the redistricting map that is going before the City Council today for final approval largely the same as the preliminary map you released last month?

WONG: First Maureen, let me make a clarification. It's not the City Council that will be approving the final map. It's actually the redistricting commission of the City of San Diego. This is a seven member appointed citizens' commission, and they have the full and exclusive authority to adopt the boundaries for these districts. So it doesn't actually go for approval by the City Council.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you for that clarification. I made a mistake with that. Tell us a little bit more. This is an unusual process where the redistricting commission gets to approve -- have the final say on this, right?

WONG: Yes. And today is actually our 45th public hearing since October when the commission first got together and started meeting, and their charge has been to create nine City Council districts as directed by the voters who approve aid city charter amendment last June. Over the past ten-month, we have had numerous hearings throughout the city, release of a preliminary map, and additional public deliberation, and now today the commission will consider adopting a final plan that will be effective for the next ten years.

CAVANAUGH: Remind us why this process of redistricting was necessary in the first place.

WONG: Sure, redistricting actually occurs every ten years. It's something that coincides with the release of U.S. census data, and it shows us how neighborhoods have grown and changed in the past decade. And as a result, we need to readjust and reevaluate the size of each district, so that each district has nearly the same number of people. That way we are insuring fair and equal access to political representation.

CAVANAUGH: And of course now, you had to create eye new district, this time around.

WONG: Yes. And that was in response to San Diego voters approving a charter amendment last June which permanently transitioned the city to the strong mayor form of government.

CAVANAUGH: Katie Orr, who are the now district controversies?

ORR: As Midori alluded to, San Diego is an increasingly diverse place. We are seeing growth of the so called minorities, in fact, in the region. I can't recall if it is the city or the county, but somebody, it is a majority/minority region now, meaning whites doesn't have the majority anymore. This situation presented an opportunity for a lot of those minorities. Because as you said, we are actually creating another council district. So instead of just fiddling with the boundaries we already have, we're actually carving out a whole other niche. And that is very high stakes for a lot of people. The Asian community saw this really as its chance to get fair representation, what it would consider fair representation on the City Council. I believe it was in the 1970s that we last had an Asian American council member. So this was their chance to really step up and make themselves heard. Latinos were anxious for a district to better represent them. So it really is a once in a multi decade opportunity to really get ahold of some of power in San Diego.

CAVANAUGH: Much has been written, Katie, about the idea of breaking up Rancho PeÒasquitos, the southern end of Rancho PeÒasquitos, moving from district 5 to District 6 in order to create that so called Asian district, which might see a representative of Asian heritage come out and sit on the City Council.

ORR: Right. And the Asian community -- I spoke with a spokes person from that community yesterday. And they were saying that they are happy, they are pleased with the final map that will be voted on today. Earlier in the process, they had not been happy about that. But I believe the final map gives them a district where they will make up about 34% of the approximation. They had been hoping to make up about 39% of the population in one of those districts. But they see it as progress. And they were saying well, we'll just look forward to the next ten years. And it really is about getting a seat at the table for all of these groups to be represented in San Diego. There are scarce resources, lots of diverse needs out there, and people want to make sure their voices are heard. And this is one of the biggest opportunities that they'll get to do that.

CAVANAUGH: Midori, I know the commission has certainly heard a lot from people who are dissatisfied with this decision to in effect divide Rancho PeÒasquitos. There have been claims that in order to create the so called Asian district, a reasonable community of interest has been broken up in Rancho PeÒasquitos. I wonder how has the commission defended this decision?

WONG: The commission has heard a lot of testimony on this area as Katie mentioned, and we've also heard a lot of conflicting testimony. We have had testimony from folks who ask that Rancho PeÒasquitos be united with communities to the north, and then we have had testimony from folks who have asked that it be united with areas to the south. So this is all really a balancing act for the commission. And will really race is not the only thing that the commission has to consider. In addition to race, there's also traditional redistricting principles having to do with the size and shape of the districts. There's a number of things that the commission has to consider. It's the totality of all of those circumstances that the commission has to consider before they make a decision.

CAVANAUGH: Midori, tell us about the creation of the new district nine. What areas of the city are included in that?

WONG: Sure. The new psychiatric nine unites the neighborhoods of City Heights, which are currently split into three council districts, then areas to the north including Kensington, Talmidge, and the college east and west area. And the idea behind that district was a determination made by the commission to recognize and real provide fair representation for the Latino population. So this is a new majority/minority district, and the commission really wanted to make sure that their voting strength was not diluted to be in the compliance with the federal voting rights act.

CAVANAUGH: Isn't there some question about who will represent this new district between the approval of the bound easier and the increase election? Nobody voted for any representative for this new district nine. So who's going to be representing those people?

ORR: It's simple math. We have eight council members, and now we have nine districts. In 30†days, anyway, once these take effect. So that was something that people at city hall were considering. Council president Tony Young came out and said even though these districts may go into effect 30†days after this decision, the council members should still continue to represent the areas that they represent now. Todd Gloria would no longer represent City Heights under the new district boundaries, but Tony Young said he should continue to represent City Heights until there is a council member elected from that district. However, the city attorney recently came out with an opportunity saying that even though technically these boundaries go into effect in a month from now, after the commission votes, that the way the ballot language was written when we approve aid new ninth district, it said that the ninth district will be created when we elect somebody to represent that district. So from the city attorney's point of view, really, nothing changes until December†2012 when whoever is elected actually takes the oath of office, and then begins serving. So for the most part, things are likely going to say like they are. And it's interesting. Maybe you could call it a wonky sort of debate, because the average city resident, unless there's a big problem might not even know who their council representative is anyway. So it might be a bit of inside baseball. But it's important legally who represents the areas of the city.

CAVANAUGH: If you have a big pot hole somewhere in Kensington and you want to call the city hall about it, you want to be who you're supposed to call, right?

ORR: Right. So for the time being, call who you would call in the past. Your City Council member is your City Council member until a new member is elected a year and a half from now.

CAVANAUGH: And does the redistricting commission have any say or input in between when these districts are approved and the new elections take place?

WONG: Not at all.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. That's not your problem. Speaking of next year's elections, how do these now boundaries work politically?

ORR: If you do not live in your district and you're planning to run again, basically you have to move. So for council member, like Todd Gloria, as I mentioned he lives in City Heights, if he wants to keep representing district three, which will no longer include City Heights, he will have to move so that he can represent his new district. He might have to move to Northpark or university heights or now downtown. Anywhere within district three. For council members, like Lorie Zapf, I believe the neighborhood she currently lives in will no longer be in her district when this goes into effect. However of course she was just elected last year. So she is able to fill -- to serve the remainder of her term where she currently is now. But when she wants to run for reelection, then she will either have to move. So she is in the district that he is representing currently, District six, or she will have to run to represent district two where she lives. Where she will be living under the new rules.

CAVANAUGH: I said it was complicated. Now, Midori, we have this new map on our website. I know it's certainly on the City of San Diego and the redistricting commission's website. Let me ask you though, if I may, some quick questions about neighborhoods that might help people wrap their minds around this. If I live in Mission Hills, am I still in district three?

WONG: If you live in Mission Hills, you are in district three.

CAVANAUGH: How about Tierra Santa?

WONG: In Tierra Santa, you're in district seven.

CAVANAUGH: Linda Vista.

WONG: In Linda Vista, you are in district seven if you live in the neighborhood of Linda Vista. However, if you live in the marina area or in USD area, you are in district two.

CAVANAUGH: And La Jolla.

WONG: And La Jolla is in district one. And currently there's a tiny part of La Jolla, I believe the bird rock area, that's split into district two. And this commission decided to unite that entire neighborhood back into district one.

CAVANAUGH: So unless you are on the farthest outskirts of one of these districts, it really might make a great deal of sense for you to check out this new map to make sure you're still where you think you are.

WONG: Well, I would say seven out of the nine districts have population 50% or over of the previous district are now in that new proposed district. The districts that have changed the most are District six, and obviously district nine had to draw from four different existing districts. So there's some change. But there are seven of nine districts that have over 50% of the existing population.

ORR: I think district two is an interesting case as well because district two previously was the beaches and downtown. And the beaches did not like sharing their representative with downtown. And so they wanted to get rid of downtown. District three saw an opportunity to get downtown. They wanted it. And so it switched over. So you have a prominent area in the center of a lot of business in the city is moving from 1st†District to another. It's just an interesting switch. It makes district three a pretty diverse district and pretty powerful.

CAVANAUGH: Let me squeeze in a phone call if I may. Hi Mel, welcome to Midday Edition.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi. I'm confused as to the time limits for council men. There's supposed to be a two term limit. But when the councilman or counsel woman then lives in a different district, does that give them another two terms?

CAVANAUGH: I think I get your point. And I'm going to throw it out to anyone who wants to take it. Do these new districts sort of mess around with the whole idea of the two term limit for council members?

ORR: From what I understand, when you move to a new district, your clock starts over again. So yes. You could get another two terms serving that district; I believe that's the case.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. All right. Endless complications. Let me ask you both finally, do you expect the final map to be approved Midori?

CAVANAUGH: And Katie?

ORR: Midori would probably know better than me. But I would say they've done a lot of work in public outreach, and it seems like it's something that the commission will approve today.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I want to tell our listeners, we do have this new, this final proposed map that is going to be voted on today on our website at KPBS.org. You join us for more discussion about the new San Diego City Council districts tomorrow on Midday Edition Roundtable. It starts at noon. I've been speaking with Midori Wong, with the City of San Diego's redistricting commission, and KPBS metro reporter Katie Orr. I want to thank you both very much.

ORR: Thank you.

WONG: Thanks.

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