Originally published June 21, 2011 at 11:18 a.m., updated June 21, 2011 at 3:17 p.m.
Residents from Imperial Valley to the coast turned out to a public hearing in San Diego Monday night on state and congressional redistricting. Some drove almost two hours to present their case to the Redistricting Commission. It was the last opportunity to give the Citizens’ Commission oral testimony before the final maps are drawn up in August.
Political boundary lines are redrawn every 10 years to reflect changes discovered in the census. But this is the first time the new state and congressional political boundaries are being drawn by a Citizens' Commission rather than state legislators, thanks to propositions passed by California voters in 2008 and 2010.
The chance of better representation brought together different minority communities. Elizabeth Lew, a Sudanese refugee, spoke for a coalition that has formed to fight for a new state assembly district to represent their interests.
“In City Heights,” she said, “we have Latinos, we have African Americans, we are now comfortable with each other and we are just solid together. So I would really appreciate it to see City Heights remain in tact. “
Other neighborhoods wanted to avoid being lumped in with each other. Lisa Davis of El Cajon was one of several East County residents who objected to being in the same district as Imperial Valley
“We have nothing against Imperial County,” Davis told the commission, “but also we have nothing in common.”
The feeling was mutual, according to Bill Hodge, a city councilman from Calexico.
“If we redistrict with East San Diego, we will be practically be mute, disenfranchised.” Hodge said, “In the name of true democracy and equity, please allow Calexico, as a low social economic, Latino community to have a true voice in government -- keep us aligned with Coachella, not East San Diego.“
Carmen Lopez, a San Diego resident, is President of the Latina, Latino and Indigenous People Coalition and a former employee of the Census Bureau. She said 90 percent of the population growth in California in the last decade has been Latino.
“Your maps fail to reflect that growth by not creating fair opportunities for increased Latino representation,” she told the Commission, “Fifty-one percent of all the people under the age of 18 are Latino. Our community of interest is education and economic growth. We are the work force of the future.”
The Citizens Commission asked speakers for their suggested maps, pointing out that their task requires them to divide political districts so they have equal numbers of voters in each district.
This is a case where passionate public testimony may make an impact. Gil Ontai, a San Diego resident, is one of 14 members appointed to the commission.
"What I heard last night," he said, "I can identify two or three or four significant areas that I am going to recommend changes. So I will be taking the lead and looking at our initial maps and seeing where we missed the mark."
Ontai said the maps proposed earlier this moth were a starting point. He said he’s confident the commission’s maps do not violate the Voting Rights Act, but he said they could be modified to strengthen minority voices and connect communities of interest.
Final written testimony and maps must be submitted to the commission by this Friday, June 24th.