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Should Supervisors Draw Their Own Districts?

Aired 6/28/11 on KPBS Midday Edition.

Today, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors is meeting to discuss potential changes to the boundaries of its legislative districts. Every 10 years, redistricting happens in the county and throughout the state. We speak to an attorney from the ACLU and a community member from southeast San Diego who are both concerned about the way the county draws its district maps.

One of the proposed maps to redraw San Diego County Supervisorial district lines.
Visit http://98.175.249.116/PlanViewer/
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Above: One of the proposed maps to redraw San Diego County Supervisorial district lines. Visit http://98.175.249.116/PlanViewer/

Today, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors is meeting to discuss potential changes to the boundaries of its legislative districts. Every 10 years, redistricting happens in the county and throughout the state. We speak to an attorney from the ACLU and a community member from southeast San Diego who are both concerned about the way the county draws its district maps.

Guests

Lori Shellenberger, civic engagement attorney for the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties

Brian "Barry" Pollard, community activist from Valencia Park. He is a member of the NAACP, the Coalition of Neighborhood Councils, and works with the Latino Redistricting Committee.

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.

Still ahead, we'll hear why some community groups and the ACLU are challenging the proposed new voting districts for San Diego County. Stay with us as KPBS Midday Edition continues.

This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Members of the San Diego County board of supervisors are hearing criticism today of new proposed district maps and the way they were drawn. The board is required to redraw the districts every ten years based on new census data. Supervisors anoint an advisory commission to draw the boundaries and invite public comment in each district. But some minority groups feel their voting power is diminished because the county district lines dice up their communities. Joining me are two people who challenged the redistricting process at the meeting this morning. Lori Shellenberger is civic engagement attorney for the ACLU of San Diego. Good afternoon.

SHELLENBERGER: Good afternoon. Thanks for having me.

CAVANAUGH: And Brian Pollard is a community activist from Valencia Park. He's a member of the NAACP, the coalition of neighborhood councils, and works with the Latino redistricting committee. Brian, Barry, hello.

POLLARD: Hi, Maureen. How are you?

CAVANAUGH: I'm quite well, thank you. We invited all five county supervisors to take part in this conversation, but their offices told us they were unavailable. We do invite our listeners to join the conversation. If you've got concerns about the voting districts in the county, give us a call. 1-877-895-5727. Lori, what did you tell the board of supervisors this morning?

SHELLENBERGER: The purpose of my presentation was to provide a legal framework for the redistricting. There are two fundamental principles they need to follow in San Diego County. The first is to comply about the voting rights act. They need to make the first district a majority/minority African and American and Latino district. And secondly, that they need to consider the real communities of interest throughout the County. That's the corner stone of redistricting. And that the voting rights act, the United States Supreme Court, the California Supreme Court, all encourage the mapping of influence districts. And in order to avoid further dilution of minority votes in other parts of the county.

CAVANAUGH: Do you feel that the county board is not complying with those standards?

SHELLENBERGER: They have three proposed plans that were submitted to them by their redistricting advisory commission. The board has the ultimate authority then to discuss and vote on one of those plans. Those three plans, after careful review, and consultation with national voting experts and the Latino and African American redistricting leaders, as well as other community leaders, the three plans that have been proposed do not comply. They fail to map a first district that is majority Latino and African American.

CAVANAUGH: What did you tell the supervisors today?

POLLARD: My focus primarily was on a core, what I think is the core issue of redistricting. And that is identifying and keeping in tact the communities of interest. And so my primary focus was to outline the importance of using the community of interest to draw their boundaries. Specifically we talked about the southeastern San Diego area and the connections that we have with the Lemon Grove as well as the Spring Valley area rather than La Jolla. There is absolutely no community of interest bonding between southeastern San Diego and La Jolla. There is no transportation corridor, people in southeastern San Diego typically do not shop in La Jolla regularly. People in La Jolla certainly don't come over to southeastern San Diego. There's no churches that to my knowledge residents of southeastern San Diego being African American or Latino go into La Jolla and vice versa. Whereas when you look at Lemon Grove and Spring Valley and areas as they are connected with the southeastern San Diego, there's African American newspapers in Lemon Grove, there's shopping centers in Lemon Grove that we use, there are churches, there are schools that our kids go to school in Lemon Grove and Spring Valley. It was an obvious disconnect for us.

CAVANAUGH: Lori, it's my understanding that the County contends that it does not have an obligation to create minority/majority district. Is that what they are telling?

SHELLENBERGER: They aren't specifically saying that outright. They're saying that the plans that have been proposed comply with the voting rights act. The county attorney hedged on that a little bit today, because they had not had a chance to read the memorandum that I submitted. In conducting research, looking at the demographic shifts in the county, which is now more than 30†percent Latino, it's clear to me -- and the history. You also look at the history of disenfranchisement and discrimination against Latinos and African Americans throughout San Diego County. And the way -- the voting patterns of those groups. They tend to support the same candidates. And white voters tend to defeat those candidates. Those are the things that you look at. In looking at that, and the fact that you can easily map a majority Latino and African American district that's contiguous, compact, that has a lot in common. And in the first district, it's a very simple shift. It's taking Coronado and Point Loma, which are currently in the first district, and shifting those into a coastal district with sister communities and taking City Heights and moving it to the first district. And when you unite those communities, you have a real community of interest that achieves that majority that the voting rights act requires.

POLLARD: And Maureen, I want to make the point clear that our intentions for shifting the map more appropriately is not to guarantee that an African American or a Latino candidate gets elected. What we're talking about doing is making this an even playing field. We're looking at the numbers, and those boards of supervisors have been in their positions since Jesus was a child. And they all happen to be Caucasian. And they all happen to be Republicans. And when you look at this county in today's numbers, not ten years ago, they do not reflect the county of San Diego.

CAVANAUGH: Let me take a phone call. Genie is on the line from Point Loma. Welcome to Midday Edition.

NEW SPEAKER: Thank you for having me. I was down at the county meeting too. And it was just remarkable how absurd their maps are. I spoke about Point Loma. We need to look at the peninsula of Point Loma and how they would gerrymander this peninsula. And then a little line going down to connect Point Loma with Chula Vista and national city, which was such an obvious diluting of minority votes. And what the board seemed to be looking at is that -- where were you? Why didn't you show us this map? I'm hoping that KPBS and maybe some of the other news organizations will show this map that Lori had there and compare it. If you had side by side community of interest maps versus any one of their three maps and see how less gerrymanders, how more reason it is, it really is absurd their maps.

CAVANAUGH: Genie, thank you very much for the call. And I think that we can do that on our website. The issue that she also brings up is one that the county board of supervisors I think brought up today. Where has everybody been? Where has the public participation been in this process? Do you think that's a fair criticism?

POLLARD: Absolutely. I hear numbers of 24 residents have participated in the county's commission process. I look at all of these issues that are surfacing now as symptomatic. One of the core issues that hurts our county is the process in which the board of supervisors are left to make the sole decisions about their county districts and their jobs. No one is foolish enough to think that any of those supervisors are going to draw maps that eliminate their jobs. That is just not going to happen. Until that issue is addressed, I think that my expectations in this process is very low. I expect no change out of the maps that the board of supervisors have generated. And at best what I would like to see is some sort of a strongest or movement to change the process to put this redistricting issue with the county out of the supervisors' hands, they've done in the city. The city's process is not perfect. But the best thing about it is that it is done by an independent commission that has to struggle with these issues, and it takes it out of the hands of, in that case, the City Council folks.

CAVANAUGH: I think we can squeeze in another call. Enrique is calling from downtown. Hi.

SHELLENBERGER: Hi. And I fully agree with the last comment there. I'm a Latino native San Diegan. I did participate in the assistant district attorney redistricting committee. In the county we not only have five white Republicans that have been there forever, we even have people that are very much against Latinos like Bill Horn for example, and our voices aren't being heard. We have gone from a community where more than half of the people in San Diego County are now of color. Yet we continue to have five Republican Anglos. We have a couple of moderates. But that needs to change. It's gotta be out of the hands of the supervisors, because we cannot continue to see this type of extremism like Bill Horn or Brian Bilbray, who I think is a Congressman. We need to have people reflective of San Diego, the spirit of diversity, and not continue to have the same good old boys and girls network here in San Diego.

CAVANAUGH: Enrique thank you. Thank you for the call. And I want to just reiterate that we did invite the supervisors to join this conversation, and their offices told us they were unavailable. Is there any talk of possibly filing some kind of legal challenge if the supervisors approve the maps that you're concerned with, Lori?

SHELLENBERGER: I'm a bit more of a Pollyanna than Brian. I think I made a compelling case this morning. And also pointing out that these maps that are proposed, they're about the old San Diego. And even though the board was referencing testimony from 10 and 20†years ago about communities, the 2010 census data doesn't just reflect population numbers. It's about how our neighborhoods and our communities have changed. And it's unfortunate those communities didn't come forward earlier. But this was a public hearing for comment on these maps. And the suggestion we're too late -- there's no deadline to the voting rights act, and they still have to comply. But also this was a public hearing where they heard testimony from many communities affected by this. And I think combined with the case we made, there's still an opportunity for them to do the right thing.

CAVANAUGH: Lori is optimistic about the idea that these proposed district maps may need still change. What do you think the impact of your criticism of these maps and your testimony before the board will do Barry?

POLLARD: I'm hopeful that the county supervisors will seriously consider the lack of credibility they have when they are deciding the county maps. I'd like to think we put them on notice this morning, let them know that they have potentially dodged the bullet once more. And I would like to see a concerted collaborative effort to change the process. If that movement is realized, I would be happy. I've been in San Diego, born and raised here, I've been here almost all my life. And I have no reason to believe historically the data is there that they're not going to change our -- their decisions significantly. It was an exercise that they had to go through because we showed up there in force. We were organized, had very good points that they could not argue with, and relying upon the May†9th deadline was primarily their own defense.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I think we have to wrap it up there. We have heard the first vote on this is expected in mid-July, a final vote after that. And we'll see what happens. I want to thank you both for speaking with me. I have been speaking with Lori Shellenberger with the ACLU, and Barry pollard, community activist from Valencia park. Thank you both.

SHELLENBERGER: Thank you Maureen.

POLLARD: Thanks Maureen.

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