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Roundtable: Behind San Diego’s Redistricting Flap

Every 10 years San Diego City Council districts are redrawn. This time, a ninth City Council seat will be added. Seven citizens have been appointed to the influential San Diego Redistricting Commission. Both the committee and the process are generating some controversy.

Every 10 years along with the U.S. Census, San Diego City Council districts are redrawn. This time, a ninth City Council seat will be added. Seven citizens have been appointed to the influential San Diego Redistricting Commission and are charged to use census data and public input to redraw the boundaries. It is this process that is generating some controversy.

Guests: Joanne Faryon, reporter, host, KPBS News STUDIO 858 349-8771

David Rolland, editor, San Diego CityBeat STUDIO

JW August, managing editor, 10News STUDIO 619 992-2210

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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.

PENNER: Every 10 years following the census, City Council districts get redrawn. Not only City Council districts but county districts and state legislative district, congressional districts. But we're gonna talk about the City of San Diego. This time, it's a ninth City Council seat that will be added. Seven citizens have been appointed to the influential San Diego redistricting commission. And they're charged to use census data, and public input, to redraw the boundaries. And it is this process that is reason generating some controversy. So David, first of all, who's on the commission? Who are these lucky seven, and who chose them? You don't have to give me name, just, you know, where they come from.

ROLLAND: Okay, they applied for the commission. According to city rules set forth by the city charter. And they were chosen -- I think there might have been a total of 50 something of them that -- who applied, and they were chosen by a panel of retired judges. So -- I think what they chose were three Democrats, two Republicans, and two people who were declined to state. So that's who they are.


ROLLAND: They are people -- generally people that have been active in civic organizations, and active in politic.

PENNER: Who chose them?

ROLLAND: They were chosen by a panel of judges. Retired judges.

PENNER: Okay. Is this the fairest way to choose a Pam like this? Using retired judges?

ROLLAND: I'm not sure I could really -- I hadn't thought about that, but I'm not sure I could come up with something that was -- what you want to do is you want to come up with a process that is as free of political influence as you possibly can.


ROLLAND: So that's why they -- people are always looking to judges as being sort of these people that can speak from on high and be as impartial as possible. But I mean, you're never gonna take people's biases out. These people have to be chosen by people. And people have inherent biases. We haven't really found a process that would be as perceived as impartial as judges to do this.

PENNER: And that's because there are a lot of groups of interest involved in this, I would think. How dramatic might the changes be in San Diego's new map with redistricting? What is the impact of all this? How would it affect the private citizen?

AUGUST: Well, with an additional district and whatever the shape of the size of the district would be, it would affect who represents you in your particular district.

PENNER: Joanne? I'm sorry.

FARYON: And the balance of power, right?

AUGUST: Right.

FARYON: Depending on the --

AUGUST: Right.

FARYON: If you had so many Republicans versus Democrats, could you vote down the mayor's veto power? So a lot could be riding on it, depending on does that district represent more Republicans or Democrats, who gets elected, and then it could ultimately affect decisions being made at city hall.

ROLLAND: That's ultimately what is at stake here. The City Council, one of the biggest sort of jokes about City Council is that it's nonpartisan. But it becomes very partisan, because the democratic and Republican parties, the local parties get very, very involved in financing candidates for these offices. And so it really is about as Joanne says, the balance of power in terms of not just Republicans and Democrats but liberals and conservatives. That's what it's all about. There are policies that are at stake here. Right now, the Democrats enjoy a majority of folks on the City Council. Republicans want to change that.

PENNER: Okay. So at this point, what we're talking about are the political parties, balance of power, but there are also groups of interest that have other interests. For example, there's the Asian community that wants to be represented. There's the Latino community, there's the gay and lesbian bisexual transgender community. All these people have a stake in this at this point. And it can be a very interesting process to see everybody represented. Let me ask our listeners about this. Has this topic risen to the top of your interest level yet if you live in the city of San Diego? Are you sort of watching what's happening with redistricting and thinking, wow, that's really going to change San Diego as San Diego as changed demographically? Let us know your impression of what's going on at 1-888-895-5727. 89 five KPBS. What is it that these groups are doing now to influence the process? And then I want to get into the controversy.

ROLLAND: Well, the first thing they did is they tried to nominate people to the commission that they hope will serve their interests. The next thing they did is they came up with their own maps. So where the commission is in process right now, I believe, as they have gone through the process where they've taken public testimony, they have open meetings that any member of the public could have gone to. And you can speak to the commission, tell them what's on your mind, and you could submit your own plan for how these districts should be redrawn. And many communities of interest, liberal, conservative, business, social justice folks, they have submitted their -- what they think are the best way to redraw these districts. Of the commission will take all those mans, they'll scour them, they'll examine them. They might toss them, they might incorporate them into their final plan. But then what they're gonna do now is basically harsh out how these lines are gonna be drawn.

PENNER: They only have until I think, like, September fourth to do this. This is not gonna be an easy process. And JW, when we look at the process, we wonder about what it is that will happen as these controversies keep developing. We have had a recent controversy now.

AUGUST: Right.

PENNER: Questioning the appointment of the vice chair of the commission.

AUGUST: Absolutely. We -- and in fact 10 news was one of the TV stations to break this story, because the Republican operative actually came and approached me and said, this is what I've got. What do you think? Do you guys want to run it? I'm talking to KUSI, and we looked at it and said, well, let's look the public decide. When you have one like this, let's put it out there and see what they have to say.

ROLLAND: Gloria we -- I'm sorry, JW, I thought you were done. I just wondered if we should layout what these controversies, what these developments have been. Because --

PENNER: You're the leader on this story. Lay it out.

ROLLAND: I thought we felt like we weren't giving listeners the details here.

PENNER: Go ahead.

ROLLAND: First thing that happened as JW mentioned -- well, I'm not sure. He might have been talking about the second thing that happened. But the first thing that happened is Tony Krvaric, and the Republican party really kind of did this media blitz where they questioned the nomination or the selection of several members of the commission that they thought you were sort of being agents of the Democratic Party. So that was sort of a media blitz that they went on. The second thing is derrick roach, who's the secretary of the Republican party, and also happens to be a private investigator, followed one of the members of the commission to west Hollywood, west LA or west Hollywood, where he believed that this guy actually lived. So they -- he spied on him on numerous occasions, got video, they took that to the TV stations, TV stations ran with that. That led to the commission saying to the city attorney we want you to investigate this. We don't want to deal with it. This has become a big controversy, city attorney, why don't you handle it? The city attorney this week, justice a couple of days ago came out with a ruling saying all that needs to happen is this guy needs to be registered to vote in San Diego. He is registered to vote in San Diego. So that is all that's required of him. So they passed it onto the registrar of voters to say, hey, if you want to investigate whether he is properly registered to vote in San Diego, go ahead. But as far as we're concerned, you know, he's cool. Then I think two days after that, or two days after --

PENNER: Can you imagine the pressure on Debra Sylar? Registrar of voters?

ROLLAND: But I don't know that that's gonna be that much pressure. As Jan Goldsmith, city attorney, said in his opinion letter, the law is pretty clear here, and it gives a lot of weight. He said it gives great weight to the representation of the voter himself, as to where his domicile is.

PENNER: Okay. I'm going to -- just stop this conversation. Put it on pause while we hear from Simon in Northpark. Simon, you're on with the editors, and the reporter.

NEW SPEAKER: Hey, well, just real quickly, I'm a geography major, I got my degree in GIs, I'm a map makers. It just seems logical to me, why don't we just use the Zip Code boundaries for determining what the districts are? Those boundaries already exist, they're already there. There's a layer, a GIS layer inside the county that already have it, and it's simple, easy, and done.

PENNER: Joanne?

FARYON: Well, let's interesting. Up until a year ago, I had no idea what redistricting was or why it mattered. This is one of the sort of reasons why you can't use just Zip Codes in the law that sort of talks about making these boundaries, it allows for groups of interest, and it's sort of what David had mentioned earlier, that if you look at different neighborhoods, you may have -- you know, whether you have people who are working sort of class, lower middle class neighborhoods, you may have very wealthy neighborhoods, and so on and so on. If you end up electing a lot of like minded people who represent like minded communities, then you end up with the government, a form of government that really, there's no dissent. There's no discussion, there's no debate. And they don't necessarily represent everyone. So the redistricting law, at least the way I was sort of reading about it last year, is kind of meant to say let's have people who -- it's really representation of the entire public. And sometimes Zip Codes don't guarantee that. And that's why you're supposed to have this public process. And in fact, all levels of government now, is what we're seeing throughout the state, is having this public process. The county level still does not have that, by the way, the county supervisors get to draw their own lines. Still a lot of controversy over there. So this is supposed to be a way that sort of everyone -- not everyone, but people get to have a say in their local government.

PENNER: Oh, very interesting. There's one line that's drawn at the state level, where the district runs under San Diego bay, and there's a blob of land on one side, and a blob of land on the other. So sometimes redistricting comes up with very odd looking districts. We're gonna take our break, when we come back, we're gonna take more calls and continue this discussion briefly before we turn over to talk about whether San Diego's City Hall project, a brand-new City Hall is alive, dead, sleeping, or what. I'm Gloria Penner, and this is the Roundtable on Midday Edition.

PENNER: I'm Gloria Penner, and this it The Roundtable on Midday Edition. We're talking about redistricting in the City of San Diego. And we're talking about how it's going, what needs to be accomplished, who the players are, and what the controversies are. Now, our time is almost up on this subject, but I do want to take a couple of calls, and then I'm going to have our roundtable panel give their final comments so that we get to everything that they want to say. So let's start with Debra in university city. Debra, you're on with the Roundtable.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi, yes, thank you for taking my call. I've been a long time activist in the university city area. And we were absolutely horrified to discover that different entities, the Republican party, the taxpayers' association, another organization, had come up with maps that simply carved our community up. The university city community. This is a community that has been one entity under one community plan, a very complex community plan that involves UCSD as well, and these maps would split the campus of university city, split university city, split the community plan. Just kind of for -- because it works out that they want to redistrict something. The community -- the redistricting process is supposed to represent identified communities of interest. Those could be community plan districts, those can be universities, such as UCSD, and it just makes plain sense to take -- to not carve up really strongly identified communities of interest such as that.

PENNER: Thank you, thank you Debra. I understand what you're saying. And everybody has an interest. You know, where you live, what you do, what your interests are. It's not an easy task. And I don't envy those commissioners. One more call, and then we'll go to our final comments. Let's see, Debra in university city. Oh, that's who we just had. I'm sorry. So that's it for our calls. And let's get some final comments, and this one is from David Rolland.

ROLLAND: Well, the last thing -- the last development that has occurred, that we haven't really talked about, is Tony Krvaric who I mentioned before, the chairman of the local Republican party, he has sued the mayer, the City Council, and the redistricting commission. He's trying to overturn the whole process. He's trying to get them sort of unpanelled -- I'm not sure what the word is there. He's trying to blowup the process. Ask mind you, he has not sued on behalf of the Republican party. He has sued just on behalf of himself as a citizen. He has two gripes, one of them -- really in his lawsuit, he attacks two members of the commission, Carlos Marquez who I mentioned earlier, plus Dave Potter and Theresa Quiroz. So he attacks them as sort of being agents of the Democratic party, saying they concealed their true intent from the judges. And the second thing is he is complaining that it was only two judges who made these decisions, who empanelled this commission, when it should have been a panel of three judges. It was a panel of three judges, it just so happened that one of them couldn't be there when they were making their selections. So that's going to be up on a judge to decide whether that was truly a three judge panel that didn't just have its third one there, or whether it was a panel of two judges. And the judge, whoever ultimately takes this case will have to decide whether or not these three people have sort of demonstrated their lack of capacity to be impartial. I personally don't think Tony Krvaric is gonna be successful.

PENNER: I think it's really interesting that so many of the issues wind up in the Courts. And the Courts maintain their business, don't they?

ROLLAND: Well, what it says is coney Krvaric and the Republican party sort of missed the boat when it left the dock. The Democrats were all there, and apparently they did a much better job of getting people on the commission because now he's trying to blow the process up rather than getting in on the ground floor.

PENNER: Okay. Do you have something burning to say, Joanne.

FARYON: No, just that this matter is complicated, it's hard to understand, and I do feel for people at home, but it actually does matter 'cause ultimately it affects the makeup of your local government.

PENNER: Exactly. And -- JW.

AUGUST: And it is very important. It's very important. Because I remember back in the day when we all voted for our council people at large that means we didn't have council districts, so you would vote for your favorite candidate. So you had an all Lilly White City Council. And the one reason this is important, it gives a voice to all the people in our city. And by the way, one little interesting note, Krvaric had told us, what he initially said he was gonna sue that Richard rider was gonna sue from the libertarian party, and Richard Ryder didn't end up suing, and Krvaric did, and I never have figured that out.

PENNER: Well, I'll get in touch with Richard Ryder. I'm sure he'll give us his answer. Okay. Let us move on.

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