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Escondido Seeks Public Input On Council Boundaries

Aired 10/10/13 on KPBS Midday Edition.

Guests

Bill Flores, Commissioner, Independent Districting Commission

Lori Shellenberger, Director, ACLU Statewide Voting Project

Aired 10/10/13 on KPBS News.

An Escondido commission begins a series of public hearings to create city council districts which empower Latino voters.

Escondido residents will get a chance to weigh in on new city council districts at a series of public hearings starting Thursday. The city is moving from citywide to districtwide elections after a lawsuit claimed citywide, or at-large elections diluted the voting power of the city’s large Latino population.

The seven-member independent districting commission will gather input from the public to help determine the geographic boundaries of four council districts. The mayor will continue to be elected by a citywide vote.

Under the U.S. Constitution, the districts must be generally equal in population size. They also must be geographically contiguous and try to preserve the integrity of neighborhoods and communities of interest.

The lawsuit that spawned the change was filed last December by several Latino residents and a labor group. They claimed that Escondido’s at-large election system was discriminatory against minorities and therefore violated the California Voting Rights Act.

Despite the growth of Econdido’s Latino population, which is now half the population, and the city’s largest demographic group, just one Latino serves on the city council. Only a few Latinos have ever served on Escondido’s governing body in the city’s 123-year history.

The city agreed to implement district elections and set up an independent commission to draw the boundaries for new districts as part of a settlement reached in March.

The commission is chaired by Dana Nuesca, a local Rotary Club leader and executive director of a nonprofit that helps victims of sexual exploitation in Costa Rica.

Other members of the commission include Andy Carey, executive director of the U.S.-Mexico Border Philanthropy Partnership, former Escondido Deputy City Manager Jack Anderson and Chicano studies professor John Valdez.

The commission will gather input from neighbors on drawing the district boundaries at six public meetings, scheduled for locations throughout the city during October.

“This will allow people to come in…and share with us what their community of interest is,” Nuesca, the commission chair said.

A community of interest could be anything from mobile home parks, to members of the same racial group to dog owners, Nuesca indicated.

“We want to make sure we know about them before we get the lines drawn and someone says ‘Ah, you didn’t ask me,’” Nuesca said.

Still, racial, ethnic and language groups must specifically be taken into account in Escondido per the legal settlement between the city and the Latino plaintiffs.

Nuesca said she and other commission members had been putting up fliers about the public hearings at schools and churches. She said the city’s public schools planned to robo call students’ homes to tell families about the hearings.

Residents may also submit forms, which are available on the city website in multiple languages, describing their community of interest to the commission.

After the commission draws provisional maps, it will hold three additional hearings in late November to hear concerns from residents. The commission will then vote on a final plan and send it to the city council for approval.

Escondido is the third city in San Diego County to adopt districtwide elections. San Diego switched to district elections in 1988. Voters in Chula Vista opted to switch to districtwide elections last year.

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