Asian-Americans Fighting For New 9th Council District
Election Day is less than a month away, but there’s a group of people in San Diego who aren’t focused on Nov. 2. Instead, they’re looking forward to 2012 and the creation of San Diego’s new ninth council district.
In a small strip mall off of Convoy Street in San Diego’s Kearny Mesa area, people go in and out of the Dumpling Inn, May Lee Oriental Imports and the Happy Buddha Foot Reflexology Spa. Inside the nearby Jasmine Seafood Restaurant, it’s a quiet night. A rare rainy evening is keeping many people home. But in a room at the back of the restaurant a group of people sit, planning and organizing. They're thinking about how they can have a bigger voice in San Diego city politics. Dr. Allen Chan is the restaurant's owner.
“We don’t have a district that can reflect the Asian-Pacific Americans in San Diego,” he said.
Chan is leading the effort to create a council district in San Diego that’s more representative of the Asian-American community. He’s with the Asian and Pacific American Coalition.
When voters approved the strong mayor form of government last spring, they also approved creating a ninth council district. Now a redistricting commission will carve out the new district somewhere in the city. It will have about 136,000 people, getting about 17,000 people from each of the city’s current eight districts. Chan said that district should represent the city’s Asian community.
"We think it’s about time to have a district that will not divide or split the common interest of the Asian and Pacific American community in San Diego," he said.
Creating a district that represents a minority population isn’t new, though a district can’t be formed solely on the basis of race. But the city’s Fourth District, represented by Councilman Tony Young, has historically been African-American. San Diego’s Eighth District is largely Latino, and is currently represented by Council President Ben Hueso.
Asians make up about 15 percent of San Diego’s population, but the city hasn’t had an Asian city councilman for about 50 years.
Mitz Lee is also working to change that. She said other city councilmembers have been supportive of the community.
"But I think it’s good to have right now someone who probably will represent a district that’s predominantly an Asian-American district so that person can carry the issues and concerns of that respective communities," she said.
San Diego’s districts are redrawn every 10 years with the Census. Last time around, Dr. Chan tried to lead an effort to create an Asian district. But he said the group wasn’t as prepared, and back then the city wasn’t creating a new district, just moving around existing lines. Chan said since then the community has become more politically involved.
"We’ve found out that we do like to have a unified voice in San Diego," he said. "And we’ll be able to have somebody, it doesn’t have to be an Asian-American city councilperson, but somebody who really cares about our concerns and issues and will speak for us."
Some of the requirements for creating a district include being geographically compact, including communities of interest and fairly representing the population, including minority groups.
Mesa Community College Political Science Professor Dr. Carl Luna said the Asian community might have a good shot.
"What you try to do is bring together neighborhoods that have a lot of synergy with each other and then they can have common cause with the various issues that they pursue," he said. "It depends on what the community needs and sometimes having people that are more like you can help get things done."
While the new district might have a concentration of Asian-Americans, Luna said all of the city districts will be affected because they’ll all lose people to the new district when the lines are redrawn. The districts must each contain roughly the same amount of people.
Luna said he’s not concerned at the $1 million price tag that’s been associated with creating the district.
"The price is pretty much irrelevant. What you’re trying to do is establish effective governance for the communities of San Diego," he said. "And like that old credit card commercial: effective government, priceless!"
In its quest to capture the ninth district, the Asian and Pacific American Coalition is encouraging its members to go to redistricting public hearings. The commission must have new district lines drawn up in time for the 2012 election, and the Asian community may be in luck. One of its active members, San Diego High School of Communication Principal Dr. Anisha Dalalhas just been appointed Chair of the Redistricting Commission.