Skip to main content

Chula Vista Leaders Approve Council Districts

Reported by Marielena Castellanos

GUESTS:

Roberto Moreno, reporter, The Star News

Jonathan Stein, voting rights attorney, ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties

Transcript

Photo caption: Pictured is a map of Chula Vista's proposed council districts, which divides ...

Photo credit: City of Chula Vista

Pictured is a map of Chula Vista's proposed council districts, which divides the city into four areas with about 60,000 residents in each one.

The Chula Vista City Council meets on Tuesday to vote on a plan to divide the city into council districts for the first time in the city's history.

Photo caption: The seven-member Chula Vista Districting Commission, which recommended bounda...

Photo credit: Marielena Castellanos

The seven-member Chula Vista Districting Commission, which recommended boundaries for four proposed council districts, listens to public comments, June 8, 2015.

Photo caption: Citizens attend a meeting of the Chula Vista Districting Commission, which re...

Photo credit: Marielena Castellanos

Citizens attend a meeting of the Chula Vista Districting Commission, which recommended boundaries for City Council districts, June 8, 2015.

Photo caption: Joseph Hernandez, a 70-year resident from the west side of Chula Vista, speak...

Photo credit: Marielena Castellanos

Joseph Hernandez, a 70-year resident from the west side of Chula Vista, speaks at a public meeting of the Chula Vista Districting Commission, June 8, 2015.

District 1 Population: 62,401

Latino: 47.46 percent

Latino Voters: 41.82 percent

Asian: 20.94 percent

Asian Voters: 20.67 percent

Black: 4.67 percent

Black Voters: 6.44 percent

White: 25.05 percent

White Voters: 29.63 percent

District 2 Population: 60,165

Latino: 63.58 percent

Latino Voters: 51.66 percent

Asian: 6.59 percent

Asian Voters: 8.02 percent

Black: 4.11 percent

Black Voters: 5.16 percent

White: 23.87 percent

White Voters: 33.70 percent

District 3 Population: 60,384

Latino: 46.47 percent

Latino Voters: 40.15 percent

Asian: 27.29 percent

Asian Voters: 26.31 percent

Black: 5.66 percent

Black Voters: 6.15 percent

White: 18.29 percent

White Voters: 24.94 percent

District 4 Population: 60,966

Latino: 75.68 percent

Latino Voters: 67.86 percent

Asian: 5.18 percent

Asian Voters: 5.53 percent

Black: 3.44 percent

Black Voters: 3.46 percent

White: 14.11 percent

White Voters: 21.96 percent

UPDATED July 15, 2015:

The Chula Vista City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to divide the city into four new council districts. The plan includes two phases for the new elections with the first to begin in 2016 in Districts 3 and 4.

ORIGINAL STORY:

Joseph Hernandez is a 70-year resident of Chula Vista, from the city’s west side. For Hernandez, memories of Chula Vista go back to days of orchards and dairies in his neighborhood. He was one of several residents who showed up to public workshops, supporting the move to City Council districts and also complaining about neglect on the west side.

“Everything has generated east of us because all new development going there. They get all the privileges and we don’t get any,” Hernandez said.

“If you go up and down Main Street, the street where I live, it looks like the worst, the ugliest street I can think of," Hernandez said. "There’s no planning there. Everything is just thrown in there. It’s embarrassing to know that this little town like Chula Vista has to be this way. I’m hoping before I die, I see the changes.”

After months of workshops and public outreach, Chula Vista, the city whose name translates to “beautiful view,” is one step away from history.

The City Council on Tuesday will decide whether to divide the city into council districts. The move away from at-large council elections to district elections is meant to achieve equal representation, especially for underrepresented ethnic groups, supporters said.

One of the final steps occurred on June 11 when the Chula Vista Districting Commission approved a recommended districting plan, which included boundaries establishing new city council districts.

In the past, council members could live in any part of the city. It was even possible for two or more members to live in the same neighborhood and get elected by all the city’s residents.

Change began in 2012, when Chula Vista voters passed Proposition B, forcing the city’s leaders to live in different parts of the city and get elected by residents who also live in those districts. Under the proposed plan, the mayor and city attorney would continue to be elected citywide.

Those in favor of district elections said it gives people a chance to elect a council member who speaks for them, especially when it comes to people in the city’s older, lower-income west side.

“I think it’s about time the western side has a better chance of having better representation,” said Phil Saenz, a political science professor at Southwestern College. "They’ll have someone that lives in their district, uses the roads, public services, who can identify with the constituent group there, and they’re guaranteed a seat at the City Council."

The west side of Chula Vista has one of the city’s largest Latino populations. On the east side, residents have higher incomes and their homes are newer.

Zaneta Encarnacion, a 10-year Chula Vista resident who attended a public workshop on the city's east side, spoke about the community's diversity, emphasizing the importance to see elected representatives who look like you.

“Chula Vista residents leave to go to work," Encarnacion said. "The median household (income) is $80,000 to $100,000, and there’s a need for high-quality jobs. Traffic is also a concern. We are very sensitive to protecting our natural and protective lands."

The east side is also where you find the city’s second largest underrepresented group, of which Encarnacion is a member: Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders.

The greatest conflict over where to draw district lines was on the east side.

Jerome Torres, chairman of the Chula Vista Districting Commission, a group of seven tasked with creating the boundaries for the new districts, said moving a boundary line by even one or two streets can dramatically affect the district and its voting age population.

“When you start rearranging the lines between districts, you fundamentally alter that CVAP (Citizen Voting Age Population) ratio between race ethnicity, between the Latino, Filipino, Asian or African-American, white community. That’s what drawing the map is all about,” Torres said.

Torres added that some of these groups started the process together as one coalition, but politics quickly divided them.

“Two camps broke out," Torres said. "One was the labor/Latino camp and one was the Filipino-Asian-American, and they basically went their separate ways because they had fundamental disagreements about how best to create the districts."

Those disagreements became obvious at the meetings to create the new districts. The commission wanted to create four council districts. One group was known as the Coalition for Inclusive and Fair Districting, which included Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders. The other group was made up of diverse residents and businesses, including organized labor. On the east side, both groups fought over certain neighborhoods, and the Asian coalition was determined to keep their voters politically unified.

“I strongly believe that the Filipino-American community as well as the larger Asian-Pacific Islander community has much to contribute to the cultural and civic life of Chula Vista,” said Salvador Idos, a member of the Asia-American and Pacific Islander group. "For these reasons, our API community should be kept together in one district and not split apart."

Southwestern College and its adjacent neighborhoods was also a prize worth fighting for.

Humberto Peraza, who is on the Southwestern Community College Governing Board, spoke in favor of the map supported by organized labor.

“I’m concerned about what I’m hearing in the community, that it belongs to one particular community. It does not,” Peraza said. "Southwestern College belongs to our region. It belongs to multiple cities. It belongs to the whole community."

As the meeting dragged on, Commissioner Bill Richter asked to review a map showing where Asian-American and Pacific Islanders live in Chula Vista, and he addressed their communities of interest, known as the APACE corridor.

“The highest concentration is south of Telegraph Canyon Road,” Richter said. “We’ve been told of an APACE corridor that goes up into Southwestern College, then grabs Bonita High School. I don’t see it. Yes, you can bring up the lines to Southwestern College, but if you know the area, you know it's mostly, white."

In the end, the Chula Vista Districting Commission’s recommended districting plan was a compromise.

The proposed new map split the east and west council districts partially along Interstate 805. On the east side, the Asian community was concentrated in District 3. It encompasses Southwestern College, as district lines reached north to surround the campus.

If the City Council approves the recommended districting plan, the new district elections will be done over two election cycles starting in 2016 in Districts 3 and 4, to benefit historically underrepresented groups: Asians in District 3 and Latinos in District 4.

Chula Vista has 98,984 registered voters, with 41 percent Democrats and 27 percent Republicans. Just over 26 percent of the voting age residents in the proposed council District 3 are of Asian-American or Pacific Islander descent. More than 67 percent of eligible voters in the proposed council District 4 are Latino.

Participation in elections and politics is a new experience for some Asian-Americans, and a recent study by UCLA shows that more and more Asian-Americans are registering to vote.

Alan Segui, a political science professor and international studies professor at the University of San Diego, said some Filipino-Americans tend to vote Republican because of their military connection. After World War II and until 1992, Filipinos could get American citizenship by enlisting in the U.S. military, typically the Navy. But the Filipino-American community today is slightly more Democratic than Republican, he said.

“While the military connection is still prominent, it is not as strong as it was in the 1990s," Segui said. "Instead, you are seeing a higher proportion of Filipino-American immigrants who are finding careers in the U.S. as skilled professionals."

The second phase of the proposed new district elections in Chula Vista will start in 2018. With four council districts, the mayor would be the tie-breaking vote on the City Council.

Edward Aparis, a 12-year Chula Vista resident and community organizer with the Asian-American and Pacific Islander coalition, welcomes the change for all groups, noting what it means for his community.

“There’s a huge excitement overall in San Diego, especially in Chula Vista," Aparis said. "Historically, the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community in Chula Vista hasn’t been engaged."

Not all of Chula Vista’s residents are convinced the new districts will produce better representation. Rosa Moya, a four-year resident who lives on the west side, attended a workshop and expressed doubts.

“I’m not sure how beneficial that’s going to be, how truly beneficial that’s going to be for the community, because it seems to me that one needs to spend a lot of time and effort chasing those representatives to assure they are doing their jobs and that takes time. It takes money,” Moya said.

Tino Martinez, a 36-year Chula Vista resident who lives on the west side and is president of the Southwest Chula Vista Civic Association, is hopeful about the city’s future, especially for the west side.

“We are very excited for future of the southwest,” Martinez said. "We believe now with districting of the entire city, the southwest will be able to brew somebody who lives and knows our needs."

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or sign up for our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.