Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

San Diego's 'Latino Empowerment District' Could Get Its First Latino Rep

A view of University Avenue looking east from Fairmount Avenue in City Heights.
Katie Schoolov
A view of University Avenue looking east from Fairmount Avenue in City Heights.
San Diego’s ‘Latino Empowerment District’ Could Get Its First Latino Rep
The city added a ninth council district in the Mid-City area, where Latino residents make up the majority. A year later, it elected City Councilwoman Marti Emerald, who is white.
Speak City Heights is a media collaborative aimed at amplifying the voices of residents in one of San Diego’s most diverse neighborhoods. (Read more)

In 2011, San Diego redrew its City Council districts and carved out a so-called "Latino Empowerment District." The new line around City Heights, Kensington, the College Area and parts of southeastern San Diego netted a slight Latino majority.

But the next year, the district's whiter, more affluent voters came out in force, and white incumbent Marti Emerald beat Latino activist Mateo Camarillo.

Emerald is not seeking re-election, and now five Latinos are running to replace her.

Thursday was the deadline to file for the June election. Latinos filing papers for the District 9 seat were Ricardo Flores, Emerald's chief of staff; Georgette Gomez, the Environmental Health Coalition's associate director; Sarah Saez, the United Taxi Workers of San Diego's program director; Araceli Martinez, an attorney; and Fernando Cajica, an information technology administrator. Also running is Vietnam-born registered nurse Tami Le Murillo, South Sudan-born public health worker Rebecca Paida, and Eritrea-born businessman Sam Bedwell.

Norma Sandoval, a school administrator in Lakeside, is a Latina and grew up in City Heights. She still lives and volunteers in the neighborhood.

"It makes me feel very proud, because it makes me realize that we are making a difference in promoting the importance of making sure that our voice is heard," Sandoval said.

Low voter turnout among Latinos — and among all voters during June elections, which is when the 2012 race was decided — contributed to Emerald's win. Voters in the whiter, more affluent parts of District 9 accounted for about 60 percent of the votes that year.

Another factor was age. The district's Latino majority was cut nearly in half when residents too young to vote, or unable to vote because of citizenship or parole status, were taken into account. Sandoval said that's changing this year.

"I'm hoping that it will get our youth excited about being able to see people that look like them," she said. "City Heights has a predominantly young population, and a lot of them are just reaching (voting age)."

Sandoval said the issues they'll be looking at are transportation — many people in City Heights rely on public transit and sometimes struggle to afford the passes — and community-police relations. But she said the biggest request from voters will be to listen to the community.

"They need to be very cognizant of the fact that City Heights is not just Latino, that we have very different populations of immigrants, we have refugees, so making sure that that always have that willingness to speak to the community regardless of their racial background," Sandoval said, adding that Emerald "did her best to reach out to the community."

Emerald championed causes brought forward by City Heights residents during her term, including moving two skate park projects forward, working with former Mayor Bob Filner to fund no-cost bus passes for some of the area's low-income students, and deregulating San Diego's taxi industry, where many City Heights immigrants work.

City Councilman Todd Gloria, whose heritage is a mix of American Indian, Filipino, Latino, and Dutch ancestry, represented much of the area before districts were redrawn. He now represents District 3.

The election is June 7. If no one wins more than 50 percent of the vote in the nonpartisan race, the two who get the most votes will vie in a November runoff.

What questions do you have about the Statewide General Election coming up on Nov. 8? Submit your questions here, and we'll try to answer them in our reporting.