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El Cajon Looking For Your Help To Draw District Boundaries

The city of El Cajon's seal on a sidewalk, Nov. 15, 2016.
Katie Schoolov
The city of El Cajon's seal on a sidewalk, Nov. 15, 2016.

El Cajon is set to begin a public process to draw boundaries for its city council districts in the new year, which activists and community organizers hope will increase diversity in their government.

The newly elected council is exclusively made up of men, most of whom are white, with the exception of Ben Kalasho, who is an Iraqi immigrant. However, Kalasho told KPBS that he isn't there just to represent the Iraqi community. Rather, he's there to serve the community as a whole. Kalasho won in November primarily due to appealing to the mostly white Fletcher Hills neighborhood.

Voters approved Measure S in November, which requires the city to set up districts instead of holding city-wide elections for its council members before the next election in 2018.

Anyone, not just El Cajon residents, can draw a proposal of where the district boundaries should go, said Brett Channing with the office of El Cajon's city clerk.

The city is set to publish an online mapping tool that anyone can use to create proposals for district maps. It will also hold public meetings to explain how maps should be drawn and to help people create them.

City staff are preparing a timeline of when those workshops will be and when the mapping tool will be available and will present it to the El Cajon City Council on Jan. 24, he said.

He expects the workshops will be in the first half of 2017, and said the districts would need to be drawn by the end of 2017.

"The city is planning to provide as many opportunities as possible to allow anyone to submit a map, and to make it as easy as possible," he said.

A description on the city's website says once the maps are finished, "with public input, similar maps may be combined. It is expected that three or four maps may emerge for public comment." The City Council will then vote on those maps.

The maps will have several requirements. They must:

• Include communities of interest

• Be compact

• Be contiguous

• Have visible (natural and man‐made) boundaries

• Include respect for past voter selections

• Plan for future growth

Communities of interest would "benefit from being maintained in a single district because of shared interests, views or characteristics," the website says. Examples include school attendance areas; areas around parks and other neighborhood landmarks; "common issues, neighborhood activities, or legislative / election concerns"; or shared demographics, including similar levels of income, education or languages spoken at home.

Community organizer Marquis Parks told KPBS in November that he worked to pass Measure S because the city needs a government that reflects the diversity of its residents.

"A lot of the City Council members live in the same neighborhood," he said. "(Council districts) would give somebody a more direct person to get in contact with about their concerns for the community."

El Cajon joins several cities across the state that are creating districts for the first time, including Palmdale, Compton and Anaheim.

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.