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El Cajon Chooses District Map, But Some In Minority Communities Aren’t Happy

El Cajon resident Nadheer Al Sumeri weighs in on potential City Council distr...

Photo by Claire Trageser

Above: El Cajon resident Nadheer Al Sumeri weighs in on potential City Council district maps, April 18, 2017.

The city of El Cajon has finished a process of drawing council districts for the first time, which was meant to increase diversity on its City Council. But the chosen map does not create any districts where minorities are the majority.

The city of El Cajon has finished a process of drawing council districts for the first time, which was meant to increase diversity on its city council. But some in the city's minority communities are not happy with the selection.

El Cajon is home to a large population of refugees, many from Iraq and Syria. The current council is all male and all white, except one Iraqi member who has said in the past it is not his mission to represent the city's Iraqi residents.

Last year, voters opted to set up district boundaries for the first time instead of electing council members citywide. Activists hoped the process would increase minority representation on the council.

RELATED: Political Change Is Brewing In El Cajon

After a series of workshops where the public could weigh in on maps or draw their own, members of the public submitted 15 maps that met legal requirements. Then the council voted in May to select a map drawn by Paul Circo, a member of the city's planning commission and a failed council candidate.

Photo caption: The district map chosen by the El Cajon City Council.

The district map chosen by the El Cajon City Council.

The map does not create any districts where among eligible voters, minorities are in the majority. But two districts come close: Districts 2 and 4 divide the city's downtown — where minority communities are primarily located — and are 46 and 39 percent non-white respectively, according to census data.

In those two districts, 51 and 52 percent of eligible voters speak English at home. Thirty percent of eligible voters in District 2 speak Spanish. It is likely about a quarter of eligible voters in District 4 speak Arabic, but the census only labels the category as "other language."

The El Cajon district map favored by many in the city's Middle Eastern community.

El Cajon resident Nadheer Al Sumeri is an Iraqi refugee who moved to the United States in 2010 and to El Cajon three years ago. He helped organize a large contingent from the city's Iraqi and Syrian communities to come to the council meeting and speak in favor of a different map, called "Orange 2." It was drawn by an Iraqi community group with help from National Demographic Corporation, which was hired by the city to help with the districting process.

"Orange 2 was the ideal one, it was perfect," Al Sumeri said. "We met all the requirements, and we wished that they chose it. People came and supported the map."

He said the map created districts that shared income status, fluency in English and housing type.

The map also did not create any districts where among eligible voters, minorities were in the majority. But, it divided up downtown into two denser districts that centered more on where minority communities live. Its two downtown districts would have been 47 and 39 percent non-white and had 47 and 51 percent of eligible voters who spoke English at home.

Photo caption: A table showing some of the demographic breakdowns in the district map chosen...

A table showing some of the demographic breakdowns in the district map chosen by the El Cajon City Council. All data is from the U.S. Census.

"We all thought they were going to choose Orange 2, and we were so proud that we did all of this, and we brought our community to support it and they listened to us, but it didn't work," Al Sumeri said.

At the council meeting, the mayor and two of the council members said they liked both Circo's map and Orange 2, but opted to vote for Circo. Two council members, Steve Goble and Ben Kalasho, voted against Circo.

Under the new map, two districts will see races between two sitting council members. Both Ben Kalasho and Gary Kendrick live in District 1, while Bob McClellan and Steve Goble live in District 3. No sitting council members live in either District 2 or 4.

Kendrick will be the first to run in his new district in 2018. The remaining council members will run in 2020.

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Photo of Claire Trageser

Claire Trageser
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs a member of the KPBS investigative team, my job is to hold the powerful in San Diego County accountable. I've done in-depth investigations on political campaigns, police officer misconduct and neighborhood quality of life issues.

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