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Filipino community says National City violating California Voting Rights Act

The California Voting Rights Act says minority groups who believe their political power is being diluted in city-wide elections can sue local governments. And that’s exactly what could happen soon in National City.

“Historically, National City has had at-large voting, which has resulted in dilutive voting for the Filipino and APIs that reside in the city,” said Audie de Castro, an attorney who sent the city a legal letter on behalf of National City Filipino residents.

De Castro notified National City Mayor Alejandra Sotelo-Solis and city council members that the city’s at-large voting is in violation of the California Voting Rights Act in early November.

A bridge in National City's historic area is seen in this image, May 9, 2018.
Katie Schoolov
A bridge in National City's historic area is seen in this image, May 9, 2018.

The city has until Dec. 23, 2021, to respond to the letter and provide a plan for adopting district voting. If not, de Castro said he will file a lawsuit.

KPBS reached out to the mayor’s office but did not hear back as of publication time.

Asian Americans are the second-largest demographic group in National City, according to the U.S. Census. But de Castro said that’s not reflected in National City politics.

“In the past two decades, there hasn't been any significant progress in getting Filipinos and (Asian Pacific Islanders) to be represented on the City Council,” he said.

Ditas Yamane, a National City resident who ran for city council in 2020 and lost, believes district voting is key to ensuring accountability and more Asian Pacific Islander representation.

It is better for Filipino Americans or Asian Pacific, Asian American Pacific Islanders to be represented by somebody they can relate to, who they believe can understand their issues and concerns,” she said.

RELATED: San Diego Cities Are Switching To District Elections To Increase Diversity — But Is It Working?

She says having an API empowerment district like in the city of San Diego would help enfranchise Filipino American senior citizens, many of whom feel left out of the political process and are more fearful due to the rise in anti-Asian hate.

“They want to see somebody that they can relate to share their issues,” she said. “Sometimes they get intimidated when they don't see that person representing them.”

Almost every city in San Diego County now has districts to elect city council members, instead of holding city-wide votes.

De Castro believes the law is clear and points to smaller cities, including Poway and Solana Beach, that have already transitioned to district voting.

National City's population was 61,394, according to the most recent Census data. Compared to Poway's 49,323 and Solana Beach's 13, 296.

“Those are cities that are smaller and less racially polarized, but yet they adopted district voting,” he said. “So if you just look at precedent, I think the city has to become a district voting city.“