Roundtable: County Supes Draw Own Districts
The ACLU and some minority groups are preparing to challenge the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. The issue is redistricting. Every 10 years the census is taken and political boundaries are redrawn. Unusually, the supervisors decide on their own district boundary lines. So why might that lead to a law suit?
Guests: Kyla Calvert, Education Reporter, KPBS News
John Warren, Editor, San Diego Voice and Viewpoint
David Rolland, Editor, San Diego CityBeat
This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.
PENNER: Well, the ACLU, and some minority groups, are preparing to challenge the San Diego county board of supervisors in court. The issue is redistricting. Every ten years, when the census is taken, and political boundaries are redrawn, that's what happens. And unlike the city of San Diego, the state and congress, the supervisors get to decide on their own district boundary lines. So why might that lead to a lawsuit? John warren, first of all, what is the current proposal that is creating this fracas?
WARREN: Well, right now we have three maps that have been presented. They redefined the districts of supervisor Jacobs, cox, and Roberts. And they make some interesting shifts. For instance, cox has to give up approximately 39 -- 38,000 people while Jacobs needs to gain 49 Thursday. And the whole idea is that based on the census data, there should be at least 620,000 people within each district. The problem comes with how the boundaries have been drawn. San Diego is a charter county. I think because as a charter county it had the authority to create its own redistricting entity appointed by the supervisors, they said they will not give up that authority unless the state takes it away. 15 white, three males, two females have served together for -- the five have served together for 15†years.
WARREN: They cover a $5†billion budget for the county. Michelle Anderson who was appointed to chair this committee said that during the hearings they held, there was very little public participation. That is the problem now. They held hearings, only 22 people showed up throughout the whole thing. Reason given, ACLU, minorities and others is that they didn't believe the process would work. Therefore they didn't bother to testify.
PENNER: We'll hear the rest of the story, I'm sure. John brings up an interesting point. I want to ask our listeners about that. And that is that there doesn't seem to be much public interest in the way these district boundaries are drawn, which of course results in the fact that as i mentioned in my introduction, we have five white individuals, five republican individuals, representing all of San Diego county, which itself is quite diverse. The burning question is, David, why aren't people interested in this?
ROLLAND: I think it's mostly because most of the constituents of the supervisors also live in cities. The city government is their closest government representation that they can access. The city government provides a lot more of the day to day services that people use. Supervisors do things like -- they run the county district attorney's office and the jails, and they implement social service programs from the state and pass along that money. Most of the services that people use are provided by city government. And that is the -- that is the government agency that is most accessible to them. And so super -- the board of supervisors takes a way backseat. A lot of people have no idea what the county government does and what their supervisors do or who their supervisors even are. And i think that's why you have -- even though you have a politically diverse county where democrats have gained rapidly on republicans and even i think have the voter registration lead now, people go with what they know. And their supervisors, even in -- heavily democratic areas, are represented by cox and Roberts, they know the names cox and Roberts. So they tend to vote for those people. That will change because of term limits. Those two districts will turn democrat. It's inevitable.
PENNER: It's probably inevitable, but it's a long ways down the line.
ROLLAND: Another decade.
PENNER: San Diego has changed in other ways too, Kyla. We are suffering. A lot of people in San Diego are homeless, can't afford to pay for medical care, and many of them have to live on food stamps as well. This is where the board of supervisors comes in. The board of supervisors is responsible for health and human services. So you would think that people would be aware of what it is that their board does and who they are.
CALVERT: Well, San Diego has a historically very low rate of enrollment in programs like food stamps. So i don't know necessarily that the outreach from the county is as effective as it could or ought to be. Even as the number of people who qualify for those programs grows. I think just because people are hurting more, it doesn't necessarily mean that they have a better idea of where to reach out for those services.
PENNER: Yet, john, you did mention that the supervisors appointed a board, an advisory board, to carve them the districts for them. Why didn't they just do it themselves? What is the point of an advisory board if they are getting to select --
WARREN: I'm laughing because in effect, they have done it themselves. Their people are the ones they put there, they're the ones that vote on whether or not they want it. They can make changes, so they are doing it themselves as evidenced by Slater price losing the rancho santa Fe, Horne picking it up, and the chips go back and forth. This new plan for instance -- because Jacobs has to gain, she's got lemon grove and spring valley, which the Latino and African American contingencies are arguing against, and we're talking about reaching up beyond Poway to Rancho Bernardo. When you put that districting together, it becomes 66 white, and only 4% black and another few percent Latino. You've defeated the point of the voting rights act.
PENNER: Explain the voting rights act.
WARREN: Back in 65, 66, we passed the voting rights act, which dealt with the issue of gerrymandering, where they would take pockets of African American communities and carve them up and mix them in with larger segments of white communities so whatever vote came out of the black community was neutralized by the white vote. So the voting rights act says it has to be politically compatible people of similar interests. You have to consider boundary, natural and artificial. All the elements go together, so it's not just a matter of the Latino and African American contingencies could come together. You have to look at all of those. And it appears these elements are not being looked at to satisfy the ACLU, and those who are about to sue.
PENNER: What would have to happen, David, for a Latino or an African American or an Asian to be elected to the board?
ROLLAND: First of all, they have to have some clout personally. They have to have come up through the ranks in the public sphere. They have to be a viable candidate.
PENNER: Don't we have lots of people like that out there?
ROLLAND: Sure we do. And the city of San Diego is an example. We have what is largely considered an African American district, district four, where tony young is the current representative. We have currently district eight which is considered the Latino district in the city of San Diego. So yes, those people are coming up through the ranks. But beyond that -- that's the first step, they have to be viable and have money behind them to run campaigns. But they have to have districts created for them that are not diluted. And that's what john was just talking about. That you have to look at the constituents of a government agency. So you have to look at the whole county, and you have to look at the different ethnic populations and racial populations and communities of interest, they call them. And you have to see what kind of proportion those people deserve to have representing them in government. What has been done, and the reason the voting rights act exists as john eloquently said, is that what people in power do to stay in power and maintain the status quo is they dilute those emerging communities of interest, and they dilute, therefore, their political power.
PENNER: And you've been around long enough Kyla to know that politicians very often act in self interest. This doesn't sound as though it's that odd or that different that if the supervisors had the opportunity to stay in office, they're going to.
CALVERT: Certainly. And i think that's exactly why the -- for the congressional districts and at the state level now they have these nonpartisan commissions tasked with redrawing those lines so these political concerns and self interests don't enter into this process.
PENNER: I guess the question is, what's so bad, john, about having five white republicans representing all of San Diego county? If the people don't care, why should we care?
WARREN: Well, the law cares because first of all, San Diego's white community is now less than 50†percent. It's worded differently. Non-hispanic whites, less than 50%. When you take the Latino, the African American, the Asian, native American, and all the others, then you have this factor. It's gerrymandering when you draw the boundaries to take a minority and put a minority in a controlling position over the majority. There is no balance there in terms of the continuity that the voting rights act is looking for.
PENNER: We have listeners of all ethnicities that call in occasionally. I'm curious about whether our listeners object to the fact of having five white supervisors all of the same party, and I'd be really curious to get some answer from our listeners on this. Our number is 1-888-895-5727. David, i know you have a response.
ROLLAND: Yeah. Your question to john right there was why don't people care? If people don't care, why should we? It goes back to previous questions you asked approximate social services. This is the agent, the government agency that provides all these social services. So why don't people care? Generally the consumers of the social services are poor people. That's who uses the county's services by and large when we're talking about mental health. It's people that can't afford to go out and buy high quality sevens. They have to get them from the county at lower costs. These are the people that would care, but they are generally speaking -- they vote in far lower numbers because they're a little too busy surviving, surviving, to get really politically active.
WARREN: That stereotype no longer holds. The economy, the high unemployment, and all the other factors we have now have knocked the bottom out of the middle class, and there are a lot of people using these services who have never used them before.
ROLLAND: But they have become low income.
WARREN: Some of them still vote. We have a problem that's bigger than that. I think the problem with the whole republican attitude of control is a factor. And what makes this even more serious is in the 2012 elections coming up, we're looking at areas trying to impose voter id cards on top of this redistricting effort, which is projected to reduce ethnic participation in the election.
PENNER: Why? Did you want to respond to that Kyla?
CALVERT: I just wanted to comment on the idea of republican dominance in the area. And i think that historically because republicans were the majority, and in the last election they actually did jump back ahead of democrats in terms of registration, so i think there is just county wide a much more established network of republicans to reach out to voters than there are democrats once you leave the city of San Diego especially.
WARREN: I don't think it's a question of the numbers. It's a question of the consistency of their voting pattern. That's what's created the deadlock at the state level, why we can't get two republicans in the house and the senate.
ROLLAND: At least agree to put taxes on the ballot.
WARREN: Yeah. Anything that says taxes, are the republican response is no, which is taking us away from redistricting. But again we have five republicans who are in a position to vote on the maps that we're talking about right now. Unless the court effort prevails.
PENNER: Let's take a call. We have time for a couple calls. This is from Gary in del mar. Gar you're on with the editors.
New speaker: Hi. I just read the book called under the perfect sun. And it kind of lays out this long history of developers having very cozy relationships with republican interests. Wouldn't getting some democrats in there maybe steer some of this money toward more productive uses?
PENNER: Let's see which of my panel would like to take on that tough question. John?
WARREN: Of course when you have diversity there, are the interests are gonna change. These people with money, they're gonna have to try harder as opposed to just sending checks to their regular friends. Now they have to find new friends. So yes, history shows it works.
PENNER: Enrique from north county is with us now. You're on with the round table.
New speaker: Hi Gloria. In reference to the redistricting, it's very important because not only do we have an all white republican supervisor group that's been there for a long time. Some of them are the ones who are hardest on the communities of color. They keep the communities down. We need to make a change. This has got to change. John mentioned the numbers have changed. And it's our responsibility too. Our responsibility as communities of color to participate more in the electoral process. But changes need to be made. And i think that's why the voters' right act is so important because sometimes change takes time. And we really need to make that change.
PENNER: It seems to me that time is the issue here, that people are saying if communities of color, of minority groups, if the ACLU wanted to object to any of this or protest it, why did they wait for so long? Why didn't they come out and start the process early and not wait till the 11th hour after the supervisors chose their district?
ROLLAND: Just -- i can't speak for any of those people, but i would think at least for the ACLU, they are a legal advocacy organization. And sometimes they come in when they need to after the law has been broken. They can't jump in until the law has allegedly been broken. I'm not sure about some of the minority advocacy groups. I'm not sure why they didn't take part. Make judge did you every has a point -
PENNER: He's the head of the local --
ROLLAND: He said it wouldn't do any good anyway.
WARREN: All of them said who were involved in it that they did not feel it would make any defense, this far they did not vote.
PENNER: This is from pam in San Diego. You're on with the panel.
New speaker: Hello?
PENNER: Please go ahead.
New speaker: I think it's terrible that we have five white republican it is representing San Diego county. And i think it's very hard for many people to vocally support anybody opposition, because the county gives out a lot of money to a lot of agencies. And i think there's a lot of concern about retribution if you dare to give money to anybody else. We've seen how they use their money. A lot of it's not legal or barely not legal. And the gerrymandering of the districts, they're really hard to run against these guys. I'm glad their term limits end. I think it has to go to court. They'll never do the right thing no matter how many hearings you hold. I don't think anyone has confidence they will do the right thing and use the voting rights act and make good districts.
PENNER: Marplan from el Cajon is with us. You're on with the round table.
New speaker: Yes. The point is that i don't really care if it's five republicans or five white republicans. What i care about is that do these people represent my ideas? Do they represent San Diego county and do they stand for what's in the best interests of San Diego county? That is all i have -- and i do hope that these supervisors doing about that whenever they're drawing their districts.
PENNER: That's a very that you feel comment. I appreciate that as well Marplan. Thanks for all the calls am. I'm sorry that we couldn't get to them all. They came in late in the segment. But we appreciate the interests. And we were concerned about whether people were interested in this topic. And obviously they are. We are going to move onto our next topic. And in this case, we are going to talk about the San Diego mayor's race. Election is still a year off, but the field of candidates grows, and partisan politics gets fierce. Have you decided who you would like to lead San Diego? We'll be back in a moment.