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Chula Vista Leaders Approve Council Districts

Pictured is a map of Chula Vista's proposed council districts, which divides the city into four areas with about 60,000 residents in each one.
City of Chula Vista
Pictured is a map of Chula Vista's proposed council districts, which divides the city into four areas with about 60,000 residents in each one.
Chula Vista Draws A New Future
Chula Vista Draws A New Future
GUESTS: Roberto Moreno, reporter, The Star News Jonathan Stein, voting rights attorney, ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties

This is KPBS midday addition, I am Maureen Cavanaugh. San Diego County second largest city is about to change the way it elects purpose of test. Chula Vista will vote on the question of voting districts. A past it will be elected by the voters in those districts. Chula Vista boaters proved the change back in 2012. Since that time I commission has been work being for floating district boundaries. It's been a lengthy and delicate process as the cities in different communities waiting to make sure they were fairly representative. Joining me, Roberto Moreno, reporter, The Star News. Also Jonathan Stein, voting rights attorney, ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties. Robert, the city of San Diego moved to district elections back in the 1980s. What prompted Chula Vista boaters to move for the same representation? The push for elections happened by former Councilman. He thought the city had grown to a substantial amount of size of a quarter million people and thought district elections made sense. Voters passed it because they wanted represents -- representation in their area. They were people who are aware of the same issues that are in the neighborhood. As division sometimes between East and the West and they just want someone who represents them and understands the issues going on in the committees. That's not the case now in Chula Vista. There are people who represent certain areas who don't live in that area? Yes. There's a mayor who is on the west side of the rest of the council members live on the site. If it at-large election, with the district and elections, they will still be elected at large. Robert, can you give us a sense of the ethnic makeup of Chula Vista? Yes. It's very diverse. Majority is Hispanic and Latino go 86% if I am correct. 83% white, the Asian population is 14%. The majority of the Asians live on the east side of town. 4% black. Have there been ethnic minorities underrepresented on the city Council? Throughout the process, the Asian-Pacific Islander community has felt they haven't been represented. They stated they wanted and Asian person to represent the city Council. In the early 90s, they had a mayor elected, but now they don't -- there's a push to get a Filipino representative. I would say to a certain extent even the Latino community because they had their first Latina elected in office. They had one 10 years ago as mayor but there's never been to electing Latino either because back at what does that mean? There's never been to Latinos. Is interesting with the city as large a Latino population. There was a commission to come up with it district lines would come up to be John, what was the ACLU's role in that process? We consider ourselves watchdogs of the process. We went there transparent process that the public would trust and believe in. We wanted to make sure we did everything we could to Mac and -- maximize participation. Very few people are paying attention to the work of their city Council. Fewer are going to pay attention to the work of a relatively obscure city commission that is doing work outside of the city Council. We wanted to educate people about the importance of district elections. It's not immediately obvious why that is important. We've built a coalition of long-standing groups representing the Latino community and other communities. So we could begin a -- educating their constituencies. Did the community versus fate? Yes. We really need to educate large numbers about this relatively obscure process seemed like a lot of work. In the end, there were five hearings before the drawing of a draft district map and then five hearings after. In both stages, there are hundreds and hundreds of Chula Vista and two came out to make their views known. Both geographically diverse and ethnically racially gender diversity. We are really pleased and admired the amount of unity participation that ultimately really drove the final lines drawn by the commission. I understand the meetings got contentious. At times. They are more civil than the commission meetings that happen in city of San Diego. I think the contentious parts, if there is a difference of opinion with these out by groups, he had one group wanting their slice of the pie, there's always back and forth going on. We have sound bite of a couple people who talked during these meetings. I strongly believe with the American community as well as other communities has much to contribute in the following weeks. For this reason, our community should be kept together in one district and not split apart with the district lines are drawn. I'm concerned about what I'm hearing in the community that belongs to one particular chintzy. It does not. It belongs to our region. It belongs to multiple cities, it belongs to the entire candy. Were you prepared for that kind of give-and-take? Yes. That is assigned the process is working. When you have diverse communities, I mean also geographically diverse. We have all these communities coming forward to advocate for themselves and their interest, you will have disagreements. It's a sign of the process is working. It really is if you want to get misty eyed about it, it's a local democracy inaction. You will not enter the outcome that every single person is happy with, it's not possible. You also have to be aware that districts have to be drawn with other considerations in mind. And the voting rights act and other considerations of that kind. When you put all those constraints on the line drying body you have these communities that come forward, you'll end up with mice. Every districting process involves compromise. In Chula Vista it says something that works relatively well that most communities are satisfied with, -- Can you give us an idea of what districting commission actually came up with what that looks like right now. Yes. The 805 is roughly speaking a dividing line between two W. I districts and two E. side district's. The southwestern portion of Chula Vista is a rocksolid bottom corner there. That's a relatively willing community has felt for a long time is under serviced by the city and at present -- underrepresented on Council. You have the downtown and northwestern section. You have the east side, a line that divides going down -- it runs up to the middle of the city east-west. What you end up having is Rancho Del Ray and the data a lot of East Lake neighborhoods in Chula Vista that are all part of the North Eastern District. Then you have the core of the city, Southwestern College and the less populated southeastern section of the city in the southeastern corner district. Will go into when these elections will be held. If indeed they are these voting districts confirmed tonight by the city Council, is it actually easier for the candidates to run election in these districts then citywide elections? That's a good question. I think one issue you may have, people moving into districts don't live there. I think name and ID will carry weight matter what. I think maybe it will make it easier for someone who is a grassroots campaign because they don't have to spend a lot of money sending out mailers or campaigning. They also don't have to raise as much money as well. They don't have to go door to door because they don't have to touch on 250,000 residents going door-to-door. They can stick to a certain area. It can go both ways. I think the answer is strong yes in my mind. What you see in a number of communities that elected their city Council is the majority or all of the city Council counts in the same neighborhood. Typically an upper income neighborhood. Representatives from one a small neighborhood are expected to represent the entire city. Now what you will see the southwestern portion of Chula Vista will have someone from that community who knows at the outset of this interview, news of the roads, knows what she lets her out, etc. Those a local communities have someone who comes out of their neighborhood to as mentioned only has to win the support of one corner of the city where they grew up, where they live, where they had their networks instead of trying to fill all over the city. As they pointed out, citizens voted in this concept of elections back in 2012. There are other areas have gone to district voting that haven't voted it in. 11 the legally forced to. In a number of instances it's because of a lawsuit but more frequently if the threat. Under California law we have one of the most forward thinking voting rights laws anywhere in the nation what it says, if you have very substantial communities of color, maybe have 40% Latino community, but the city Council or school board or special district is predominantly white for all white and has always been that way, the city or school board can be force under the terms of state law to move to a district-based election that allows local communities to let someone that looks at things like them be elected. It's widely viewed as a legal tool for voting rights advocates to bring the lawsuit and get local government bodies that are more representative of the committees they serve. If you look up in Escondido, they recently went to district elections it hasn't changed the complexion of the city Council very much for the That's a good example of how district team -- districting is one piece of the puzzle. The Latino community there was the underrepresented. Under the terms of California voting act of federal law, it was fairly obvious that Escondido needed to map within the district to go as we know, the Latino community has lower voter registration rates than white residents and lower voter turnout than white residents. As a result, drawing districts doesn't necessarily guarantee a win or go have to register your photos district voters. Is also less of engagement in local affairs of the course of history for a host of reasons. It takes time to build. Exactly. If that district immediately came up for election, and a young Latino candidate ran for that district and barely lost by a few votes to an incumbent, if the election happened two or four years later, there be more engagement in that district, more of an awareness about how election changes and perhaps the population would have achieved that representation Robert, is the city Council expected to approve the new batteries? Yes. You never know but I expect them to prove it. Is there any speculation how this new district election may affect some of the big issues facing Chula Vista. I would say yes and no. As far as city Council you need three votes matter what. Even if you represent one community, you still need the votes of the remaining people on the dais. The mayor is the tiebreaker? I think the mayor boats with them. If there's a split on the Council, she is been fifth vote. Which district elections, if the city Council approves these district baddies as they are expected to, when will we see the first elections in those districts? In 2016. Those districts will be in the Southwest which is underrepresented area also the southeast which is district 3 in 2016. It's been a long haul. I congratulated both and the citizens of Chula Vista and we'll see what happens tonight. Roberto Moreno, reporter, The Star News And Jonathan Stein, voting rights attorney, ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, thank you both very much.

Chula Vista Draws A New Future
The Chula Vista City Council meets on Tuesday to vote on a plan to divide the city into council districts for the first time in the city's history.
The seven-member Chula Vista Districting Commission, which recommended boundaries for four proposed council districts, listens to public comments, June 8, 2015.
Marielena Castellanos
The seven-member Chula Vista Districting Commission, which recommended boundaries for four proposed council districts, listens to public comments, June 8, 2015.
Citizens attend a meeting of the Chula Vista Districting Commission, which recommended boundaries for City Council districts, June 8, 2015.
Marielena Castellanos
Citizens attend a meeting of the Chula Vista Districting Commission, which recommended boundaries for City Council districts, June 8, 2015.
Joseph Hernandez, a 70-year resident from the west side of Chula Vista, speaks at a public meeting of the Chula Vista Districting Commission, June 8, 2015.
Marielena Castellanos
Joseph Hernandez, a 70-year resident from the west side of Chula Vista, speaks at a public meeting of the Chula Vista Districting Commission, June 8, 2015.

District 1 Population: 62,401

Latino: 47.46 percent

Latino Voters: 41.82 percent

Asian: 20.94 percent

Asian Voters: 20.67 percent

Black: 4.67 percent

Black Voters: 6.44 percent

White: 25.05 percent

White Voters: 29.63 percent

District 2 Population: 60,165

Latino: 63.58 percent

Latino Voters: 51.66 percent

Asian: 6.59 percent

Asian Voters: 8.02 percent

Black: 4.11 percent

Black Voters: 5.16 percent

White: 23.87 percent

White Voters: 33.70 percent

District 3 Population: 60,384

Latino: 46.47 percent

Latino Voters: 40.15 percent

Asian: 27.29 percent

Asian Voters: 26.31 percent

Black: 5.66 percent

Black Voters: 6.15 percent

White: 18.29 percent

White Voters: 24.94 percent

District 4 Population: 60,966

Latino: 75.68 percent

Latino Voters: 67.86 percent

Asian: 5.18 percent

Asian Voters: 5.53 percent

Black: 3.44 percent

Black Voters: 3.46 percent

White: 14.11 percent

White Voters: 21.96 percent

UPDATED July 15, 2015:

The Chula Vista City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to divide the city into four new council districts. The plan includes two phases for the new elections with the first to begin in 2016 in Districts 3 and 4.

ORIGINAL STORY:

Joseph Hernandez is a 70-year resident of Chula Vista, from the city’s west side. For Hernandez, memories of Chula Vista go back to days of orchards and dairies in his neighborhood. He was one of several residents who showed up to public workshops, supporting the move to City Council districts and also complaining about neglect on the west side.

“Everything has generated east of us because all new development going there. They get all the privileges and we don’t get any,” Hernandez said.

“If you go up and down Main Street, the street where I live, it looks like the worst, the ugliest street I can think of," Hernandez said. "There’s no planning there. Everything is just thrown in there. It’s embarrassing to know that this little town like Chula Vista has to be this way. I’m hoping before I die, I see the changes.”

After months of workshops and public outreach, Chula Vista, the city whose name translates to “beautiful view,” is one step away from history.

The City Council on Tuesday will decide whether to divide the city into council districts. The move away from at-large council elections to district elections is meant to achieve equal representation, especially for underrepresented ethnic groups, supporters said.

One of the final steps occurred on June 11 when the Chula Vista Districting Commission approved a recommended districting plan, which included boundaries establishing new city council districts.

In the past, council members could live in any part of the city. It was even possible for two or more members to live in the same neighborhood and get elected by all the city’s residents.

Change began in 2012, when Chula Vista voters passed Proposition B, forcing the city’s leaders to live in different parts of the city and get elected by residents who also live in those districts. Under the proposed plan, the mayor and city attorney would continue to be elected citywide.

Those in favor of district elections said it gives people a chance to elect a council member who speaks for them, especially when it comes to people in the city’s older, lower-income west side.

“I think it’s about time the western side has a better chance of having better representation,” said Phil Saenz, a political science professor at Southwestern College. "They’ll have someone that lives in their district, uses the roads, public services, who can identify with the constituent group there, and they’re guaranteed a seat at the City Council."

The west side of Chula Vista has one of the city’s largest Latino populations. On the east side, residents have higher incomes and their homes are newer.

Zaneta Encarnacion, a 10-year Chula Vista resident who attended a public workshop on the city's east side, spoke about the community's diversity, emphasizing the importance to see elected representatives who look like you.

“Chula Vista residents leave to go to work," Encarnacion said. "The median household (income) is $80,000 to $100,000, and there’s a need for high-quality jobs. Traffic is also a concern. We are very sensitive to protecting our natural and protective lands."

The east side is also where you find the city’s second largest underrepresented group, of which Encarnacion is a member: Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders.

The greatest conflict over where to draw district lines was on the east side.

Jerome Torres, chairman of the Chula Vista Districting Commission, a group of seven tasked with creating the boundaries for the new districts, said moving a boundary line by even one or two streets can dramatically affect the district and its voting age population.

“When you start rearranging the lines between districts, you fundamentally alter that CVAP (Citizen Voting Age Population) ratio between race ethnicity, between the Latino, Filipino, Asian or African-American, white community. That’s what drawing the map is all about,” Torres said.

Torres added that some of these groups started the process together as one coalition, but politics quickly divided them.

“Two camps broke out," Torres said. "One was the labor/Latino camp and one was the Filipino-Asian-American, and they basically went their separate ways because they had fundamental disagreements about how best to create the districts."

Those disagreements became obvious at the meetings to create the new districts. The commission wanted to create four council districts. One group was known as the Coalition for Inclusive and Fair Districting, which included Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders. The other group was made up of diverse residents and businesses, including organized labor. On the east side, both groups fought over certain neighborhoods, and the Asian coalition was determined to keep their voters politically unified.

“I strongly believe that the Filipino-American community as well as the larger Asian-Pacific Islander community has much to contribute to the cultural and civic life of Chula Vista,” said Salvador Idos, a member of the Asia-American and Pacific Islander group. "For these reasons, our API community should be kept together in one district and not split apart."

Southwestern College and its adjacent neighborhoods was also a prize worth fighting for.

Humberto Peraza, who is on the Southwestern Community College Governing Board, spoke in favor of the map supported by organized labor.

“I’m concerned about what I’m hearing in the community, that it belongs to one particular community. It does not,” Peraza said. "Southwestern College belongs to our region. It belongs to multiple cities. It belongs to the whole community."

As the meeting dragged on, Commissioner Bill Richter asked to review a map showing where Asian-American and Pacific Islanders live in Chula Vista, and he addressed their communities of interest, known as the APACE corridor.

“The highest concentration is south of Telegraph Canyon Road,” Richter said. “We’ve been told of an APACE corridor that goes up into Southwestern College, then grabs Bonita High School. I don’t see it. Yes, you can bring up the lines to Southwestern College, but if you know the area, you know it's mostly, white."

In the end, the Chula Vista Districting Commission’s recommended districting plan was a compromise.

The proposed new map split the east and west council districts partially along Interstate 805. On the east side, the Asian community was concentrated in District 3. It encompasses Southwestern College, as district lines reached north to surround the campus.

If the City Council approves the recommended districting plan, the new district elections will be done over two election cycles starting in 2016 in Districts 3 and 4, to benefit historically underrepresented groups: Asians in District 3 and Latinos in District 4.

Chula Vista has 98,984 registered voters, with 41 percent Democrats and 27 percent Republicans. Just over 26 percent of the voting age residents in the proposed council District 3 are of Asian-American or Pacific Islander descent. More than 67 percent of eligible voters in the proposed council District 4 are Latino.

Participation in elections and politics is a new experience for some Asian-Americans, and a recent study by UCLA shows that more and more Asian-Americans are registering to vote.

Alan Segui, a political science professor and international studies professor at the University of San Diego, said some Filipino-Americans tend to vote Republican because of their military connection. After World War II and until 1992, Filipinos could get American citizenship by enlisting in the U.S. military, typically the Navy. But the Filipino-American community today is slightly more Democratic than Republican, he said.

“While the military connection is still prominent, it is not as strong as it was in the 1990s," Segui said. "Instead, you are seeing a higher proportion of Filipino-American immigrants who are finding careers in the U.S. as skilled professionals."

The second phase of the proposed new district elections in Chula Vista will start in 2018. With four council districts, the mayor would be the tie-breaking vote on the City Council.

Edward Aparis, a 12-year Chula Vista resident and community organizer with the Asian-American and Pacific Islander coalition, welcomes the change for all groups, noting what it means for his community.

“There’s a huge excitement overall in San Diego, especially in Chula Vista," Aparis said. "Historically, the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community in Chula Vista hasn’t been engaged."

Not all of Chula Vista’s residents are convinced the new districts will produce better representation. Rosa Moya, a four-year resident who lives on the west side, attended a workshop and expressed doubts.

“I’m not sure how beneficial that’s going to be, how truly beneficial that’s going to be for the community, because it seems to me that one needs to spend a lot of time and effort chasing those representatives to assure they are doing their jobs and that takes time. It takes money,” Moya said.

Tino Martinez, a 36-year Chula Vista resident who lives on the west side and is president of the Southwest Chula Vista Civic Association, is hopeful about the city’s future, especially for the west side.

“We are very excited for future of the southwest,” Martinez said. "We believe now with districting of the entire city, the southwest will be able to brew somebody who lives and knows our needs."