Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Commission approves new San Diego County voting districts

After 49 public hearings and viewing dozens of draft maps, the San Diego County Independent Redistricting Commission on Tuesday approved new boundaries that will define the county’s electoral districts for the next decade.

During the year-long process, the 14-member bipartisan commission struggled with pandemic delays, navigating conflicting statements and arguments about the identities and affiliations of San Diego’s communities.

Efforts to compromise on these issues resulted in hour 11 changes to the maps, with the Commission receiving hundreds of comments at its recent meetings and delivering a final draft on Saturday, just days before the December 15 deadline. The commissioners said the voluminous statements helped them fine-tune the final maps.

“Thank you to the public for the excellent comments and for providing the information and input we need to make decisions,” said Commissioner Fernandez Ponds, a former admiral in the US Navy.

The new map designates District 1, currently represented by Supervisor Nora Vargas, as a minority-majority Latino district in South San Diego, including the cities of Imperial Beach, National City, and Chula Vista.

District 2, which is overseen by Supervisor Joel Anderson, includes East County and much of the unincorporated hinterland, along with the towns of El Cajon, Santee, and Poway.

District 3, represented by supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer, forms a coastal district that extends from Coronado to Karlsbad.

In District 4, which is now overseen by the Chairman of the Board of Directors, Nathan Fletcher, central parts of the city of San Diego with Lemon Grove and La Mesa and the unincorporated communities of Rancho San Diego, Campo, Paradise Hills and part of Spring Valley, in an ethnically diverse district.

District 5, represented by Supervisor Jim Desmond, will be retained on the map as the North County District. Under the new lines, it includes the state Route 78 cities of Escondido, San Marcos, Vista, and Oceanside, plus Camp Pendleton and the unincorporated parishes of Fallbrook, Bonsall, Rainbow, Valley Center, and Borrego Springs, as well as a number of tribal reservations.

These limits were still being negotiated on Saturday, more than a week after the Commission approved the final draft. In the penultimate version, the city of El Cajon was incorporated into the central District 4 and the communities of Spring Valley and Paradise Hills in the rural District 2.

This group caused an outcry among members of the Chaldean community of Iraqi Christians, which number around 50,000 in El Cajon and the surrounding area. They said they identified with rural East County rather than the urban neighborhoods of San Diego. Chaldean leaders held demonstrations last week and brought several busloads of speakers to a commission meeting on Friday.

Residents of Paradise Hills and Spring Valley, home to many blacks and other minorities, also protested the cards, saying that their neighborhoods belonged to District 4, where they could link their voting rights with other colored people.

The board decided on Saturday to essentially swap these neighborhoods out, relocating Paradise Hills and Spring Valley to central District 4, and relocating El Cajon to District 2.

Although these changes were made as a compromise with communities complaining that they were out of place, some speakers said they were still dissatisfied.

Some Chaldean speakers argued that Rancho San Diego, which they also consider part of the Chaldean community, remained in District 4. They warned Tuesday that they are considering challenging this.

Other speakers representing newer immigrant groups in El Cajon said they were unhappy to be accepted into East County and preferred to stay in urban District 4.

These conflicts illustrated the balancing act the Commission has made in responding to community concerns and complying with complex redistribution laws. This includes the creation of districts with equal populations, the protection of the voting rights of minorities and the preservation of interest groups: places with common economic, geographical and cultural interests.

The last-minute decisions also reflected the turbulent political climate and the shortened timeline for this process. The commission met earlier this year and published its first draft cards in November.

Although the original card redistribution deadline was August 15, the census data was not released until after that, so California lawmakers extended the due date for the final cards to December 15.

“The year of the 2020 census and the period of redistribution (November 2020 to December 2021) were marked by significant disruptions and upheavals, mainly due to the COVID19 pandemic,” said the Commission’s final report.

For the first time, the new lines were not drawn by the legislature, but by an independent redistribution commission, which was supposed to take political calculations out of border regulations.
Commissioners were prohibited from considering the impact of their decisions on political parties or elected officials.

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