By Joe Tash
It’s 2011, so it must be time for San Diego City Council redistricting.
Every 10 years following the U.S. Census, local and state government entities are required to rebalance their legislative districts to ensure the populations are as equal as possible. The idea is that if district populations become lopsided, the ballots cast by voters will not carry equal weight.
In the city of San Diego, the process of redistricting actually began last year with the appointment — by a panel of retired judges — of a seven-member redistricting commission that will have the final say on drawing the boundaries of City Council districts.
This is the second time such a commission has been appointed in San Diego, following a 1992 ballot initiative that established the process. Previously, the City Council set its own district boundaries.
The 2010 redistricting commission, which has already started meeting, will have one additional job that its counterpart in 2000 didn’t face — creation of a ninth council district, mandated last year when city voters permanently adopted the strong mayor form of government.
“We’re definitely creating history,” said Anisha Dalal, a high school principal and chair of the redistricting commission.
Waiting for numbers
Information compiled by the San Diego Association of Governments indicates that the city of San Diego’s population at the start of 2010 stood at 1,376,173. If the census shows a similar population figure, the new council districts should each have a population of about 152,000.
That means council District 1, now represented by Sherri Lightner, which includes La Jolla, University City, Carmel Valley, Rancho Peñasquitos and other areas, is likely to be trimmed during the redistricting process.
SANDAG data show District 1’s population in 2010 was 207,000, the largest of any of the eight existing council districts. But Lightner said research by her own staff shows the figure is more likely between 220,000 and 240,000, meaning one or more communities will likely be shifted to another council district.
“The expectation is Rancho Peñasquitos will no longer be in District 1,” Lightner said.
While Lightner said she doesn’t plan at this point to testify before the commission — the mayor and council members are barred by the commission’s bylaws from speaking to commission members about redistricting outside of the commission’s public meetings — she would like to see La Jolla reunited during this round of redistricting. La Jolla was split between council Districts 1 and 2 in the 2001 redistricting, she said.
“I know all of La Jolla wants to be together,” she said.
Details remain to be seen as the commission, which has been holding regular meetings since October, plans to ramp up its activities in the coming months. Public hearings are scheduled for March 21 and 22, when commission members and staff will provide an overview of the process for the public — the “who, what, when, where and why of redistricting,” said Midori Wong, the commission’s chief of staff.
Both hearings will start at 6:30 p.m. The meeting on March 21 will be held at the San Diego Metro Operations Center, 9192 Topaz Way, while the March 22 meeting will be held at the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation, 404 Euclid Ave.
Public hearings will also be held in April and May in each of the eight existing council districts before the commission files its proposed redistricting map, along with eight more hearings after the map is filed. Final adoption of the new district boundaries is expected in August. Those dissatisfied with the map can challenge it by putting a referendum on the ballot or filing a lawsuit.
The nitty-gritty work of redistricting won’t begin until April 1, when official census numbers are released. The commission plans to contract for software and technical support that will allow it to analyze the census data and lay out the new council district boundaries.
Community groups in action
Even before the census data has been released, jockeying regarding proposed boundary changes has already begun among various community groups. The Asian and Pacific American Coalition was the first to submit a proposed map for a new council district to the commission. The coalition’s map suggests creating a district that includes Rancho Peñasquitos, Mira Mesa, Miramar Base West and Kearny Mesa, with the goal of improving council representation for the local Asian and Pacific-American population.
The APAC proposal also calls for moving Carmel Valley and Pacific Highlands Rancho to District 5, drawing immediate objections from those communities, which want to remain in District 1 because of their ties to the coast.
Because redistricting will affect many communities throughout the city, Lightner said city residents should pay close attention to the process.
“Everyone who is interested should participate and I think everyone should be interested,” Lightner said.
The city’s redistricting process is different than the county’s, where the Board of Supervisors appoints an advisory committee, but retains the final say over supervisorial district boundaries. Some observers believe the city’s process is superior.
Politics part of process
“It’s one of the great, great, great reforms out there,” said former San Diego city attorney Mike Aguirre, who has filed lawsuits in the past against both the city and the county over their redistricting efforts.
Political consultant Larry Remer strongly supports the city’s method, but said it doesn’t entirely remove politics from redistricting. Instead, it substitutes community politics for the personal politics of elected officials.
“It’s not like this process removes the politics, it changes the politics,” Remer said, adding that that is not necessarily a bad thing. “Politics is the way we work out disputes … otherwise we have Libya.”
Wong, the commission’s chief of staff, said to her knowledge, San Diego is one of just a few cities with their own independent redistricting commissions. In most cases, she said, redistricting is done by elected officials. (California voters have approved a commission that will set legislative and Congressional district boundaries this year.)
The commission’s goals, said Dalal, the chairwoman, are to gather as much public input as possible and to keep the process open and fair.
“We want to do the best job we can to reach out and hear what people have to say about how the boundaries should be drawn,” Dalal said.
• The Redistricting Commission’s website is at www.sandiego.gov/redistricting.
• Those who want information, or to schedule an informational presentation for their group, can contact the commission at Redistricting_2010@sandiego.gov or 619 533-3060.