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For first time, independent body will draw San Diego County supervisor district lines

2020 Census
Data from the 2020 Census will influence how San Diego County’s supervisor district boundaries are drawn this year.
(Associated Press)

As San Diego County considers moving its supervisor district boundaries to adjust for population changes this year, the lines will be drawn for the first time by an independent redistricting commission.

“The U.S. Constitution says every 10 years we’ll do a census, then right after that we’ll look at how the population has changed to look at equal and equitable representation,” said David Bame, a retired U.S. diplomat who chairs the commission.

“What’s different this time, as opposed to 10 years ago, is that we have an independent redistricting commission. ... We draw a map, and that’s the map that will go into effect for the next 10 years.”

Independent redistricting commissions are designed to take political calculations out of boundary determinations. Until recently, most of those efforts were overseen and approved by elected lawmakers whose own jurisdictions were subject to change.

“Because this process ... generally involves political actors whose careers depend on how the lines are drawn, both major political parties have used the process to unfairly strip voters of their voice,” the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan legal organization in Washington, D.C. , stated on its website.

California adopted an independent commission in 2010 following the previous census and is resuming the process this year, based on results of the 2020 Census.

San Diego County’s redistricting commission is established under the state law that guides California’s commission, Bame said.

The city of San Diego has a redistricting commission for its nine City Council districts.

The county’s 14-member commission consists of six Democrats, four Republicans and four independent or “no party preference” voters, which is in proportion to the partisan ratios of the region’s registered voters.

So far, the panel has held several public hearings and received hundreds of written and oral comments from residents.

Some seek to split existing county districts along new lines, while others urge commissioners to keep communities together.

The new boundaries will adjust for demographic changes revealed by the census. The boundaries must maintain “reasonably equal population,” comply with the Voting Rights Act, be contiguous and geographically compact, and avoid dividing cities, neighborhoods and “communities of interest,” according to the commission.

That covers “everything from communities like Asian Pacific Islander communities to communities drawn by shared experiences, [such] as immigrants and refugees, to economic and social ties across geographic features, like coasts or even highway corridors,” Bame said.

Encinitas resident Mark O’Connor said he would like to see coastal communities grouped separately from inland areas.

“Living in a coastal community, I see that many of the needs here are different than inland communities,” O’Connor wrote. “I would like this commission to look at creating districts that run up and down the coast, north‐south vs. running west‐east.”

The commission is operating on a shortened schedule to draw and finalize the maps because the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the census data needed to redraw the boundaries.

San Diego County has seen a 6.6 percent population increase over the past decade, according to the census, with the addition of 203,301 residents. Some of the five districts experienced more growth than others. No district showed a decline in population.

San Diego County Board of Supervisors district map

District 3, represented by Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer, saw the largest change with an increase of 8.6 percent. That was followed by District 5, Supervisor Jim Desmond’s area, which grew by 7.5 percent.

District 4, which includes La Jolla and is represented by Board of Supervisors Chairman Nathan Fletcher, grew the least, by 4.9 percent.

The commission and its demographer must draw the lines to equalize populations within the districts while also considering public comments on how the changes will affect local communities. Moving the boundaries of one district may require adjustments to others, Bame said.

“It’s not that different from putting together a really complicated jigsaw puzzle,” he said.

Some important dates are coming up.

The commission will present some options, or draft maps, at its meeting Thursday, Oct. 14, and will hold public hearings on Tuesday, Nov. 2, and Thursday, Dec. 2, to seek input before approving a final map on Wednesday, Dec. 15, Bame said.

Members of the public can submit their own proposed maps by Dec. 2 using digital tools on the commission website, sandiegocounty.gov/redistricting.

— La Jolla Light staff contributed to this report.