Tuesday, August 30, 2011

After ten months of redistricting

By the end of next year (December 2012) the city of San Diego will be swearing in a brand new Mayor.  At the same time City Council members representing Districts 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9 will also be sworn in.  Bringing up the rear will be the (reelected, presumably) City Attorney. 

Does this lineup augur substantive improvements in San Diego’s civic health and well-being?  That depends -- almost entirely -- on who will be our next "strong" Mayor.  As for the nine individuals occupying the seats of what will be a reconfigured City Council — their roles will be much diminished.  The difference they will make depends on how many of them are sitting at which end of city hall's political seesaw.  
Much more about that, later.  For now, let’s see what the past ten months of the city’s redistricting process have wrought. 

San Diego’s Redistricting Commission approved a final redistricting plan last week.  The final map divides the city into nine Council districts with (give or take) ~144,000 people in each.  To satisfy constraints of census-based population changes, voting rights law, and recent city charter amendments some communities were shifted into neighboring Council districts and a new (multi-ethnic/Latino empowerment) district was inserted into the southern half of the city.  
Here are some speedy bullet points about the history of San Diego government to help put redistricting changes in a wider context:  
  • San Diego was incorporated as a city March 27, 1850 
  • The first city government consisted of an elected 5-member Common Council and an elected Mayor, City Marshall, City Attorney, City Clerk, City Assessor, and City Treasurer.  Other officials were appointed by the Common Council
  • After only two years the city went bankrupt and the State dissolved the government
  • The next several decades saw a turbulence of different government forms
  • In 1931 a Manager-Council form of government was created with a 7-member Council comprised of 6 Council members and a Mayor
  • In 1963 voters approved increasing the number of Council districts from 6 to 8
  • In 2006 voters approved a trial Strong Mayor government
  • In 2010 voters made the Strong Mayor system permanent; approved the addition of a 9th Council district; and created the requirement for a 2/3 Council majority (6 members) to override the Mayor’s veto
And that gets us to where we are today.  

The City Charter gives people one month to contest the Redistricting Commission’s final map.  If a successful challenge is mounted, the Commission would be required to produce a new plan.
        That could be a risky proposition for dissenters, who might wind up with a map they’d find even less acceptable than the one they're rejecting. 

Still, there are some pretty irate people out there.  For example, some Rancho Penasquitos residents have been up in arms over how Commissioners drew district boundaries for their Park Village neighborhood.  They're organizing a community forum on September 1 to discuss their discontent and decide on how or whether to mount an official challenge. 
        This unexpected flareup of economic/social elitism within the city's first “Asian influence” district brings to mind an old Life of Riley radio quote: “What a revoltin’ development this is!”  

Then there are the heavyweights from Kensington, whose protests have been prodded not only by economic/social elitism but apparently by political pressure from on high.  (To their credit most, but not all, elected officials had the good sense to keep a low profile during the redistricting process).  
         A challenge from this quarter could easily end up biting them in the rear, so turning lemons into lemonade might be a wiser alternative.

Here’s what the new Council district map will look like if all goes smoothly. 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Special strokes for special folks

Redistricting may sound like a dry topic but I assure you it's not. Redistricting is the church key that has pried open San Diego's can of worms and exposed to the light of day clods of hungry and competitive special interests that ordinarily maneuver underground. Redistricting has also unearthed big dollops of intra and inter-community strife, ethnic and racial tensions, and delusions of entitlement. It's a surefire way to get to know your city from a new perspective.

Earlier this summer I explained the process of San Diego redistricting this way: “Our city is currently engaged in REDISTRICTING -- drawing new boundary lines for City Council districts that will more or less equalize the number of San Diegans in each district.  This task is in the hands of a 7-member Redistricting Commission, which also has the added responsibility of carving out a new (9th) Council district” (see July 4,The Size of the Mayor’s Clout).
The target deadline for ratifying a final map is August 25. The job is almost -- but not quite -- finished.  In fact, new turns of events threaten to derail what was expected to be a respectable conclusion to the Commission’s lengthy efforts, and they could result in an expensive and disruptive detour for our city.

One brouhaha involves last-minute resistance by a cluster of Asian-Americans (apparently organized and spearheaded by their Caucasian suburban neighbors) to the formation of an Asian-Pacific Islander "influence" district in the north-central tier of the city, drawn to include Clairemont Mesa, Kearny Mesa, Mira Mesa, and a part of Rancho Penasquitos that includes their neighborhood of Park Village.

The other brouhaha involves the Redistricting Commission's decision to designate the city’s newest Council district as a Latino majority/multi-ethnic “empowerment” area in the part of town just south of I-8, behind and below where you’ll find San Diego State University.
Although it was disquieting to hear the objections of many dissenters not wishing to have their "whiter" suburban-style College-area neighborhoods included in this new District 9, general goodwill and civility on the part of these neighborhoods seem to have won the day.

But no such luck with the community of Kensington, which has been fighting with considerable muscle and political clout to extract and distance itself from the poorer and "browner" new multi-ethnic District 9.
Just last week, Kensington successfully engaged the cooperation of a majority of Redistricting Commissioners, who voted to violate their own oft-stated core principle of preserving communities intact and substituted a new principle called special strokes for special folks.
They redrew the redistricting map and set Kensington free from (undesirable?) neighbors residing in the newly created District 9 and from equally disposable fellow-Kensington residents. 

How? by hacking off the southern part of Kensington where its poorer, browner residents live; by slicing in half the unsuspecting next-door community of Normal Heights; by amputating Kensington’s sister-neighborhood Talmadge (too declasse? sleepy? undistinguished?); and by throwing them all into District 9.  Then by tenderly depositing the northern, affluent, picturesque portion of Kensington into the up-and-coming, politically well-connected Council District 3 lying to the west.  No justification, backup, principles, or standards required.  
Four Redistricting Commissioners gave their OK to this back-alley surgical procedure. Three said NO WAY.
Should there be a revote at the upcoming Redistricting Commission meeting this Monday, 2pm, at City Hall that reverses this unworthy action, some prominent Kensington people are already whispering referendum...lawsuit...

Apparently there are a number of San Diegans who consider coddling a right to which they are exclusively and unmitigatedly entitled.  
to be continued...