Redistricting is the highest profile process to come out of this year’s release of Census figures. As state and local redistricting officials contemplate new district boundaries for elected representatives ranging from Congress to the smallest school districts, interest groups have started lining up to influence them.
The haggling has already started in San Diego, where conservatives have publicly alleged liberal bias among members of the commission charged with redrawing City Council boundaries, hinting at the larger coming battle between liberal and conservative advocates to get new boundaries that will favor their candidates.
But a lower profile movement is also underway, led by local grassroots and community nonprofits for whom Census data provides something else: Stark confirmation that for all the changes to San Diego’s demographic changes — the growth of its Latino and Asian communities, for example — many ethnic and other minority communities remain under-involved and underrepresented in the local electoral process.
Last week, the San Diego Foundation for Change announced almost $300,000 in funding to nonprofit groups that serve some of these communities. Its funding initiative, called Democracy For All, is based on the idea that “San Diego is changing before our eyes. But San Diego’s political culture is yet to align with its new demographic profile,” the nonprofit says on its website.
The idea behind the grants is to strengthen the electoral base within these communities and the role they play in state and local redistricting processes. They include African-Americans, Mexicans and other Latinos, East African refugees, Filipinos and the LGBT community.
John Fanestil, the foundation’s executive director, said the Census figures justify and make obvious the need for funding to help those communities get civically involved. The grants will help local organizations expand on existing work they’ve been doing to mobilize their communities politically, register eligible voters and encourage naturalization among residents who are eligible to become citizens and vote, but have chosen not to.
Organizations that got grants to encourage electoral participation include:
• Environmental Health Coalition ($75,000)
• Equality Alliance of San Diego County ($60,000)
• San Diego Organizing Project ($50,000)
• San Diego LGBT Center ($40,000)
Organizations that were funded to get residents involved in the redistricting process include:
• Pastors on Point in southeastern San Diego ($12,000)
• Council on Philippine American Organizations in National City ($12,000)
• Sherman Heights Community Center ($12,000)
• San Diego Refugee Forum in City Heights ($12,800)
• Center for Social Advocacy in El Cajon ($12,000)
• National Latino Research Center, Cal State San Marcos ($9,200)
“Decision makers are important,” said Diane Takvorian, director of the Environmental Health Coalition, but so is “ensuring that people who can vote in our communities, which is a smaller percentage of the people that live there, making sure they vote in an informed way.” For the last decade, she said, her organization has organized low income ethnic minority communities to help them gain greater access to elected officials and be more civically involved pressing for policy change around environmental issues.
The grant her organization received last week, she said, will be focused geographically, on register voters and encouraging civic participation within the Latino communities of Logan Heights, Barrio Logan and western National City.