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For most people the city’s redistricting process is nothing but a lot of noise. In San Diego, most people hear the white noise of political jockeying — who is eligible or not eligible to serve on the citizen’s commission.
The debate is about how partisan a plan is in creating districts for non-partisan elections. The debate seems to be about groups — the Asian-Pacific Islander plan or about majority-minority districts, or about the Voting Rights Act versus overuse of race, or about “Unity” versus “Coasts and Canyons.”
It all misses the point: Cities are about local services. They deliver services in neighborhoods, more so than state or federal governments. The services are very local — at which recreation centers or parks kids play, at which libraries families read or study, and, to some extent, from which fire stations or police stations you and your neighbors receive protection. These places are truly connected to neighborhoods.
But this connection is lost in all the static and jockeying — and the maps.
Many of the proposed maps miss the connective tissue of a community and do not assure that from where these services are delivered are connected to their constituents. To split a library or park from the residents could pose serious consequences.
Take Hickman Field for example. This field — really a complex of sixteen multi-sport youth fields — is used predominately by families from Clairemont, University City and, to a lesser extent, Serra Mesa. Eight different youth sports organizations use this complex and pool their resource to take care of the fields. The complex is situated in Kearny Mesa, a community with a relatively small number of residents in what is essentially a commercial and employment area.
In many of the proposed plans, this complex is in one district while the residents of Clairemont and University City are elsewhere. So Hickman Field would be vying for attention in a council district without any voices of support within that district. Scripps Ranch would advocate for their parks. San Carlos has neighborhood needs. And only the crickets would be heard chirping for Hickman Field in at least one plan. So which park do you think would receive time, attention and, ultimately, dollars?
By the numbers, it’s just not possible to have Hickman Field connect to all of Clairemont and University City. But it should be connected to a part of at least one of these communities in any plan that is ultimately adopted.
Are there other instances of a library, park or recreation center that have been orphaned in redistricting plans? It’s hard to tell because all the supporting documents focus on percentages of this group or that. None show where these essential community assets are situated in relation to their users and neighborhood constituents. The plans miss the point — city council districts should be about people and the municipal services that they depend upon.
Gary Rotto is a former chair of the Serra Mesa Community Planning Group and a Board Member of Mesa Youth Soccer.