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Mitz Lee wanted Rancho Peñasquitos, and she wanted University City too.

For a year, the Filipina former school board member led the charge to draw a new, ninth City Council district with the largest possible Asian population. Her proposal included heavily Asian Mira Mesa, Rancho Peñasquitos and northern University City.

But last week, the Redistricting Commission adopted a district that fell short of what Lee and other Asian leaders wanted. Allen Chan, a doctor and restaurant owner who helped organize the coalition of Asian leaders, said the group is preparing a lawsuit to challenge the commission’s plan.

“We had the loudest voice and the most number of people expressing our interests to unite the Asian community,” he said. “Our requests fell on deaf ears.”

What Asians Got

The proposed 6th District includes Mira Mesa, a sliver of Rancho Peñasquitos, and none of University City. Asians make up roughly 33 percent of the proposed district. About 26 percent of the district’s eligible voters will be Asian. The Asian coalition had wanted close to 39 percent Asian population.

Why They Came Up Short

They faced stiff opposition from leaders of the Rancho Peñasquitos and University City communities, who did not want to be part of a district drawn primarily to empower an ethnic minority. Rancho Peñasquitos leaders told the Redistricting Commission they had more in common with wealthier Rancho Bernardo, Black Mountain Ranch and Scripps Ranch than with Mira Mesa.

Asian leaders focused on University City’s large population of Asian students from the University of California, San Diego. But permanent University City residents opposed, and argued they had more in common with La Jolla than with Mira Mesa.

“We were surprised when they came and said they wanted to take University City. They only wanted it for population percentages,” said Janay Kruger, chairwoman of the University Community Planning Group. “We were like, no, no, no. We’re all happy living here. This is not an ethnic issue.”

Lessons Learned

Asian leaders had few allies. In the city’s southern communities, a coalition of Latino, African-American, and LGBT leaders worked on a joint proposal to present to the Redistricting Commission. They carved out districts — the 3rd District for gays and lesbians, the 4th District for blacks, and the 9th District for Latinos — that did not conflict with, but complemented, each other.

“What made us successful is that we all are very aware that our communities have been underrepresented historically,” said Brian Pollard, who led the push to keep heavily black neighborhoods in the city’s southeastern 4th District. “That was the common theme. That was the bond that kept us all moving in the same direction.”

But in the north, Asians’ failure to win over surrounding community leaders was key, and it revealed the challenges Asians still face as they try to solidify a political voice in the northern part of the city, where community leaders were more resistant to districts based on ethnicity or race.

Adrian Florido is a reporter for voiceofsandiego.org. He covers San Diego’s neighborhoods. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at adrian.florido@voiceofsandiego.org or at 619.325.0528 and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adrianflorido.

Adrian Florido

Adrian Florido is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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