Los Peñasquitos Canyon is a winding seven-mile preserve lush with oaks, sycamores and marsh. But recently its northern neighbors have described it a little differently: As a tinderbox just waiting to burn.
If that happened, residents along that southern strip of Rancho Peñasquitos have evacuation routes to the north, deeper into their community, not south across the canyon into Mira Mesa. That’s what one Rancho Peñasquitos resident, aided by slides, maps and diagrams, tried to drive home for San Diego’s Redistricting Commission on Monday, in an effort to convince it not to split his neighborhood between two new City Council districts.
That prevailing winds and wildfire could be relevant to the redrawing of San Diego’s political boundaries may seem tenuous, but residents were convinced that having just one council member representing the whole community could streamline evacuations, ensuring all residents who called their representative got the same information about where to go.
“We need singular representation in the proposed District 5 to help us get it done,” Rancho Peñasquitos resident Paul Hoover said.
In 10 months, it was just one of the countless arguments the commission heard from residents of neighborhoods across the city, from Barrio Logan to Linda Vista to the College Area. Geographically distinct, they shared a fear: That having their neighborhoods split by political boundaries could dilute their ability to influence and work with their elected officials.
Few became as charged as the debate in Rancho Peñasquitos. Three communities were pitted against each other. Their competing interests highlighted how subjective the redistricting process can be. Neighborhood residents try to convince seven appointees to draw boundaries based on one aspect of a community — race, for example — over another, like fire safety concerns or income levels.
The Redistricting Commission split Rancho Peñasquitos in large part to satisfy the demands of Asian leaders, who for more than a year lobbied for the creation of a heavily Asian-populated district that could help consistently elect an Asian to the City Council.
Rancho Peñasquitos has one of the city’s most concentrated Asian populations, as does Mira Mesa, so the commission snipped away at the southern portion of Rancho Peñasquitos, uniting it with Mira Mesa in the proposed 6th Council District while leaving the northern portion in another.
But that decision offended many within Rancho Peñasquitos. Some Asians opposed the proposal, saying the interests of keeping their community united were larger than any need to elect a councilmember based on race.
Instead, they wanted the commission to keep Rancho Peñasquitos in a single district, one that did not include Mira Mesa. They wanted it in a district that includes the more affluent communities of Black Mountain Ranch and Rancho Bernardo.
Rancho Peñasquitos and Mira Mesa are separated by just the canyon, but that divide is more than geographic.
“The only thing we have in common with Mira Mesa is we both have very large Asian populations,” said Andy Berg, president of the Rancho Peñasquitos Town Council.
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He said the similar needs shared by suburban communities north of the canyon made it easier for them to agree on what to assert pressure on their councilmember to accomplish. He and other residents said Mira Mesa, which is lower income and has higher crime than nearby suburban neighborhoods, could distract a councilmember’s attention from Rancho Peñasquitos.
Rancho Peñasquitos residents proposed an alternative: Drawing lines through another community instead, Scripps Ranch, which borders Mira Mesa on the east. Council districts must have roughly the same number of residents, forcing a domino effect of changes whenever a political boundary is shifted.
That proposal, which one commissioner entertained at a recent meeting, began to mobilize residents of Scripps Ranch, whose concerns echoed those of Rancho Peñasquitos residents: We have nothing in common with Mira Mesa.
James Paterniti, vice president of the Scripps Ranch Civic Association, said the proposal by Rancho Peñasquitos residents was unacceptable for Scripps Ranch, whose community groups have long relished their ability to work closely with their elected representatives. Residents favored the commission’s original plan to split Rancho Peñasquitos.
“If you split our neighborhood, then when you want an elected official to do something, it becomes a question of he said, she said,” Paterniti said.
Asian leaders pushing for a heavily Asian-district also opposed the plan by Rancho Peñasquitos leaders, because it would dilute the concentration of Asians in their district.
They wanted to take all of Rancho Peñasquitos into a district with Mira Mesa. “Our message has been consistent too, to keep Rancho Peñasquitos together as well, with Mira Mesa,” said Allen Chan, a leader of the push to create the Asian district. That would have given the 6th district an Asian population approaching 40 percent, instead of the 34 percent under the current proposal.
The commission ultimately elected to keep the boundaries as it had originally proposed, with Rancho Peñasquitos split in two. The final vote on new boundaries is scheduled Thursday at 4 p.m.
Adrian Florido is a reporter for voiceofsandiego.org. He covers San Diego’s neighborhoods. What should he write about next?
Contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 619.325.0528.
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