San Diego’s redistricting commissioners are getting closer to finalizing the city’s political lines for the next decade, but because of a decreasing Latino population in one area of the city, Latino voters are at risk of losing power in a district that was created to empower them 10 years ago.
The overall population in City Council District 9 – and in its neighboring District 4 – has been shrinking over the last 10 years. The current map the commission is evaluating significantly reduces the Latino voting age population from its level in the current district.
Advocates say the current map reverses the work done 10 years ago to create a second Latino empowerment district, and that it doesn’t reflect the city’s reality – that San Diego is no longer a majority-White jurisdiction.
In the last round of redistricting in 2011, commissioners grouped the neighborhoods of City Heights, Mount Hope and Southcrest – all Latino-heavy communities – with areas like Kensington and the College Area in District 9 to create a slight Latino majority. The city added a ninth city council district during that same process.
The idea was that the city’s Latino population had been growing significantly, outgrowing the single city council district where Latinos made up most of the voters and regularly elected Latino candidates, District 8.
In 2016, District 9 voters elected Georgette Gomez to the city council, seemingly cementing the district’s status as the city’s second Latino-empowerment district.
“The undoing of the hard work of a lot of communities in 2011 to create the second Latinx empower district – that’s over, that’s done. Thank you for that. That’s sarcasm,” said Barry Pollard, a District 4 resident who also worked on redistricting with a community coalition on the creation of a Latino-empowerment District 9 in 2011, at a redistricting commission meeting last week.
In its final report, the 2011 San Diego Redistricting Commission said it “did not wish to dilute the voting strength of this significant Latino community and drew boundaries that it believed provided fair representation.” At the time District 9 was created, its population was 50.3 percent Latino, 23.2 percent White, 11.2 percent Black and 13.4 percent Asian.
Even after the new district was created, it took a bit to get a Latino candidate elected. In 2012, low voter turnout among Latinos and the fact that much of the district’s Latino majority in the district wasn’t of voting age yet, allowed District 9’s Whiter, more affluent voters to elect Marti Emerald over Latino activist Mateo Camarillo. Voters in the more affluent parts of District 9 accounted for about 60 percent of the votes that year.
Today, under the 2011 District 9 boundaries, the district has a Latino population of 48.2 percent and Latinos make up 35 percent of the citizens in District 9 who can vote.
“If you visit the core of District 9, you’ll see it’s majority Latinx and surrounded by affluent communities around it,” said Julie Corrales, a current District 8 resident who lived in District 9 up until a few years ago, at last week’s meeting.
The preliminary map approved by the commission several weeks ago had a District 9 with a 28.63 percent Latino voting population.
A preliminary legal analysis of the draft maps from Nov. 12 highlighted the issue:
“In particular, I respectfully direct Commissioners’ attention to addressing areas where it appears that minority voters’ opportunity to elect the candidates of their choice may be reduced somewhat because of population shifts. The example of where this may be occurring in the draft maps is the reduction of Latino CVAP in proposed District 9 as compared to the existing District condition, on all three maps. During your public hearing process and deliberation, it will be important to fine tune the map you choose as much as possible to protect such voters’ right.”
In the past few meetings, some commissioners have focused on trying to evaluate map changes that would help increase.
First, the commission moved Mount Hope from District 4 to District 9, which increased the Latino voting population to 29.25 percent. At the last meeting, commissioners asked consultants to evaluate potentially moving eastern Mission Valley out of District 9, which has a higher White population, and replacing it with Stockton, which is 85 percent Latino, or Mountain View, which is 77 percent Latino.
All of these potential solutions, though, would still reduce Latino voting power in the district from what it was.
“These mapping decisions are merely postponing the inevitable,” Pollard said in his public comment last week.
San Diego is continuously becoming less White, he said. Mapping decisions that dilute non-White voting power will only postpone the political implications of that shift for so long.
“These hidden agendas that these communities are using under the codes of racism are only postponing the inevitable,” Pollard said. “It’s very disappointing to see such a beautiful city of San Diego and the ugliness that comes out continuously with these efforts of redistricting.”
While some commissioners appear determined to do what they can to increase the Latino voting percentage in the district, others seem less willing.
Commissioner Thomas Hebrank, who represents District 9, expressed his hesitancy repeatedly toward suggestions to tweak District 9 on the draft map the commission was considering.
Hebrank said District 9 was a “stepchild” created in 2011 and took issue with continuing to pull it apart just to move a “certain population” up a few decimal points.
“When you’re in a community that is historically marginalized, it’s not just a statistic,” said Commissioner Kristen Roberts. “That one [percentage] point is incredibly important.”
Commissioner Roy MacPhail pointed to a previous map that had been submitted by a coalition of organizations through the city, the San Diego Communities Collaboration map, and said that map had successfully gotten District 9’s Latino voting age population to more than 31 percent. The commission should be able to get to at least 30 percent, then, he said.
The population of San Diego County has shifted and changed over the past thirty years. This map showcases the distribution of Latino residents throughout the county by Census tract between 1990 and 2020, with data sourced from IPUMS/NHGIS and Census population reports. / Map by Cam Rodriguez
The collaboration map did something else, too, that would have helped Latino voters, that the commission didn’t end up doing. It created a District 2 centered around communities like Linda Vista, Serra Mesa and Clairemont Mesa that would have been a fifth majority non-White district in the city. That district would have had an 18.69 percent Latino voting age population, in addition to a 13.64 and 4.51 percent Asian and Black voting age population, respectively. Putting Latino voters with other groups that could vote similarly to them would help boost their voting power.
“After the Census numbers came out, we took a look at it and saw that for our population as a whole, the city is 54 percent people of color and 43 percent White, but our districts do not represent that,” said Eryn Wilson, Alliance San Diego’s civic engagement manager. “We’re left with four districts to split how we’re represented and our goal. It’s this idea that we’re fighting for crumbs.”
That’s effectively what has ended up happening between District 9 and District 4. Commissioner Fred Kosmo said in last week’s meeting that all the District 9 tweaking left him feeling like underrepresented communities were being treated as “bargaining chips.” Kosmo did not support the collaboration map when it was on the table, though.
“When White communities are prioritized, it leaves communities of color who are facing very real, very hard issues in our communities to fend for ourselves because we can’t get the representation that we need,” Wilson said.
Lupe Flores, director of engagement and impact at the Chicano Federation, said cost of living and issues of gentrification have been continuing to impact Latino residents and voters in the city, pushing them to different neighborhoods and even out of the city entirely. But that’s why creating districts that not only consolidate the Latino vote, but put Latinos in neighborhoods with other groups that vote similarly to them is important.
“It’s not only taking into consideration the Latinx vote,” she said. “But how do we get those folks to work with other people, rather than putting Latinx voters in a majority White district and not hear their voice.”