Initial maps for California’s electoral districts show potential shifts to the status quo in San Diego, political analysts said.
The 2020 California Citizens Redistricting Commission has been reviewing California’s political boundaries since last year. The 14-member bipartisan body is charged with adjusting the state’s electoral lines to accommodate demographic changes revealed by the latest U.S. Census.
The commission is comprised of five Democrats, five Republicans and four no party preference members. This is the second redistricting cycle in which California has convened an independent commission to draw voting boundaries.
Last month the commission issued maps described as “visualizations” of new voting districts for California Assembly, Senate and Board of Equalization seats, as well as U.S. congressional offices.
The drawings offer snapshots of possible state and federal electoral districts, and are precursors to actual draft maps that will be released Wednesday.
Starting in January, the body held 35 community-input sessions and received comments from 1,340 people, including more than 300 from San Diego and Imperial counties, said Commissioner Patricia Sinay, an Encinitas resident. They used that input to get a first glimpse of how new voting districts might look.
The visualization maps can be viewed on the commission’s website, and sorted virtually for the various offices.
Rather than trying to redraw existing districts, commissioners grouped residents into clusters of related communities, Sinay said, so some lines look dramatically different from current boundaries.
“We did start from blank maps” she said. “The districts look different from last time because we started from the visualization point rather than starting from existing maps.”
Although they’re far from final, observers are trying to make sense of the possible changes.
San Diego Democratic Party Chair Will Rodriguez-Kennedy said he has concerns about tentative lines dividing established communities.
“For many of the state districts, where they drew the lines sort of beggars belief,” he said. “If you look at the visualized maps for senate districts that split Hillcrest along with (State Route) 163. No local commission would do that. You’re splitting the LGBTQ community right down the middle.”
In other cases, he said, disparate communities are grouped together, which could potentially distort their representation.
“Some have both Santee and National City in the same assembly district,” he said, referring to the overwhelmingly White, middle class city and its lower-income, predominantly Hispanic neighbor. “In what scenario does that make sense? Santee and National city could not be more different cities.”
The draft maps will represent the first official look at how voting districts may change, and they must meet specific legal criteria, Sinay said.
The districts for each type of office must have very close to equal numbers, she said. For the 80 Assembly seats that’s almost 500,000 residents. Each of the 40 State Senate districts must comprise about 1 million. And the 52 congressional districts will reach represent about 760,000 people.
The districts must be contiguous, not divide cities, counties, towns or communities of interest, and must be compact shapes.
The commission must also try to “nest” state districts into equal groupings, with two congressional districts in each state Senate district and 10 Senate districts into one seat for the Board of Equalization.
For the San Diego area, Sinay said, commissioners are trying to maintain a Latino voting bloc in South County. They also want to keep tribal lands together in Imperial, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties to incorporate feedback from tribal governments.
Perhaps the biggest question about redistricting concerns California’s loss of seat of a congressional seat.
California is by far the most populous state with almost 40 million people, but its growth has stalled compared to other states. For the first time in its 170-year history, it will lose a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, dropping from 53 to 52.
Since district boundaries will change throughout the state, it’s unlikely that one existing district will simply be plucked off the map and removed. Instead, all lines will shift to accommodate demographic changes.
Some analysts believe the Los Angeles area is most likely to lose a congressional district; Rodriguez-Kennedy said he thinks it’s unlikely San Diego County would draw the short straw.
“San Diego currently has two districts completely within San Diego (County) and each of other three cross into Orange or Riverside (counties),” he said. “How much of our districts will cross into other counties is uncertain, but I don’t think we will lose one.”
One of the more striking changes in the visualizations is the potential expansion of the 50th Congressional District, the region’s Republican stronghold north and east of downtown San Diego.
“The proposed map has interesting implications for San Diego,” said Carl Luna, a political science professor at San Diego Mesa College. “It looks like (Rep. Darrell) Issa’s pro-GOP 50th District is going to be merged with the eastern parts of the 51st District and extended up into Riverside county which could make the seat more competitive for Democrats.
“The commission is essentially creating a San Diego East County/Imperial County combined district extending from Alpine to Arizona and the border to Riverside,” Luna said.
Officials with the Republican Party of San Diego County could not be reached for comment.
The first set of draft maps is expected Wednesday, and the public will have two weeks to comment before the commission issues updated versions.
The commission must approve the final set by Dec. 27, and Sinay said they hope to complete them several days earlier. The final maps will be returned to the California Secretary of State, she said.
Rodriguez-Kennedy said San Diegans should call in to subsequent hearings and express their concerns or preferences. He said he is hopeful that commissioners will take those comments into account as they fine-tune the final maps.
San Diego city and county are also working on new electoral boundaries. Those redistricting commissions have been receptive to public input, the county Democratic Party chair said.
“I have been seeing how other (redistricting) commissions have been working and I feel like in general the commissions do place a lot of deference on public comment,” Rodriguez-Kennedy said.