Newly released drafts of redistricting maps for California political offices show major changes are possible for voting districts in San Diego County.
The maps, released Wednesday by the 2020 California Citizens Redistricting Commission, offer a first glimpse into how California’s congressional and state political boundaries may shift with the changing demographics and the loss of one congressional seat.
Those changes appear likely to remake the political landscape significantly, experts say.
On the draft maps the commission released this week, some districts are entirely reconfigured and bear little resemblance to the former boundaries. The draft districts don’t even have their old numbers; instead they’re described by geographic locations.
That’s intentional, said Patricia Sinay, an Encinitas resident who is one of the 14 redistricting commissioners.
There aren’t clear apples-to-apples comparisons between current boundaries and prospective new ones. The commission deliberately excluded existing boundaries from consideration to focus instead on such things as voter rights, communities with shared economic, cultural or geographic interests and other demographic considerations while drawing proposed new boundaries, she said.
“We really just went from a blank slate and got community input from the public, from advocates, and looked at the geography and started building from there,” she said.
By law the state must redraw voting boundaries every 10 years following the U.S. Census, to adjust for demographic changes. Districts for each type of public office must have close to equal numbers; they must be contiguous and not divide cities, counties, towns or communities of interest, and they must have compact shapes.
The independent commission is supposed to draw lines to benefit constituencies of voters, not elected officials, said Dan Schnur, who teaches political communication at UC Berkeley and USC and formerly chaired the California Fair Political Practices Commission.
“The commission has a very specific hierarchy of considerations to address,” Schnur said. “Incumbency is not one of them.”
The new congressional lines in the draft maps of San Diego County show three proposed districts along the border with Mexico, including a large district encompassing East County, one consisting of East Bay and another that climbs up the coast from the border to Del Mar.
Another district would include parts of North County, stretching from Poway, Ramona and Julian to the county line, and north into Riverside County.
The fifth and final congressional district would follow the coast from Solana Beach north to Laguna Nigel in Orange County and would include Camp Pendleton.
If those changes are approved, it could change the political races next year of Democratic Rep. Mike Levin, who currently holds the 49th District seat on the coast, and Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, in what is now the 50th District in East County, said UC San Diego Political Science Professor Thad Kousser.
Levin, he said, could be in a more competitive race, with parts of his district moving slightly further north into Orange County, but he could also draw Democratic voters from North Coastal San Diego, Kousser said.
“So this will be one of the most contested seats, and he’ll probably draw a top-tier competitor,” Kousser said. “But it may still be a winnable district.”
The draft maps also bisect the 50th District into separate north and south districts, which could change the calculus for next year’s race for inland San Diego County.
“What that means is that there’s less of a cohesive, natural successor to the 50th” he said. “So it’s not obvious which candidates would run. We won’t just have a rerun of Darrell Issa versus Ammar Campa-Najjar.”
The proposed state Assembly lines would create a single massive East County District from the border to Riverside County.
It would establish four central districts, including one from the border to Chula Vista; one consisting of Lemon Grove, La Mesa and El Cajon, which has a high immigrant and refugee population; one covering central San Diego and a fourth consisting of central North County from Miramar through Escondido and San Marcos, to Fallbrook and Rainbow.
And it would create two coastal districts: one extending from the border through Carlsbad, and another from Oceanside to Laguna Nigel.
The draft state Senate maps show some similar changes, including one enormous Senate district that would cover South and East County San Diego, Imperial County and parts of Riverside County north to Mojave Valley, including the Salton Sea.
Another would extend from the San Diego Bay to Santee and El Cajon. A third would include central San Diego and inland North County. And the fourth would stretch along the coast from La Jolla north to Laguna Nigel in Orange County.
Observers said the congressional changes will likely be more dramatic this time than a decade ago because of a lost congressional seat. California will drop from 53 to 52 representatives next year because of stagnant population growth compared to other states.
“The seat that disappears is likely to be a couple hours north of San Diego,” Schnur said. “But there will be a cascading effect from L.A. and Ventura Counties down to the border.”
The commission approved the draft maps Wednesday evening. The public will have two weeks to review and comment on the maps by submitting feedback online at https://www.wedrawthelinesca.org/contact or during the commission’s upcoming virtual meetings.
Commissioners must vote on final maps by the end of December. Approval requires a supermajority of the 14-member nonpartisan board — at least three Republican members, three Democrats and three no-party-preference commissioners.
There may be other big changes before then, experts said.
“This isn’t just a rough draft; it’s a rough draft of a rough draft,” Schnur said. “Even though there’s not a lot of time before the maps are finalized, it’s very likely that there will be significant changes.”