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New state voting maps create majority Latino congressional district in San Diego

New voting maps unanimously approved by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission include a majority Latino congressional district in San Diego, contributing to the statewide gain in Latino political clout.

The new district in South San Diego encompasses Imperial Beach, National City, Chula Vista and extends east to Otay Mesa. About 51 percent of its voting-age citizens are Latino, making it one of 16 districts statewide with Latino majorities.

“For me, the biggest change was having a (Voting Rights Act) district that’s all within San Diego County,” said Redistricting Commissioner Patricia Sinay, of Encinitas, referring to the federal law that requires political districts to preserve minority voting power. “It reflects the growth in our state of the Latino community, but also just the diversity of our state.”

San Diego’s final congressional map also included north and south coastal districts, a central San Diego district and east county district. Despite changes to the territory of each area, they correspond roughly to existing congressional districts, said Thad Kousser, a political science professor with UC San Diego.

“After a fall of redistricting chaos and two election cycles where San Diego was a national political battleground, we’re looking towards a pretty quiet 2022, where every current incumbent could probably find a winnable district in the region,” he said.

For instance, Kousser said, the East County district corresponds approximately to the current 50th congressional district, held by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Bonsall.

Under the new map, it grows more conservative, based on an analysis of voting patterns of residents within its boundaries, Kousser said. Previous drafts showed a potential north-south split to the eastern district, which could have complicated Issa’s reelection prospects, Kousser said in November.

The 49th District, encompassing north coastal San Diego and parts of southern Orange County, loses some of its southernmost area.

Kousser said that makes the district slightly more conservative, but still winnable for incumbent Mike Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano. It’s a favorable configuration for the incumbent congressman compared to earlier versions of the maps that rearranged the district more significantly, he said.

“Mike Levin’s district is likely Democratic,” according to analysis of voting trends, Kousser said. “Not solid, but not that competitive.”

San Diego Democratic Party Chair Will Rodriguez-Kennedy agreed that the new boundaries make the chances of a dramatic upset in next year’s mid-term election less likely.

“I don’t think it affects anything,” he said. “I expect that the same five representatives will still have a seat, and there may not be much contention at all.”

While the new San Diego districts offer relatively stable bases for current members of Congress, that wasn’t part of the commission’s objective. Although commissioners have detailed rules for drawing the lines, incumbency was not a factor they could consider, Sinay said.

New congressional district boundaries

The redistricting commission is an independent body convened to draw the lines for California’s state and federal legislative seats, including the House of Representatives, the state Senate and Assembly and the state Board of Equalization.

By law, states must adopt new 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 of voters. They also must be contiguous and compact and preserve local jurisdictions and communities of interest.

This year, that task was complicated by California’s loss of one congressional seat, after the state’s population growth slowed compared to other parts of the nation.

That caused consternation among some elected officials and political organizers, who wondered which region would draw the short stick. A congressional seat near Los Angeles disappeared this time around.

Although San Diego kept five congressional seats, Rodriguez-Kennedy said he felt that San Diego was treated as an afterthought compared to Los Angeles.

“It feels like our region constantly gets the crust from L.A.,” he said. “They spend so much time on L.A. and when they get to us they say ‘Oh well, here’s what we have left. That’s what they get.’ It’s sort of frustrating because we’re such a large region.”

Rodriguez-Kennedy said the complex process, conducted with no clear road map by commissioners without political backgrounds, was exasperating to some observers.

“While the congressional districts are okay, there are people complaining up and down the state about the willy-nilly-ness of the process, the lack of compactness of the districts, and sort of the arbitrary nature by which these maps were drawn,” he said. “It just seems that this process was sloppy at best, but that’s how it is; democracy is often sloppy.”

Sinay acknowledged that commissioners learned on the job, but said that was to be expected.

“This is a citizen redistricting commission so it’s comprised of 14 people who have done this for the first time, with varying levels of lived experience,” she said.

Commissioners received some 37,000 public comments, she said, and worked on the maps for about 16 months, convening daily in recent weeks to meet their deadlines.

“It’s a long process, it’s complicated, but it is democracy in action,” she said.

The commission has several additional meetings and must submit its maps to the Secretary of State’s office by Dec. 27. Candidates for the June primary election have to file nomination papers by mid-March.