Ballot measure aiming to inject more diversity into San Diego redistricting is delayed to November 2024
City Council members are divided over using an Oakland model that brings a student and a nonprofit representative into the selection process for the commission that draws the lines.
A ballot measure that would fundamentally change how San Diego redraws City Council boundaries every 10 years has been delayed from March to November 2024 so city leaders can finish negotiating the measure’s details.
Council members want to boost the diversity of the independent commission that draws new boundaries in the face of criticism that racial demographics and social equity were not prioritized enough when boundaries were redrawn in 2021.
But council members are sharply divided about the best way to do that.
Some support a model used by Oakland that seeks to have the group appointing the commission include a student and a nonprofit leader. But others have criticized that approach and are proposing different solutions.
The proposal pushed by two UCSD students would remake the commission that draws City Council districts and change who appoints the commission’s members.
The council’s Rules Committee voted unanimously this week to have the city clerk and city attorney use the Oakland model as a baseline to create a proposal the committee could then modify before it is sent to city voters in November 2024.
Members of the Redistricting Commission are now selected by three retired judges — a group whose demographics skew much more White and male than San Diego’s overall population.
The Oakland model, which was suggested to the city by UC San Diego students Leana Cortez and Aashika Srinivas, instead uses a three-member panel made up of one retired judge, one student and one nonprofit representative.
The student must be at an accredited law school or be studying public policy. The nonprofit representative must be from an organization focused on good government.
In Oakland, the three panel members select the 30 most qualified applicants for the commission, with at least two from each council district. Six names are then chosen by a random lottery and they appoint seven more at-large members.
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Because San Diego has nine council districts, Cortez and Srinivas are proposing a lottery for nine slots and then having those nine members choose four at-large members.
“This allows people from various economic and social backgrounds to be involved in the selection process, which may heighten the diversity,” Srinivas said.
City Council members Kent Lee and Monica Montgomery Steppe expressed support for the Oakland model. But Councilwoman Vivian Moreno expressed opposition and Councilman Joe LaCava raised concerns.
“I get a little bit of heartburn about a lottery system,” LaCava said. “Randomization doesn’t always get you the outcomes you want. You may actually get a less diverse group of commissioners.”
LaCava also said every commissioner will inevitably be somewhat biased. But he also noted a need for change.
“I do think this can be improved from where we are today,” he said. “I don’t see that there is one right way to do it.”
Moreno said she is “not interested” in the Oakland model, suggesting instead that the city clerk handle the entire appointment process. Moreno eventually agreed to use the Oakland model as a baseline, but only to avoid killing any chance for change.
“I am reluctant to support the Oakland methodology, but I absolutely want to see this discussion continue,” she said.
Meanwhile, members of the 2021 commission are pushing back against recent criticism of their efforts.
“Contrary to the suggestions ... that groups were not listened to or that commissioners represented only districts they resided in, we read and listened to literally thousands of comments and submissions from across the city and balanced as many competing proposals as possible,” said Tom Hebrank, chairman of the 2021 commission.
Critics say new map, which was approved 7-2, doesn’t do enough to boost voting power of minority groups
Hebrank and two other 2021 commissioners — Roy MacPhail and Ken Malbrough — said an alternative solution would be more aggressive outreach efforts to widen the pool of applicants for the Redistricting Commission.
Council members said they think more fundamental change is needed.
The shift from the March ballot to the November ballot was first proposed by LaCava. He said a measure affecting so many people should be presented to voters during a November election because there is higher turnout.
Council members noted that San Diego already has a more independent process for selecting Redistricting Commission members than the state’s other largest cities.
In Los Angeles, San Jose and San Francisco, redistricting commissions are appointed directly by elected officials whose reelection prospects could be affected by the commission’s decisions.