National City looks at five options for its future voting districts
BY TAMMY MURGA
National City’s voting districts have started taking shape, marking a historic moment for the South County jurisdiction that has joined most of California in adopting district-based elections.
On Tuesday, the City Council and the public had a chance to see five potential district maps drafted by demographers.
The transition from at-large, citywide elections means the city will be split into four geographic districts and voters residing in each district will only be able to vote for candidates living within their districts. The new system will be used in the November 2022 election.
While many San Diego County cities have wrapped up their redistricting efforts, including neighboring Chula Vista, National City’s districting process began in November after the city received a notice of violation from San Diego-based lawyer Audie J. de Castro.
The letter alleged the city’s at-large election system violates the California Voting Rights Act and marginalizes local Filipino/API (Asian Pacific Islander) residents. The city rejected de Castro’s claims, but decided it was best to adopt a district-based system to avoid costs associated with CVRA litigation, which no California city has successfully defended themselves against.
The Voting Rights Act was designed to increase opportunities for Latinos and other minorities.
In National City, the Filipino/API community is the second-largest demographic group behind Latinos. The 2020 U.S. Census Bureau shows that they make up nearly 20 percent of the city’s 56,000 population. Over the past two decades, Filipino representation on the City Council has been lacking, though several candidates have run for office.
The local Filipino/API community wants to change that. They are calling for “a Filipino-American/Asian American Pacific Islander empowerment district” that would aim to keep a significant portion of the community, which currently resides in the city’s northeast area, in one district.
Maps drawn by demographers and organizations who represent local Filipino/API residents, such as San Diego’s Asian Pacific American Coalition, are proposing boundaries that create the district.
The Asian Pacific American Coalition is suggesting two options:
- Create the Fil-Am/AAPI district on the city’s northeast portion, covering mostly the areas between 8th street to the north and 18th Street on the south. This would keep about 35 percent of the local Asian population who is of voting age together. There would also be two other districts north and south of the Fil-Am/AAPI district. The last district would be a coastal one, covering mostly everything west of Highland Avenue.
- The second map reflects much of the same from the first option but instead extends three districts to the west so that they can share the waterfront. The Fil-Am/AAPI district would remain the same.
The maps, Coalition officials say, draw boundaries that will improve representation.
“National City hasn’t had Filipino/AAPI on its City Council for years and we know that representation matters,” said Cynthia Suero-Gabler, with the Asian Pacific American Coalition. “It’s super important for our children to be able to look at leadership and say, you know, I have an opportunity in the future to be like Mayor (Alejandra) Sotelo-Solis.”
Several residents of the Filipino/AAPI community, and others, voiced strong support for the creation of a Fil-Am/AAPI district, particularly favoring the Coalition’s first option.
Other residents also urged the City Council to consider keeping other communities of interest together, such as the city’s west side and Old Town. Residents there, mostly of Latino descent and of low income, have long worked to address environmental issues, such as phasing out auto shops that posed health hazards to nearby residents and bringing healthier food options to the area.
“We fought for all these amenities like the community garden where there has been no access to healthy, fresh food,” said Silvia Calzada. “In this new district, we want somebody that lives in National City… and considers the environmental injustices that we need to work on.”
Demographers presented three other options, which broke the city down into four blocks such as coastal, northeast, southeast and central. The maps suggested thus far are available online.
Tuesday’s meeting marked the third time the city has met for a community workshop or public hearing on districting. National City has scheduled a March 5 meeting to review the potential maps and hear new suggestions. The City Council is hoping to have its final public hearing and adopt a district map on March 15.