National City’s Filipino community helping to lead the way in drawing voting districts
BY TAMMY MURGA
National City’s Filipino/Asian Pacific Islander community is taking a lead role in helping to create the city’s first-ever voting districts.
They are the second-largest demographic group in the South Bay municipality, making up about 19 percent of its 56,000 residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 data. Latinos make up most of the population, 65 percent, the data showed.
Members of the Filipino/Asian Pacific Islander community say they do not feel represented in local politics and they now have a chance to change that as the city begins the process of drawing districts.
“This is long overdue in the right course of action. With the current climate of demand for equity and fair representation, this action signifies you are recognizing that National City is better served when there is diversity in the legislative body,” Mitz Lee, co-founder of the Asian Pacific American Coalition’s San Diego Chapter, said during the city’s first public workshop on redistricting held Feb. 5.
National City council members in December approved switching from at-large, citywide elections to a district-based arrangement, joining 13 other San Diego County jurisdictions with the same setup. The transition 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 move came after the city received a letter in November from San Diego-based attorney Audie de Castro on behalf of National City Filipino residents, alleging the city’s at-large election system violated the California Voting Rights Act and marginalized the Filipino/API community.
De Castro had urged the city to adopt a resolution by January stating its intention to change its voting system or face potential litigation. The city rejected de Castro’s claims but City Attorney Charles Bell said it was best to move forward with district-based elections and avoid “the extraordinary cost to defend against a CVRA lawsuit.”
Councilmember Ron Morrison had previously cautioned the council to take its time with the districting process, as it is starting from scratch. The city, nonetheless, has been moving swiftly with the process so that it can have its new boundaries in place for the November election.
The city held its first couple of public meetings to educate residents on how they can help draft maps and provide feedback.
Some Filipino/API residents said they would like to see the demographic group stay together as much as possible within a district to improve representation. Cynthia Suero-Gabler, also with the Asian Pacific American Coalition, called on the creation of an “empowerment district while still respecting other communities of interest.”
Ditas Yamane, a National City resident who sits on the city’s Planning Commission, ran for local office in the 2020 election. Alongside de Castro, the Asian Pacific American Coalition and other residents, she helped spearhead efforts to demand that the city adopt district-based elections. She said that even if an elected official is not of the Filipino/API community, having a representative that knows their district and its demographics, will better influence policymaking.
“Accountability is very important,” she said. “When a constituent will come to you and you don’t know what’s happening in that area or in that part of the city, you will just point at each other, which is very well what’s happening right now. With a district person in charge of his constituents, it’s going to be a different story.”
National City’s northeast neighborhoods have the highest density of the group, according to Census data shared by Redistricting Insights, which provides mapping services. The Filipino/API community grew from about 10,405 to 10,824 over the past 10 years. The number of eligible voters dropped slightly from 19 percent to 17.5 percent.
The city is hoping to have a map adopted by March. Until then, the public will have a chance to participate in the process during the scheduled, virtual meetings on Feb. 22, March 5 and 15. For more information about schedules, visit here.