National City’s new election map creates voting districts for Filipino, Old Town communities
BY TAMMY MURGA
Beginning in November, National City voters will choose City Council candidates from one of four newly created districts.
Council members last week approved a map that draws the boundaries for each district, marking a historic moment for the South Bay community that decided in December to ditch its citywide, at-large election system for a district-based arrangement.
Most importantly, residents and city leaders said, the move has created geographic districts that keep together two large communities of interest: the Filipino/API (Asian Pacific Islander) community and residents who live in Old Town National City. Many residents from Old Town have 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.
Both groups have historically lacked representation on the dais, but with districts, they’ll have a chance at electing a candidate who best represents their interests.
Filipino/API residents make up nearly 20 percent of the city’s 56,000 population, according to the 2020 U.S. Census data. Some Filipino-Americans have run for office, but representation on the council has been absent over the past two decades.
To address this imbalance, San Diego-based attorney Audie de Castro issued National City a notice of violation in November, alleging that its at-large system violates the California Voting Rights Act and marginalizes the local Filipino/API community. The lawyer urged the city to change its voting system or face potential litigation.
The city began the districting process soon after, hosting five community meetings over the course of a month where residents and the city’s demographers created 10 district maps. Council members narrowed them to two and selected their top choice Tuesday.
National City’s four districts have yet to be numbered, but were designated colors for the time being:
- The red district was dubbed the “Filipino/API empowerment district,” which has about 8,000 API residents and 34 percent of them are eligible voters. Its boundaries include the northeast portion of the city. Parts of Division, 4th, 8th and 16th streets and Plaza Boulevard create its jagged western terminus.
- The blue district is west of the red and runs along D Avenue between Division and 16th streets. It includes several Filipino/API businesses and is known to have a high concentration of Filipino seniors. It also has the largest population of Latino voters at 65 percent.
- The yellow district is the southeast region of the city, with west boundaries along Highland Avenue between 16th and 30th Street and portions of Sweetwater and Bonita roads. It has the second-largest population of Latino voters at 63 percent.
- The green district includes everything west of D Avenue and Highland Avenue from 16th Street. It was designated as the Old Town National City District, an area that has long advocated for environmental justice as it relates to the impact industrial zoning has had on residents.
The map was created by the South Bay Collective for Fair Representation, a coalition of local residents and community organizations that formed to suggest the adoption of the district boundaries.
“This was the forefront of the South Bay Collective for Fair Representation’s process and why we felt strongly to have equitable districts that best represent us. Because at the end of the day, we live here and are most affected by how the districts are drawn,” said Marianne Delatorre, a member of the coalition who sits on Mayor Alejandra Sotelo-Solis’ advisory Filipino community group.
After significant public comment in support of the coalition’s map, Councilmember Mona Rios issued a motion to adopt it. Not everyone agreed, however.
Councilmember Jose Rodriguez issued a substitute motion for the council to consider the other map in question, which was submitted by the Asian Pacific American Coalition. Their goal is to empower San Diego’s API community, according to their website.
Those in support of APAC’s map highlighted that its version of the Filipino/API empowerment district had a larger concentration of API voters at 35 percent, a difference of less than one percentage point than that of South Bay Collective’s map.
Rodriguez said that even a “one percentage point” difference “is actually significant,” and could change the course of election results. In the 2018 City Council elections, Rodriguez lost to Rios by 0.38 percentage points, or 74 votes, according to the county Registrar of Voters.
Councilmember Ron Morrison supported Rodriguez’s motion. Concerned about gerrymandering, he said APAC’s map had “much cleaner” lines that avoided the jagged boundaries of the South Bay Collective option. Demographers said, however, the selected boundaries are not excessive and do not split census blocks.
De Castro, as well as others supporting the APAC map, questioned the council’s decision-making process, saying the Collective map had been advocated by supporters of Sotelo-Solis. Still, the attorney said, he was satisfied that National City would get a Filipino/API empowerment district.
Rodriguez’s motion failed 3-2 and the Collective’s map was adopted via a 4-1 vote. Morrison cast the lone “no” vote.
“At the end of the day, this is about bringing people together, and I believe (the Collective’s map) provides for that,” said Sotelo-Solis.
On Monday, the City Council is expected to adopt an ordinance that would officially implement by-district elections and how the districts will be numbered. The city clerk will conduct a live, random drawing to determine the sequence of district elections, City Manager Brad Raulston said.
The first by-district election would occur in November with the current terms of council members Rios and Morrison ending. Sotelo-Solis’s term will also end, though the mayoral election will remain at large.