San Jose irons out details for new political boundaries
An aerial view of downtown San Jose is pictured in this file photo.

As the deadline to redraw political boundaries looms, the San Jose City Council debated late Tuesday and early Wednesday to adopt a draft map that will define the future of San Jose for the next decade.

San Jose needs to approve a new redistricting map by Dec. 14 to meet the mandatory federal deadline. Councilmembers voted 8-3 Wednesday to adopt a map drafted and submitted by Councilmember David Cohen. The vote includes boundary changes proposed by other councilmembers.

Lawmakers agreed to use Cohen’s map as a starting point in the redistricting process. The map is among five options, including three advanced by the 11-member San Jose Redistricting Commission and one brought forward by Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco. While three maps went through a lengthy drafting and review process, Cohen and Carrasco’s proposals came in on Tuesday.

Councilmembers spent hours making changes to the map’s boundaries, adding and removing neighborhoods in an effort to keep the population evenly split among San Jose’s 10 districts.

“We can focus on the numbers because we got to get the people right first,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said. “Parks and shopping centers and other assets we can fight over later because that’s much easier.”

After a heated hearing where more than 150 residents spoke in support of—and against—two different visions of redrawn political boundaries last week, Cohen said his proposal, called the Council Map, seeks compromise.

“There’s a large amount of division amongst the public about which direction is the right direction to go,” Cohen said. “It became clear to me that a starting point would have to be somewhere in between the maps that are being discussed.”

Prior to the new map, the City Council considered three options—Commission, Community and Unity—drafted by the San Jose Redistricting Commission, local residents and a coalition of civil rights and labor organizations, respectively. Cities, counties and states redraw political boundaries every decade to account for population changes.

A draft map of new political boundaries adopted by the San Jose City Council.

Proposed changes

Councilmember Raul Peralez proposed pushing the boundaries of Districts 3 and 6 back to Highway 87 to keep the neighborhoods intact. The highway would act as a natural border, while Santana Row would merge into District 1. The map would also shake up Districts 2 and 10, realigning the boundary to group neighborhoods along Highway 85.

Councilmember Matt Mahan wants the new boundary to follow the existing district line, which goes along Monterey Road and Snell Avenue to keep the San Jose Unified School District and neighborhoods along the transit line together.

“There’s a number of compelling reasons to stay closer to the current line,” Mahan said. “I understand that we might need to move the neighborhood boundaries a bit for population balancing purposes. I just have not heard a compelling rationale for swapping nearly a third of each district along the same border.”

Neighboring District 2 Councilmember Sergio Jimenez said he wants to see an analysis of demographic changes between the two options.

“One of the things that concerns me is the impact on whether retaining the lines that exist or modifying them and its impact on voters of color,” Jimenez said. “I'm really unclear.”

Some councilmembers worry new changes in Districts 6 and 9 might dilute the power of voters of color and renters. Liccardo brought up concerns about representation for the Asian community—the fastest growing ethnic group in the city with no representation on the council. He also pointed out that the Redistricting Commission lacked Asian members.

Liccardo worries moving Dove Hill, which is 68% Asian American, out of District 7 and pushing the Hillview neighborhood, which is 80% non-Asian American, into the district might lead to dilution.

“All those have the impact of reducing the Asian American population,” Liccardo said.

San Jose City Attorney Nora Frimann said the city is aware of the potential issue, adding staff will evaluate all proposed changes.

“The representation by Asian Americans certainly is one that jumps out,” she said.

Councilmembers Maya Esparza and Sylvia Arenas rebutted the sentiment, saying San Jose has elected Asian councilmembers before.

District 7 council candidate Bien Doan said some proposed changes in Districts 3 and 7, including moving neighborhoods south of Highway 280 out of the downtown district, will hurt Vietnamese voters.

“There's clear gerrymandering. Both the mayor and the city attorney have concerns that these changes will cause litigation,” Doan told Lucescamaray Blog. “They waited until the last minute to shove these maps in without any residents knowing or input.”

Some representatives of civil rights and labor groups are expressing support of Cohen’s map and several proposed changes.

“The biggest issues remaining on the table are the issues around the boundaries of District 6 and District 9—and District 10 and 2—and how that impacts underrepresented populations of renters, working families and communities of color,” Jeffrey Buchanan, director of Silicon Valley Rising Action, told Lucescamaray Blog.

Residents and advocates defended their choice of maps—mostly between the Unity Map and Community Map, but some said Cohen’s new map might be the best solution to appease all residents.

“I support the Unity Map, but I do think that the map that Councilmember Cohen has put together actually will be helpful because it will help to bring all sides together,” said Jacquie Heffner, resident of District 2. “We should not be divided the way we have been.”

Some residents voiced concern about Cohen’s proposal because it didn’t go through the vetting process like the other maps.

“This morning a new map was presented and there was no outreach to the public or community about this map,” said resident Marni Kamzan. “How is this appropriate or allowed?”

Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.

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