The battle over new San Diego City Council district boundaries is heating up, with Rancho Peñasquitos leaders being accused of stereotyping and denigrating Mira Mesa in a letter that seeks to unify all of Peñasquitos into a separate council district.
The recent letter was an effort to sway the city’s 2021 Redistricting Commission as it considers how to draw up new council district boundaries. In the letter Peñasquitos leaders stressed that Mira Mesa has a higher crime rate, lower incomes and different problems than their neighborhood.
The president of the Mira Mesa Town Council, Bari Vaz, said he was saddened and angered by the letter.
“Any community or group has the right to present a case as to where they believe their community should be placed on the upcoming map of City Council districts,” Vaz said. “What they do not have is a right to disparage another community as part of their presentation, without expecting to be held accountable for their actions.”
In the face of backlash, the leader of the Rancho Peñasquitos Town Council posted a YouTube video last week apologizing for the comments.
Kate Glenn, Town Council president, said the letter was released prematurely and without proper vetting, noting that it was written by the Town Council’s redistricting subcommittee and not approved or endorsed by the organization at large.
“Between multiple mishaps, I’m sending out a huge apology,” Glenn said. “We can take ownership and responsibility if we make a mistake.”
The controversy stems from a decade-old decision that divided Peñasquitos between two City Council districts, leaving part of the community in upscale District 5 and moving another part into District 6 with Mira Mesa and other neighborhoods.
The city’s 2011 Redistricting Commission moved the southern slice of Peñasquitos into District 6 to create San Diego’s first council district where Asians are the largest ethnic group.
The area that was removed, the upscale Park Village subdivision, makes up about 16 percent of the Rancho Peñasquitos population and about half its residents are of Asian descent.
Peñasquitos leaders want that decision reversed, contending that Park Village has much more in common with District 5.
Park Village is part of the Poway Unified School District, which also includes every other District 5 neighborhood except Scripps Ranch. Mira Mesa is part of the San Diego Unified School District.
The controversial letter went on to summarize other differences between Park Village and Mira Mesa, some of which spurred the backlash.
Councilmember Chris Cate, who is Asian and represents District 6, said in a response letter that while many of the arguments made are “reasonable,” others are way out of line.
“It is crystal clear that your audacious intent of these points is to specifically classify Mira Mesa and all of its residents as ‘those people,’ and the general othering of one of San Diego’s most diverse neighborhoods,” Cate said.
After criticizing the Peñasquitos letter for not backing up its claims about incomes and crime with verified statistics, Cate said the claims have created unnecessary dissension.
“Your letter re-opened wounds from a decade ago that pit neighborhoods against each other based on the individuals that live within those neighborhoods,” he said. “I would hope as this process unfolds over the coming months, you strongly reconsider the arguments you use to make your case.”
Glenn, the Peñasquitos Town Council president, said Tuesday that her group would never want to disrespect another community. She said her group’s only goal is reuniting Peñasquitos because it is a compact, contiguous and cohesive community.
That’s a key argument for keeping communities together under the California Voting Rights Act. But the law also aims to protect the voting clout of minority groups by discouraging “cracking,” where an ethnic group is broken up so significantly across council districts that no one from the group can win an election.
There has been some speculation that local politics is playing a role in this battle, primarily because District 6 is the council’s lone remaining Republican-controlled seat. Cate, who holds that seat, can’t run for re-election in 2022 because of term limits.
The 2021 redistricting effort is expected to kick into high gear this summer when new census data become available. The new boundaries must be in place for the 2022 primary, now scheduled for March.