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Council delays decision on districts until residents chime in

The city of Santee conducted a third public hearing on redistricting during its Jan. 26 city council meeting but council members held off on voting for a final map until the public can weigh in on districts that will remain in place until 2032.

Best, Best and Krieger’s Director of Election Services Stephanie Smith explained how the online, interactive mapping tool the contracted firm provided can be used by residents to submit input on how to divide the city’s four districts so citizens have a fair chance to elect the representative of their choice.

Legally, the city is required to go through the redistricting process following the national census, which happens every 10 years but Santee just established districts for the first time in 2018 and no marked change in population demographics has taken place since then, according to the most recent census.

Smith said there is a “three-legged stool” approach to redistricting practices, all designed to foster fair and equal representation.

The Santee City Council wants residents to weigh in on possible voting districts.

Federal law requires an equal population between districts and forbids racial gerrymandering, while California state law also requires districts to be geographically contiguous and easily identifiable based on local landmarks and boundary lines, with communities of interest preserved. Finally, local principles suggest cities potentially consider future population growth, preserving the core of districts and minimizing how often voters need to shift districts.

Boundaries like rivers, railroads and highways are also considered, Smith said, as well as community considerations like school attendance areas.

In some places those features all factor into the process of developing fair districts that can look very different. For example, a city like El Cajon has a notable immigrant population that potentially votes as one cohesive bloc and a city like La Mesa that has distinct neighborhoods split by major highways.

However, Smith pointed out Santee has a fairly homogenous population and the only reason to redraw district maps might be for a slightly more equal population distribution.

There are currently just two maps up for deliberation.

Santee’s districts are in compliance with federal law with map option A, Smith said: there is less than a 10% difference between the least and greatest populated district, they’re geographically compact and contiguous, and the city could simply re-adopt map the current districts and remain well within the law.

The newer map option B that Smith presented is almost identical to option A but slightly more equal in population size between districts.

“We tried to lower the deviation balance down from seven percent-and-change to four-and-change,” Smith said, but generally speaking the two maps are very similar.

Mayor John Minto and City Council member Dustin Trotter both noted constituents did not yet have access to the maps and wanted more time for the public to review information, work with the interactive tool and potentially submit feedback.

“I’ll tell you right now, I have no interest in approving a map until the public has a chance to put their input in,” City Council member Dustin Trotter said.

Both City Council members Rob McNelis and Ronn Hall noted there appeared to be unnecessary splits between some areas— Smith said dividing lines that appear unnecessary at first glance typically indicate where census blocks cannot be split up.

McNelis pointed out the majority of Santan High School’s attendees live in District 1 but the school is in District 2, another side effect of preserving contiguous census blocks, and asked Smith to consider whether those could be reworked.

Another public hearing is scheduled to take place during the Feb. 9 city council meeting and subsequent opportunities to discuss redistricting are available during two regular city council meetings scheduled for March.

The deadline for Santee to complete the redistricting process is April 17.

Mayor John Minto said he hopes that schedule provides time for residents to visit the interactive mapping site and submit input.

Data such as population and census blocks is available on the mapping tool, Smith said and each map submitted by residents will be assigned a number and given to the city clerk.

The interactive mapping tool is available at www.mapsantee.org along with the current map.

Council delays decision on districts until residents chime in




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Source: East County Californian

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