Latino leaders urge San Jose residents to take part in redistricting
An aerial view of downtown San Jose is pictured in this file photo.

Latinos are now the largest ethnic minority in California according to the 2020 Census, but political districts don’t reflect that fact. A legal advocacy group wants to change that at the state and county level.

Mayra Valadez, a coordinator for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, gave a presentation at a virtual meeting Monday to inform Santa Clara County residents about the redistricting process and how to participate. The group submits redistricting plans aimed at maximizing Latino representation in several states and uses feedback from residents to help inform the mapping process. The Latino Leadership Alliance hosted the meeting.

Redistricting is the redrawing of political boundaries, which happens after every census so that each district includes roughly the same number of people. The process, which often leads to shifts in political power, is fraught with complexity.

In San Jose, advocates have pushed for city officials to redraw boundaries in a way that will alleviate historic racial inequities. The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors created an advisory commission to oversee the redistricting process, and San Jose has its own redistricting commission as well. Recommendations for how to change the map of political boundaries in Santa Clara County must be filed by Nov. 18.

‘It isn’t just about the lines being drawn’

The quality and responsiveness of elected officials can depend on how communities are split up. In some cases, district lines may be drawn so some constituents are located far from the elected official representing them, Valadez said.

San Jose Planning Commission Chair Rolando Bonilla emphasized the importance of residents getting involved.

“It’s really about a long-term investment of resources into your community from City Hall,” he told San José Spotlight. “The only way to ensure that you have a seat at the table at City Hall is to be involved in the process of redistricting… It isn’t just about the lines being drawn, it’s about establishing a long-term conversation for your community at City Hall.”

The Latino population in California grew by 5 million people in the last two decades and now constitutes 39.4% of the state. The population accounts for almost 70% of all state growth, according to census data. In Santa Clara County, the Latino population makes up 25.2% of residents. In the last decade, the group saw a 1.7% increase in the county.

“This growth gives us a strong case for minority-majority districts,” Valadez said.

Minority-majority districts are outlined in such a way that the majority of constituents within them are of the same minority group. As of 2015, California is home to more than any other state, with 40 minority-majority districts. One of those districts with a Hispanic majority is District 19 in Santa Clara County, represented by Rep. Zoe Lofgren.

Minority-majority districts are permitted by the Voting Rights Act as a way to ensure minority voters are adequately represented.

‘Representation has always mattered’

But redistricting isn’t just a matter of having an even number of people for each representative. When drawing district lines, counties also consider groups of people with shared concerns, or communities of interest. There are no official guidelines for what constitutes a community of interest, but they can include people with similar political views or those impacted by the same city infrastructure in their neighborhood.

Valadez said her organization will challenge redistricting plans if there’s an “egregious splitting of communities.” She referenced a 2016 court case in which the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund sued over redistricting in Kern County, California.

“Given the growth of the Latino population in California, we expect to see more seats and potentially more Voting Rights Act violations,” she said.

Gabriela Chavez-Lopez, executive director of the Latina Coalition of Silicon Valley, said her organization is raising awareness about the redistricting process.

“For the Hispanic community, representation has always mattered,” she told San José Spotlight. “It’s really about the proper distribution of power. In the past, we have noticed a lack of diversity in candidate pools and we were concerned that this wasn’t something on our community’s radar. So we are really helping people understand and meeting them where they are at in terms of knowledge of redistricting. We want people to see how it impacts them at the local level.”

San Jose Redistricting Advisory Commission member Ramon Martinez listed a few redistricting commission meeting dates and urged people to participate.

“Very few people join these meetings,” he said. “Many of the maps that are created are never publicly shared. Nothing happens alone. You need to be interacting with others and working together on these maps.”

Residents can participate in redistricting efforts by testifying about a community of interest that should be considered as a district at a public hearing; creating a map of a community of interest using the mapping tool at districtr.org and submitting it to the city or county; and completing a community of interest survey on the city website.

More information on the process can be found here.

Editor’s Note: Rolando Bonilla is married to San José Spotlight board member Perla Rodriguez.

Contact Kristen Pizzo at [email protected]

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