The recent San Jose City Council meetings to review the findings from the Redistricting Commission continue to show San Jose’s dismissive behavior and attitude towards its African/African Ancestry community.
Most of the maps, with the exception of the Unity Map, that have been put forth suppress the voices and votes of our community. The complexity that has been displayed when presenting and discussing the maps requires a cartographer degree. Therefore, it is not surprising that our City Council cannot anchor on a map. Many councilmembers want to keep the status quo, which means maintaining a city that consists of unaffordable housing, higher levels of incarceration, unsustainable renting policies and costs, plus keeping intact districts that have little to no African/African Ancestry residents.
The 2020 Census data shows a steady decline in San Jose/Santa Clara County’s African/African Ancestry population. The big question that is thrown out is “why?” as if the answer is somehow hidden. San Jose has an ugly history of redlining and racism. As a city that touts itself as being the center of innovation, finding creative solutions to racial equity somehow seems impossible. We just have to look around this city to see the policies and programs that are contributing to the depletion of African/African Ancestry folks:
- There is no one neighborhood that houses and serves our community, as we are scattered throughout the city
- We have little to no political representation
- There are few business or home owners, which severely hampers our ability to create and maintain generational wealth
- We make up a significant percentage of the “essential” workers who are unable to thrive due to low wages
- We are overrepresented throughout the justice system and in the jails
- We suffer from the most cases and deaths from COVID-19, compared to our population, than any other ethnic group
- We comprise almost 20% of the city’s unhoused population
Our city now has a golden opportunity to resolve the inequities of its African/African Ancestry community with the redistricting process. A commission was established in February to obtain community input over the past nine months. They presented three options based on the feedback. Unfortunately, by not selecting one the community felt would be best for all San Jose’s communities, we are faced with this difficult scenario.
The Black Leadership Kitchen Cabinet (BLKC) of Silicon Valley supported the Unity Map because it gave emphasis to our voices and votes. Then councilmembers, two of which are running in the 2022 mayoral race, blew up the process by throwing out the maps presented by the Redistricting Commission to present their own version of what they believe is “right” for San Jose’s residents. These maps continue to be convoluted and seem to neglect everything the Unity Map got right.
These “new” map changes are occurring at the 11th hour, with no time for full community participation and we find it unacceptable. Our City Council has known about the redistricting process and should have come to the redistricting meetings to present their maps. As we are now stuck in this mire of specific councilmembers’ making, we have to hold our noses and choose the one that does not further erode the involvement and engagement of the African/African Ancestry community.
In addition, changes proposed by councilmembers may violate the Voting Rights Act by splitting up communities of color in some of the most heavily African/African Ancestry, Latinx and Asian neighborhoods. This exposes the city to potential legal challenges and delays.
Based on community discussion and feedback, BLKC supports the map Councilmember David Cohen proposed with lines for Districts 6 and 9. If this change is not made, it would lead to reducing our diversity by cutting the Canoas Gardens neighborhood off from the rest of District 6. As a result, District 6 will become an even whiter, wealthier, predominantly homeowner area of San Jose. Our African/African Ancestry voting age population would be reduced by almost one full point. This is a serious cause for concern due to our already small population percentage.
Furthermore, the proposal by Councilmember Matt Mahan, 2022 mayoral candidate, to retain existing lines in Districts 2 and 10 would also be a significant blow and would continue to suppress and dilute our voices in these two districts. Mahan’s proposal should be opposed.
We call on our City Council to draw San Jose’s electoral map using Councilmember Cohen’s proposed lines in South San Jose, Districts 2, 6, 9 and 10. It is the strongest map being presented and balances the concerns of equity that shaped the Unity Map, and the concerns of neighborhood representation that drove the messaging around the Community Map.
We also urge that there be no changes to the boundaries of Districts 4 and 5, Districts 5 and 7, and Districts 7 and 8 from their current positions. We stand in solidarity with the Si Se Puede Collective, the Vietnamese American Roundtable and other allies who seek to elevate the voices of our African/African Ancestry, Indigenous, Latinx and Asian/Pacific Islander communities.
It’s time for San Jose to live up to its innovation reputation and deliver equity for all its residents, not just those the current system is set up to favor.
Jahmal Williams and Alma Burrell are co-chairs of the Black Leadership Kitchen Cabinet of Silicon Valley.