Op-ed: San Jose’s new district map silences some communities of color
An aerial view of downtown San Jose is pictured in this file photo.

    Last month, the San Jose City Council voted on a new electoral district map—carving out boundaries that will impact how our communities are represented for the next 10 years.

    While the district map adopted by the City Council attempts to address a legacy of racial segregation that continues to impact our region in areas like South San Jose, in many ways the new map will continue to silence communities of color in some of San Jose’s most diverse neighborhoods.

    We are disappointed especially in Councilmember David Cohen who voted against his own proposal. The end result, which pivoted toward maintaining an imbalance of political power in our city, suppresses the votes of African/African American ancestry, Asian and Latino voters and renters.

    In District 6, an area defined by redlining and racial covenants, Councilmember Cohen opposed his own plan to create a more equitable district retaining the diverse area of Canoas Gardens. After hours of testimony from the community supporting Cohen’s original proposal, he ultimately broke his word and sided with Councilmembers Dev Davis, Pam Foley and Matt Mahan’s plan to move highly predominately neighborhoods of color out of District 6. His vote increased a white voting majority in District 6 and blocked a map that could have increased Black, Latino and renter voter representation by about 15% each.

    Rather than crack down on the divisive and misleading tactics used by conservative activists intended to pit Asian and Latino communities against each other—and supported by Mayor Sam Liccardo—Councilmember Cohen chose to align himself with these same conservative forces, as a result, failing San Jose’s communities of color.

    It’s important to note, it’s not the first time. When a wide coalition of small, family-owned businesses were threatened with displacement by the redevelopment of the Berryessa Flea Market, we saw Cohen side with corporate developers, big donors and corporate lobbyists.

    Councilmember Cohen’s readiness to disregard the needs of San Jose’s most often ignored residents speaks volumes to where his priorities lie. While he touts himself as a great compromiser, the only thing he continues to compromise is the well-being of communities of color, renters and working families.

    As these same communities continue to be displaced by skyrocketing housing costs and stagnant wages, we cannot create more barriers for change. We will not remain silent as special interest groups and conservative forces work overtime to manipulate policy decisions and while certain members of our council act as allies in hoarding power for the few.

    We also celebrate the overwhelming amount of engagement throughout a months-long redistricting process, in which week after week, people from all corners of our city came together to create progress in San Jose.

    Moving forward, we will continue to work hand in hand with our communities toward a just San Jose in which each voice has equal status and every neighborhood has equal resources.

    Jahmal Williams is co-chair of the Black Leadership Kitchen Cabinet Silicon Valley. Victor Garza is chair of the La Raza Roundtable. Paul Fong is president of the executive board of the South Bay Labor Council.

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