More than 20 people gathered in front of San Jose City Hall Tuesday evening to protest a redistricting map they say is divisive and discriminatory.
The protest, organized by District 7 City Council candidate Bien Doan, calls for the rejection of the Unity Map—a proposal brought forth by a coalition of local civil rights, labor and community-based organizations. The protest comes as the San Jose City Council considers three options that will set San Jose’s district boundaries for the next decade.
Protesters claim the Unity Map is “politically and racially divisive” and pits communities of color against each other. They want councilmembers to support an option called the Community Map, drafted by District 3 residents. They said the option keeps most city neighborhoods intact and makes the least changes to current political boundaries. The third option, shaped by public comments and the city’s consultant, is called the Commission Map.
“This process was supposed to be free from any political intervention, yet there is a special interest group that paid to have the map redrawn toward their benefit,” Doan told San José Spotlight. “And that they don’t seem to have any interest in preserving the Vietnamese or the Asian American community.”
The Commission Map retains many existing neighborhoods in their districts, while the Community Map keeps neighborhoods of interest in District 3 together, such as Japantown and Naglee Park. The Unity Map has faced the most scrutiny and criticism so far.
Both the Community Map and Unity Map would keep most of the districts on the east side intact. The Unity Map would dramatically redraw Districts 2, 3, 6, 9 and 10. The Community Map would split District 3, adding parts of it into Districts 6 and 4. Under that proposal, parts of District 7 would also be added to District 10.
Doan led a chant outside City Hall before leading about a dozen people into the council chambers.
Long Nguyen, a District 7 resident and board director for the Vietnamese Voluntary Foundation, said he hasn’t had the chance to review the Commission Map, but supports the Community Map.
“The Unity Map seemed like it divided the community, especially the Asian community,” Nguyen said. “I looked at the Community Map and I thought, ‘Well, this is very fair.’”
Residents from other districts also spoke in support of the Community Map. Dave Noel, president of the Erikson Neighborhood Association in District 9, said the option makes the most sense for his neighborhood.
“It seems like they were scrambling for Districts 2, 9 and 10, and really messing around with them,” Noel said.
Former Councilmember Johnny Khamis also attended the protest and said the Vietnamese community will be split regardless of what option the council chooses, but the Community Map will have the least impact. In his run for District 1 county supervisor, Khamis could potentially be left out of the race if the Board of Supervisors approves a map that would theoretically exclude his campaign because he’ll no longer live within district boundaries.
“I’m glad to be here to support the Vietnamese community who are speaking up and standing up for their own voices,” he told San José Spotlight. “A lot of people pretend that they’re standing up for the Asian community, which is not true.”
The redistricting process, also happening at the state and national levels, has become contentious as residents, businesses and advocates all want a say in reshaping the city’s political boundaries. The process follows the release of census population data every 10 years.
Creators of the Unity Map—including the Asian Law Alliance, NAACP San Jose-Silicon Valley, South Bay Labor Council, Latino Leadership Alliance, La Raza Roundtable and Silicon Valley Rising Action—claim it would undo historically redlined regions, maximize representation of historically marginalized groups and prevent voter suppression.
Maria Noel Fernandez, deputy executive director of Working Partnerships USA and campaign director for Silicon Valley Rising, said the number one goal of redistricting is to ensure an equal voice for all San Jose residents—and that the Unity Map accomplishes this.
“The other maps, which continue to be advanced by right-wing political activists, candidates and political parties only amplify inequities we face as a city giving greater power to wealthy neighborhoods and suppressing the voices of Latino, Asian and Black voters, renters and working families,” she told San José Spotlight. “In places like District 4, the Community Map dilutes the voices of Vietnamese voters by pushing neighborhoods along the Penitencia Creek into District 5, in a move that also suppresses Latino voters in East San Jose.”
Maintaining the current district lines, which the Commission and Community maps propose, would mean maintaining San Jose’s history of redlining, supporters of the Unity Map said. The map is endorsed by progressive Vietnamese groups such as the Vietnamese American Roundtable.
Each proposal must consider “communities of interest” when redrawing districts, such as historic neighborhoods, ethnic enclaves and small business corridors. Historically, a lack of transparency and backroom negotiations pose threats to district representation in cities throughout the state.
“While Bien Doan and the conservative activists and candidates tout their map for keeping things the same, it’s clear their map reinforces efforts to reduce the influence of certain neighborhoods, especially of renters and communities of color,” Fernandez said.
The San Jose City Council has until Jan. 11 to adopt new political boundaries.