After months of heated debate and confusion, San Jose finally adopts new political boundaries that redefine the future of the 10th largest city in the nation for the next decade.
The San Jose City Council voted 7-4 Wednesday to adopt a map first proposed by Councilmember David Cohen that includes boundary changes made last week by other councilmembers. Councilmembers Sergio Jimenez, Raul Peralez, Magdalena Carrasco and Sylvia Arenas voted no.
The map drastically redraws the boundaries of Districts 2 and 10, but preserves most of the existing lines for Districts 5, 7 and 8 on the East Side—following swift backlash against some suggestions made at the previous meeting about potential voter suppression. The council did not consider the three maps advanced by the 11-member San Jose Redistricting Commission.
Redistricting occurs once every 10 years on the local, state and federal levels following the census count to make sure political districts have roughly equal populations. In San Jose this means about 100,000 people per district.
No perfect map
The meeting took an ugly turn as councilmembers spent hours arguing for their proposals—at times accusing each other of attempting to dilute the votes of minority communities.
“There’s no perfect map,” District 10 Councilmember Matt Mahan said. “We’re all going through a messy, complicated process of trying to figure out how we create a fair map that does right by our entire community, keeps communities of interest together and abides by the various laws we need to abide by.”
Councilmembers Maya Esparza of District 7, Carrasco of District 5 and Arenas of District 8 formed a trio urging the City Council to adopt Cohen’s initial map and undo many of the most recent proposed changes to maintain the boundaries of their districts—with the exception of Dove Hill. They also asked for the Canoas Garden neighborhood, comprised of mostly renters and voters of color, to move out of the white-dominant District 9 and back into District 6 out of concerns of diluting the neighborhood’s political clout.
“If we’re concerned about voting rights in one part of the city, we need to be concerned about voting rights in all parts of the city,” Esparza said.
Lawmakers rejected the trio’s proposal, opting to work on a version of the map the City Council approved last week. Mayor Sam Liccardo said restarting the process again would cause more confusion for residents.
“I think it’s good to start where we left off because that is the most transparent way to do it,” he said. “There’s been a lot of dialogue about this map over the last week.”
Redrawing some boundaries
The biggest change is the new boundary line for Districts 10 and 2. The two districts are spilt east to west, using Highway 85 as part of the border.
The two districts previously used Monterey Road and Snell Avenue—creating a north to south border during the last decade. Mahan said maintaining the same line makes the most sense.
Jimenez, who represents District 2, said his proposal isn’t trying to solve a problem, but rather working to enhance the neighborhoods in these districts.
“Improving upon the existing boundaries and bringing together communities of interest is a worthwhile effort,” he said, adding that District 10 neighborhoods like Edenvale and those along the Capitol Expressway share common concerns with residents in District 2. “We aren’t sending these constituents off to an island without representation.”
The council voted 9-2 to approve the new border. Mahan and Councilmember Dev Davis voted no.
After making some proposals last week that led to concerns about diluting Asian votes, councilmembers in the three East San Jose districts—Esparza, Carrasco and Arenas—agreed to preserve their boundary lines with the exception of Dove Hill, which will break off from District 7 and merge into District 8. Arenas said last week that many children in the neighborhood attend schools in District 8.
This means moving the Little Portugal neighborhood back to District 3, Hillview neighborhood back to District 5 and the Aborn and Silver Creek neighborhoods back to District 7.
The trio’s suggestion received overwhelming support from civil rights and labor groups and Vietnamese voters, who turned out in droves to speak in support of maintaining the borders.
“We can’t stand by and allow a decrease in representation that might lead to further displacement and institutional neglect,” resident Don Nguyen said. “This impacts the next decade and beyond.”
The City Council also argued about a potential voter suppression issue at the boundary of Districts 6 and 9. Arenas claimed moving the Canoas Garden neighborhood to District 9, which is the least diverse district in the city, would dilute the votes of renters and minority communities in the neighborhood.
Davis said the boundary change is what the Redistricting Commission recommended to balance the districts’ populations.
“So this has been vetted with 42 hours of public comment and received an 11-0 vote from the commission,” she said. “I don’t think we should just completely disregard that.”
The council voted 6-5 to move the neighborhood.
Districts 3 and 6 also see their boundaries pushed back to Highway 87 to keep the existing neighborhoods intact, such as Hyde Park and Japantown.
Members of a coalition of civil rights and labor groups that advocated for the Unity Map issued a statement after the council vote.
“We will continue to fight for all San Jose residents, no matter their ZIP code, to have a real voice in our shared democracy,” said Bob Nuñez, president of the San Jose/Silicon Valley NAACP.
Frustrated by the confusing and drawn-out process, the City Council unanimously voted to also review the city’s redistricting process in early 2022.
“I think we are all frustrated,” Esparza said.
The frustration was echoed throughout the meeting from residents, as many also criticized the city’s lack of Asian representation in the decision-making process.
“Over 40% of our city population is Asian American, and yet, there was no representation in the (redistricting) commission,” said Thuan Nguyen, a resident of 40 years. “And after months of discussion, members of the City Council scrapped the entire thing and proposed something that does not reflect the population and the diversity of the city.”