Bitter and passionate words marked the San Jose City Council’s first public redistricting hearing as advocates urged lawmakers to embrace two different visions of redrawn political boundaries.
Mayor Sam Liccardo and fellow councilmembers refrained from discussion Tuesday, opting instead to hear from more than 150 residents. The hearing is the first of three to be held over the next month.
Residents discussed three potential maps—known as Commission, Community and Unity— advanced earlier this month by the 11-member San Jose Redistricting Commission, tasked to redraw the city’s 10 council districts. Cities, counties and states redo political districts every decade to account for population changes.
Residents ignored the Commission Map, which would maintain many neighborhoods in their districts, and focused instead on the Community and Unity maps. The Community Map would split District 3 and add parts of it into Districts 6 and 4, while placing part of District 7 into District 10. The Unity Map would redraw significant swaths of Districts 2, 3, 6, 9 and 10.
Proponents of the Unity Map, created by a coalition of civil rights and labor groups, argue it will uplift the voices of underrepresented ethnic groups, renters, workers and LGBTQ residents. A map created by the same coalition is being considered by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors.
Representatives of groups including SOMOS Mayfair, Vietnamese American Roundtable and SEIU said the Unity Map addresses historic redlining in the city.
“The Unity Map is currently the only map that doesn’t suppress the voices of people of color,” said Carmen Brammer with the Black Leadership Kitchen Cabinet of Silicon Valley.
Unity Map supporters accused Community Map proponents of smearing their proposal with misinformation.
“They talk about wanting to keep things the way they are,” said Ingrid Granados, a lifelong resident who lives in District 3. “The way they are is a reflection of a racist, redlining history. It’s time to move forward.”
Mayra Pelagio, executive director for Latinos United for a New America, said the Unity Map would keep several diverse neighborhoods in District 7, including Reid-Hillview.
“The updated map is the only map under consideration by the commission that does not radically suppress the votes of Latino residents,” she said.
Several renters spoke in favor of the Unity Map, which they see as a necessary counterbalance against wealthy homeowners.
“If we allow the loudest, richest voices to consistently drown out the majority, our current problems will get worse,” said Andrew Macias, a 34-year resident of San Jose. “The Unity Map is the first step to a fair future for everyone.”
San Jose lawmakers have pledged to build up the city’s supply of affordable housing, but progress is slow. There is a serious need for cheap rent in San Jose, which recently ranked as the second most expensive rental market in the county.
Some residents said the Unity Map should not be advanced because the Redistricting Commission narrowly approved it in a split 6-5 vote, as opposed to the Community Map, which received a 9-2 vote. The commission approved its own map unanimously.
“This is such blatant gerrymandering,” said resident Marni Kamzan, referring to the Unity Map. She noted the map would move tens of thousands more residents out of their current districts than the other options.
Several residents tried to dismiss the legitimacy of the Unity Map by citing its creation by various civil rights and labor groups, 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.
“The Unity Map was drafted by the special interest groups,” said Jenny Zhao, a 22-year resident of San Jose. She also complained the map would shift approximately 16% of city residents into new districts.
Various residents claimed the Unity Map would splinter neighborhoods. Dave Noel, president of the Erikson Neighborhood Association who attended a protest outside City Hall earlier in the evening, argued the map would disrupt natural communities of interest in Districts 2 and 10 in South San Jose.
Maxine Lubow, a San Jose resident, urged councilmembers to support the Community Map to preserve downtown neighborhoods.
“Why would you make a line down 10th and 11th streets to divide us?” she said. “We have worked 45 years with downtown to rid it of many things that were bad—leave us alone.”
The redistricting process has prompted outrage and concern from different San Jose communities. Last month, business groups expressed fears about how the maps could potentially split commercial districts such as the Alum Rock corridor, weakening representation for small businesses. Downtown residents have protested against any maps that will divide neighborhoods like Naglee Park and Japantown, diluting their representation on hot-button issues like homelessness and parking.
Several Vietnamese residents said they feared the Unity Map would dilute their voting power as a community. District 7 City Council candidate Bien Doan led the protest outside City Hall against the Unity Map, which he calls racially divisive.
“This is discriminatory, divisive and silences the voice of the Vietnamese and Asian community,” Doan said.
The Community Map drew support from various neighborhood associations. Nathan Ulsh, director of policy and operations for the San Jose Downtown Association, said the group’s members overwhelmingly support the map. It also received support from the Santa Clara County Association of Realtors, citing its preservation of existing neighborhoods.
“We urge the council to eliminate the Unity Map from further consideration since it does the exact opposite of its name,” said Tim Beaubien, director of government affairs for the association.