After a lengthy process that many city leaders and community members described as a “messy,” “painful” and “frustrating,” San Jose’s political boundaries are officially moving.
The San Jose City Council finalized a new map Wednesday to redraw the city’s district boundaries as required every 10 years after the U.S. Census to reflect population shifts.
The decision came after a final discussion that lasted nearly six hours, stretched across two days and attempted to quell concerns raised about potential voter suppression and legal infractions.
“The redistricting process has been unnecessarily messy, starting with the fact that the council was given three different maps to choose from,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said in an interview after the meeting. “… But at the end of the day, we have a map that addresses population changes, complies with federal law and fairly responds to the needs of our diverse community.”
The adopted map was initially submitted by Councilmember David Cohen last week and tweaked following input received from residents and other members of the council. The map, referred to as the Council Map, was chosen among a total of five different options — three advanced by the city’s 11-member Redistricting Commission after months of deliberation and community meetings and two late additions drawn by Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco and Cohen.
From the onset, two maps proposed by community members and advocacy groups — referred to as the Unity Map and Community Map — sparked heated debates and polarizing views among residents who clashed over keeping as many of the current boundaries in place and reversing the status quo to give more voting power to renters and people of color. Cohen said his map was intended to find a middle ground between the two by reuniting communities in Willow Glen and downtown while ensuring the voices of voters of color and renters were also lifted.
“We always want to default to what we know and what we’re comfortable with as far as district lines,” Cohen said during Wednesday’s meeting. “… But if every cycle we say our goal is to keep the lines where they are in all boundaries, we are not using this opportunity to do what may be better for the residents of this city.”
Under the new map, districts 2, 3, 6 and 10 will experience the biggest changes to their boundaries. A northeast chunk of District 10 will be moved into District 2 and most neighborhoods between Highway 85 and Santa Teresa County Park will be shifted from District 2 into District 10.
Councilmember Sergio Jimenez, who represents District 2, said the shift “better aligns some of the respective communities of interest.” He noted that renters in the current northeastern neighborhoods of District 10 share the same interests with residents in the northern portion of his district in terms of transit, affordable housing and tenant protections. Meanwhile, residents along the Santa Teresa Foothills, who will now be moved into District 2, share much of the same interests of residents in District 10’s Almaden Valley pertaining to protecting open space, limiting density and preserving single-family neighborhoods, Jimenez said.
Although Councilmember Matt Mahan, who represents District 10, was initially opposed to the shift, he noted the need to increase the population of District 10 and to dispel accusations made by the public that he was trying to suppress the vote of minorities and renters within the city by sticking closer to the current boundary lines.
“I think if you’ve been following the process, the very reasonable questions that I’ve raised about swapping 60,000 people between District 10 and District 2 is a rational conversation we can have,” he said during the meeting. “.. But let’s move on with a rational honest conversation that doesn’t accuse people of something incredibly serious and ethically and legally wrong, which is voter suppression.”
San Jose census data shows that the city’s population grew by about 67,000 residents in the past decade, increasing from nearly 946,000 residents to 1,013,000. Districts 3 and 4, which encompass the city’s downtown area and North San Jose, are the most heavily populated.
To rebalance the growth in those two districts, some southern portions of District 4 will be moved into Districts 3 and 5, and District 6 will expand to the northeast to include the neighborhoods north of the SAP center and around the airport, which were previously a part of downtown District 3.
During the council’s discussions over the past two weeks, a main point of contention rose around proposed changes to the District 7 boundary that would increase Latino representation while diminishing Asian-American representation. Liccardo worried the proposed shifts would potentially violate the law by diluting the voting strength of the city’s Asian American residents in the district, which has the third-highest percentage of Asian-Americans in the city.
Asian Americans are the largest and fastest-growing ethnic group in San Jose. They comprise 38% of the city’s population yet they have no representation on the current city council and no Asian Americans were named to the city’s 11-member Redistricting Commission tasked with proposing potential maps for council consideration.
In the end, the council decided to keep District 7’s eastern border in place, therefore maintaining a higher percentage of Asian-American voters.
“The majority of the council did the right thing by unwinding some of the earlier decisions that could have been viewed as impermissibly diluting Asian American vote in District 7,” Liccardo said, “and that is a concern in any lawsuit under the Voting Rights Act.”