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Commentary: Redistricting – Let’s get it right this time

By Julie Thunder

The City of Encinitas has embarked on the process of redefining the voting district map from which our City Council members will be elected. This redistricting provides Encinitas residents an opportunity to undo the controversial map which presently defines the boundaries of each of the four districts, and to redraw the lines so that communities are not divided and political advantage is not indulged.

Why redistrict at all? After each census, governments across the nation must revise their voting districts to ensure equal (or nearly so) population and fair racial distribution. Many cities and counties form citizen committees to manage the process, as SD County and Carlsbad have done. But in Encinitas, Mayor Catherine Blakespear and her council have chosen themselves to be the ones to draw local boundaries, with input from residents.

When Encinitas first incorporated, residents voted on at-large council candidates, with the top five vote getters gaining office. That changed in 2017 when we switched to district voting and carved up the city into four districts, with only the mayor elected city wide.

The 2017 map was one submitted anonymously by “Citizen 16.” That map did not follow key redistricting guidelines, including the directive to draw boundary lines in a way that would minimize division of communities and encourage geographic compactness. But it was still approved by Council in a 3-2 vote, with Blakespear, Lisa Shaffer, and Tasha Boerner Horvath in favor. Tony Kranz and Mark Muir opposed it.

Residents learned later that Boerner Horvath was the anonymous “Citizen 16.” Her map was privately pitched to the Council as one which would avoid pitting any sitting council member against another in a campaign for re-election. We also learned that the District 3 map, with its strange panhandle, was in particular intended to place Muir in a Cardiff-based district, a distinct community with which he did not have strong ties. Muir was defeated in the 2018 election by the late Cardiff resident Jody Hubbard, who was a crony of Mayor Blakespear.

As shown, the current map splits up three of our communities: Leucadia, Old Encinitas, and New Encinitas. Granted, dividing five communities into four parts will naturally result in boundaries that won’t satisfy everybody, but the notion of compactness and preservation of neighborhoods should be the starting point. The “D3 panhandle” extending into New Encinitas violates those principles.

Our new districts should be based on the mandated redistricting principles, not designed secretly to indulge political advantage. A proper approach would start with the original historic communities (Encinitas, Leucadia, Olivenhain, and Cardiff) and build the four districts out from those core areas to capture an equivalent population in each. Readers who go to the city’s redistricting website to build their own maps will find that some have already been made which appear to honor this process.

It’s important now for residents to get involved and contribute to the drafting of district maps that minimize politics while promoting cohesion in our community. You can start by attending the community workshop this Saturday, Oct. 16, or use the free online mapping tool to draw your own configurations — more ideas and more maps yield more choices! Learn about both here.

One final note, my hope is that in the future we can shift to five voting districts, reflecting each of our distinct locales (Cardiff, Old Encinitas, Leucadia, New Encinitas, Olivenhain) with an annually rotating mayor. This would allow each community to have its own representation and to also have a turn at holding the office of mayor.