ENCINITAS — A residents’ lawsuit has alleged the San Dieguito Union High School District’s new electoral map violates the California Voting Rights Act by disenfranchising a third of voters and purposefully targeting two board members by gerrymandering their districts.
The lawsuit, which is expected to be filed on Tuesday in San Diego Superior Court, seeks declaratory and injunctive relief to prevent the district from submitting its newly-approved electoral map to the San Diego County Office of Education.
“The parties, therefore, require a judicial determination of the Rearranged Map’s legal force and effect (if any),” the lawsuit reads.
According to a letter by Paul Gothold, the county’s superintendent of schools, any delay in the process due to litigation could result in the county taking over the redistricting process from San Dieguito, which could cost the district financially.
Cory Briggs, of San Diego-based Briggs Law Corporation, filed the suit on behalf of two residents, Carol Chang of San Diego and Solana Beach’s Lisa Montes, both of whom live within the San Dieguito Union High School District. In a letter to Superintendent Cheryl James-Ward, Briggs warns the district against destroying any messages or communications related to the redistricting process.
“My clients are concerned about the possibility that electronic communications and other ‘writings’ may be deleted or otherwise sequestered or destroyed; such conduct could expose SDUHSD and the offending trustee(s)/employee(s) to monetary, issue, evidentiary, or other sanctions and could also result in evidentiary presumptions that are harmful to SDUHSD’s defense,” Briggs wrote.
Speaking with The Coast News Tuesday morning, Briggs said his concerns are based on his more than 20 years of arguing cases against elected officials.
“Elected officials have all sorts of back-channel communications,” Briggs said. “They police themselves and one should query the evolution of the maps.”
Briggs questions how the school board came to the final map that was adopted last week after the first maps given to the district by the demographer were not as drastic in their alterations to the district boundaries.
“That didn’t happen because the demographers fell and hit their heads,” Briggs said. “There was nobody advocating for those maps except for the three board members. The pernicious map didn’t fall out of the sky.”
In an email statement to the Times of San Diego, which first published news of the lawsuit late Monday evening, Trustee Melisse Mossy said: “I would never purposely adversely affect my colleagues. As a point of proof, I was eliminated in all three maps we were considering. I think I was the most adversely affected because if I choose to run again, I have to move or wait several years. I was also told that trustees would remain in their trustee areas until their scheduled time of re-election.”
The complaint, which has not yet been assigned a judge, claims the maps “crack” and “pack” (terms used in cases of gerrymandering) minority voters in the district to give the conservative majority on the board more power.
The suit alleges the new map divides, or “cracks,” the Hispanic community within the previous map’s Trustee Area 1 and Trustee Area 3 and instead “packs” them into the new Trustee Area 2.
Similarly, the complaint states the map divides the Asian population of the previous Trustee Area 4, instead of packing more White voters into the area, “thereby diluting the influence of the Asian population in future trustee area 4 elections.”
The suit also alleges that changes to the numbering of Trustee Area 1 and Trustee Area 2 disenfranchise a significant portion of the school district’s population by not allowing them to vote in board elections until 2024.
“About 60,000 voters (30,000 voters each in two trustee areas) are not going to be able to vote in 2022. It will be six years between votes,” Briggs said. “That’s a third of the district not allowed to vote. That’s not a few pennies in the couch, that’s a good number of people.”
Briggs also claims the map “punishes” two elected officials, Trustee Julie Bronstein and Trustee Katrina Young, of the board’s Democrat minority. The suit alleges the new map purposefully draws its lines around the residence of Bronstein, who was elected via special election last year, to force her to “run for re-election in a trustee area where she does not have the same level of connection to the residents and community she was elected to represent.”
During last week’s board meeting when the final map was adopted, a letter from Gothold was presented to the board outlining a potential course of action should legal action prevent the school district from submitting a map to the county before its March 1 deadline.
Under the law, if the district fails to submit the final map by the cutoff date, the county can draw a new map and bill the school district for expenses related to the map-making process.
The County Office of Education confirmed to The Coast News that the San Dieguito Union High School District has not yet submitted its newly-approved map.
UPDATE: This article includes a quote from Trustee Melisse Mossy to the Times of San Diego. Additionally, the County Office of Education recently confirmed it has not received the school district’s final map.