ENCINITAS — The San Dieguito Union High School District board once again voted against rescinding a controversial redistricting map in a split vote on Wednesday, despite an ongoing lawsuit alleging violations of the California Voting Rights Act and pleas from community members for leaders to start the process over in good faith.
This marks the second meeting in which the board has scheduled a public hearing to reconsider the adoption of Map 8 and still voted to keep it in place, with the Republican majority of trustees — Michael Allman, Maureen Mo Muir and Melisse Mossy — maintaining control in a 3-2 vote.
Trustees Julie Bronstein and Katrina Young, both Democrats, advocated heavily for the board to rescind the map, cure and correct alleged Brown Act violations, and accept the San Diego County Office of Education’s offer to take over the process.
“This process has gotten so wonky that I think we would be better off having the San Diego County Office of Education handling it at this point,” said board member Julie Bronstein.
The Office of Education was still reviewing the actions taken by the school board regarding the map as of Thursday, spokeswoman Jennifer Rodriguez said.
The lawsuit regarding the map was filed by two district parents in February and alleges that the map disenfranchises a third of voters, particularly the Hispanic and Asian communities in Carmel Valley and Solana Beach which are split into multiple areas on the map, and gerrymanders areas 5 and 2 to target specific board members.
Due to the significant redrawing of boundaries in the map, Bronstein would have to run for re-election in Area 3 with a completely different population than those in area 5 who elected her to the board via special election last year. In addition, the locations of areas 1 and 2 were inexplicably swapped, leaving Area 2 without a trustee and Young now sharing Area 1 with Muir.
The origins of Map 8 are murky at best. District staff on Wednesday identified Ty Nguyen as the individual who submitted the map but could not confirm their connection to the district.
Lisa Montes, a resident of Solana Beach’s historic La Colonia de Eden Gardens neighborhood and one of two plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said residents will continue fighting for a fair map despite the disappointing vote on Wednesday.
“This evening the San Dieguito Union High School District board voted to keep Map 8 in place, despite a huge community turnout opposing it and calling for it to be rescinded,” Montes said. “We will not let this stop us from holding the school district accountable. We continue with the lawsuit.”
Of the dozens of community members who spoke during public comment Wednesday, all but one called on the three unswayed board members to rescind Map 8. Despite the strong showing against the map, Allman and Mossy claimed that just as many people were in favor of keeping it.
“We got literally hundreds of emails, and it was about split,” Allman said. “The 40 people we have here tonight are the 40 people we have here tonight. It’s not that anybody isn’t listening, but these are judgment calls we have to make.”
Several individuals said the board’s attempt to hold a public hearing after already adopting the map felt insincere, and disappointment surged throughout the room after the board’s vote.
“It feels a little disingenuous, because I have so many questions about the deadlines, and is my input gonna really go anywhere?” one speaker said.
“They clearly were committed to a gerrymandered map before they ever heard from the public. What they did last night proves that nothing the public could stay would make a difference,” Briggs said.
Brown Act discussions shut down
Briggs, the attorney representing the two parents in the lawsuit, also claims that the district committed numerous Brown Act violations by failing to properly post agendas on the district website for board meetings that occurred Feb. 10, 17 and 24.
In a February letter to the district, Briggs argued that any actions taken at those meetings regarding the map are null and void, and urged leaders to correct and cure the violations by March 28.
On Wednesday, Muir shut down Young’s attempts to speak in an open session about the alleged violations, stating that legal counsel had advised all discussions on the topic to be held in closed session. Discussions about the Brown Act were similarly avoided on March 4.
The lawsuit has since been amended to include allegations of Brown Act violations.
Cancelation called into question
Questions also arose Wednesday regarding the sudden cancellation of the board meeting scheduled for March 24.
When pressed by Bronstein, Mossy and superintendent Dr. Cheryl James-Ward revealed that the meeting was canceled because Mossy was unable to attend, despite there still being a quorum. Young and Bronstein noted that they were not afforded the same treatment when they could not attend meetings, and questioned the reasoning behind this decision.
During public comment, Solana Beach City Councilwoman Kelly Harless expressed concerns that the meeting was delayed in order to “stack the vote,” adding that she has never seen any of her own meetings canceled due to an absence when there was still a quorum.
“As a 20-year resident who has had tremendous gratitude and respect for the district board of trustees, I’m here to tell you this board has lost its compass, and I really hope you find your way back starting today,” Harless said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been updated with additional information and quotes.