The San Dieguito Union High School District board has selected the map that will transform the district from an at-large election method to by-trustee voting areas. The board voted unanimously in favor of the “Cranberry 1” map, one of eight map options under consideration. The two Cranberry maps were the last added to the mix, created in response to input from the Pacific Highlands Ranch community after five public hearings and two community meetings. Of all of the map options, Cranberry 1 had generated the most amount of community backing— Superintendent Eric Dill said the district received an “overwhelming” number of emails supporting the Cranberry 1, a total of 87. The next biggest response in support was for the Tan map with 13 emailed comments—the rest of the options had just one or two.
The transition to by-trustee areas was undertaken in response to threats of costly litigation for violations of the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA). The CVRA prohibits the use of at-large elections of governing board members if it “impairs the ability of a protected class to elect candidates of its choice or its ability to influence the outcome of an election.” Cities and school districts and elected bodies across the state have been undergoing this same process.
San Dieguito’s selected map will now go to the San Diego County Committee on School District Organization for approval and if the committee approves the change, the new voting areas will take effect in the 2018 general election.
The maps have no effect on attendance boundaries — they simply create districts where candidates need to live to run for the board and for people to vote for them. Elected board members’ responsibility continues to be for the entire district.
Justin Levitt, the district’s demographer with National Demographics Corporation, said maps focused on neighborhoods and communities of interest together, such as elementary school feeder districts and boundaries of middle school attendance boundaries and cities. An effort was made to include at least two middle school attendance zones in each district so trustees are representing multiple schools. Levitt said the number one criteria for the district areas is that they should be of equal population. While race cannot be used as the only criteria or predominant factor, Levitt said the district’s Asian American and Latino pockets were taken into account as the lines were drawn: as an example, an effort was made not to divide the Asian American community in Carmel Valley.
In the Pacific Highlands Ranch community, residents Manjeet Ranu and Clay Whiting led the efforts in helping to make Cranberry 1 the map of choice.
Whiting, a Pacific Highlands Ranch resident since 2006, said he got interested in the San Dieguito Union High School District during the last election, becoming more invested as his two daughters reach high school age —his oldest is an eighth grader at Pacific Trails Middle School.
As he learned more about the CVRA process, his original anxiety was relieved as he was concerned the maps would change attendance boundaries — while he lives closer to Canyon Crest Academy, his daughters are set on Torrey Pines High School.
“I thought this electoral map change was going to happen this year and there’s not a lot of attention probably and it impacts the future of our public schools in the community,” Whiting said. “I looked at the original maps and I felt like there wasn’t a good plausible map for Pacific Highlands Ranch.”
Whiting, a physician, went to Ranu as someone in the community that he trusted, with his experience as a former PHR representative on the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board and current planner for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
“The maps all split up PHR and otherwise dilute the voting power of Carmel Valley and PHR, along with the Asian ethnic groups in these areas, a California Voting Rights Act consideration,” Ranu stated in his letter to the district. “Bottom line is that we need a Carmel Valley- dominated district and a PHR-dominated district to ensure political representation in balance with North County coastal areas and to provide for Asian representation.”
As the district demographers responded with the Cranberry map that met those needs, Whiting went to work raising awareness. He used social media, the Solana Ranch School Dads’ Club and sites like Nextdoor.com to spread the word encouraging residents to contact the district in support of the map that “keeps our schools fantastic”.
“It sounds like those efforts came to fruition,” Whiting said. “I’m really pleased to hear that it came out positively for the Pacific Highlands Ranch community moving forward.”
During the public hearing on Dec. 14, the three speakers all spoke in favor of the Cranberry map. Carmel Valley resident Wendy Gumb said she had preferred the Purple map option but she understood why Pacific Highlands Ranch wanted to keep the community together.
“Actually I was really excited about how outspoken and vocal they were about keeping community unity,” Gumb said.
Gumb said in reviewing all of the emails the district received on the maps she noted with those 13 in support of the Tan map seemed to prefer that option in order to get “new blood” on the school board. Gumb said the only way to achieve that objective is to conduct a recall of the 2020 trustee seats (Beth Hergesheimer and Joyce Dalessandro), gathering the necessary signatures in the newly approved smaller district areas.
“If we did this the right way we could have a new board majority elected during the 2018 election,” Gumb said. “It would move the district into a new era and shake it up a bit.”
Encinitas resident Rhea Stewart said the process has been interesting in understanding what others think outside of her own boundaries. Her priorities with the maps resolved around keeping Cardiff School District in one voting area and keeping the boundaries around San Dieguito High School Academy as there is a strong history and connection to the school in the Encinitas community.
“The Cranberry 1 map is balanced, it keeps most of the elementary school feeder districts together as much as possible and it allows each boundary area to have at least one school in its district,” Stewart said.
With Cranberry the clear front runner, Torrey Pines High School representative Isaac Gelman made the motion to approve the map and the vote was unanimous.
“This is a very large change,” said board member Amy Herman, repeating what she has said throughout the whole process, that even though board members will be elected by a particular area, their job is to represent the district as a whole. “We would hope into the future that board members elected by one part of the community would continue to make decisions based on what’s best for the entire district.”