Pacific Beach Town Council discusses redistricting options, hears about fentanyl dangers

A map of the current City Council District 2 (in tan, as it relates to the surrounding council districts
A map of the current City Council District 2 (in tan) as it relates to the surrounding council districts
(Courtesy of the San Diego Redistricting Commission)

As San Diego redraws its nine City Council districts to reflect population shifts revealed in the 2020 census, the Pacific Beach Town Council sought input at its last meeting for its effort to influence that outcome.

The Second District in which PB is located lost 4.5 percent of its 2010 population, according to the census, and must expand its boundaries to incorporate communities currently in other districts to achieve the mandated proportional representation for each district.

With the final Nov. 15 deadline for public input fast approaching and at least one special interest community group in advanced stages of pushing its goal for the redistricting, the meeting focused on whether residents wanted a single district representing coastal communities or up to three.

“I think this came on without us really knowing that it was happening,” said PBTC president Marcella Bothwell on redistricting, one of two presentations at the Sept. 15 meeting. “The problem is [we] don’t have a lot of time...This will be what we’re dealing with for the next 10 years and who we can count on to help us with our issues. So it’s really important.”

A Redistricting Commission appointed by an appellate court must meet five criteria in producing new districts. As much as possible, the communities in the City’s Council districts must be contiguous, geographically compact, share common interests, use physical boundaries such as canyons or interstate highways, and have equal population within a 2 percent margin.

In September, the commission held public meetings in each district to gather community input, with the last on Sept. 28. The commission will then draw a preliminary map of the new districts and hold five meetings from Oct. 15 to Nov. 15 for community discussion and review. A final map will be submitted to the Registrar of Voters by Dec. 15.

Bothwell sought feedback from the audience on whether consolidating the city’s coastal communities from La Jolla to Point Loma into a single district might be more beneficial to residents.

“There are some positive and negative things,” she said. “The positive might be that we might have a uniform message for our coastal issues. A negative would be that we’d only have one voice in the council for coastal issues...Is one coastal district a good idea? Would we rather have two to three coastal districts?”

La Jolla is located in District One and all coastal communities south of La Jolla are in District Two. One audience member named John shared his viewpoint in the comments section of the virtual meeting.

“Coastal sounds great,” the comment read. “But that only gives one voice. Everyone uses and/or misuses the beaches. This creates an undue burden without a voice to obtain the resources.”

Bothwell showed a proposed map for District Six already created by an Asian Pacific Islanders organization that includes the UCSD and UTC areas of District One’s northern border, unifying the group’s major centers of population into one district.

If successful, that effort could then combine La Jolla with Pacific Beach and Mission Beach into a district, with Ocean Beach and Point Loma joining Mission Hills in a downtown district, according to Denise Friedman, PBTC treasurer.

“You end up with three councilmembers who are touching the coast,” she said, noting the multiple voices coastal issues would receive under that scenario.

Preliminary census figures expected to be finalized before the redistricting is completed show that District One’s population grew by 8.2 percent. Even though the district would have to shed some territory, Friedman said that in her conversations with some of the community’s leadership, they are determined to keep their current boundaries to the extent possible.

“Their preference is they want to stay exactly the way they are,” Friedman said. “They really don’t want anything to do with our issues in Pacific Beach and Mission Beach and OB.”

The PB Planning Group has held discussions on the subject of redistricting with their counterparts in Mission Beach and Ocean Beach, according to PBTC vice-president Karl Rand, who also serves as chair of the PB Planning Group.

Working under the assumption that La Jolla will retain its separate district, Rand said that conversations with leaders of the Morena neighborhood across the I-5 from PB about becoming part of a single district were met by resistance from the Linda Vista community of which Morena is a part.

“Linda Vista wants to be consolidated and they don’t want to be split into different districts” Rand said. “So that works against us.”

With consensus among planning groups that District Two would likely lose its portion of the Clairemont neighborhood currently in the district, Rand said the only way to gain the necessary population was absorbing the Old Town and Mission Hills communities.

“That’s kind of the direction that we would need to go,” he said.

The PBTC will submit its own suggested map of a future council district for consideration before the commission’s work on a preliminary map begins, Bothwell said.

Fentanyl overdoses on the rise

The increase of fentanyl overdoses in San Diego was discussed in a presentation by the North City Prevention Coalition, a county-funded provider. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 100 times more powerful than morphine and is prescribed for pain management in cases such as cancer.

Drawing on statistics from the county’s Medical Examiner’s office, prevention specialist David Philippi said that there were 458 deaths from opioid overdoses in 2020 in the county, nearly half of the total 976 fatal drug overdoses.

While the age of victims ranged from 14 to 76 years old, Philippi said most fatalities occurred between the ages of 17 to 25 years old.

Philippi also dispelled a common misconception that homeless individuals are the chief victims of fatal opioid use, citing a DEA statistic that 89 percent of overdose deaths occurred to individuals living in homes.

Fentanyl and other opioid overdoses kill users by suppressing the breathing and heart rate, causing the brain to lose oxygen.

Although illicit recreational use is the main driver in lethal overdoses, media advocacy specialist Robert Hall noted that legal users were also at risk.

“That can be someone who could be a grandpa who’s mixed up his meds once or twice,” Hall said. “Because opioids, even prescription fentanyl, can interact with [other drugs], maybe your doctors didn’t communicate and you’re taking Xanax and an opioid painkiller. Both of those suppress your breathing.”

Because only a tiny amount can be lethal, the problem of fatal overdoses has exploded in conjunction with the huge supply of illicit fentanyl. Because it is inexpensive, dealers have resorted to mixing more valuable drugs such as cocaine and heroin with fentanyl.

“The motivation is just a high profit margin for the drug dealers,” Hall said “If someone is mixing them, it’s usually just based around profit. What can I do? What can I sell? And they’re not necessarily concerned whether or not somebody is going to overdose.”

In addition, Philippi explained that other drugs can become cross-contaminated with Fentanyl when dealers are producing a bevy of illegal narcotics.

“The drug lords might not thoroughly clean their equipment, so it can have residual fentanyl on it,” he said. “Like I said, you only need a small amount to have a fatal dose.”

People overdosing on fentanyl can be saved if the generic drug Naloxone is administered in a timely manner. Applied in a nasal spray similar to a decongestant, Hall said that the North City Prevention Coalition can help train interested parties in Naloxone’s application and secure a supply.

Fire Capt. Rich Marcello warned that most people resuscitated from a fentanyl overdose, which occurs rapidly once Naloxone is dispensed, are disoriented and erratic.

“We do see them wake up violent almost all the time,” Marcello said. “Like the last patient we had, for example, it took five of us to hold them down. ... It’s not something that they’re just going to wake up and say ‘Hi. How are you? Thanks for saving my life.’”

Because of that reaction, Marcello urged people to call 911 for any suspected fentanyl overdose, even if Naloxone is available. He noted that police officers have also been equipped with Naloxone because of the growing prevalence of fentanyl overdose.

“It’s a very, very deadly drug and we do see it a lot,” Marcello said. “More so than you can imagine.”