Redistricting: Everybody's Gotta Map!
More groups crowd the redistricting playing field
Nature, like a nervous dog, abhors a vacuum. So does Austin politics; it's only natural that when the "non-political" Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission was formed and tasked with drafting political lines that would define city government, fools rushed in. Now, as the Dec. 1 deadline for City Council districts creeps closer, more maps, more groups, and more opinions are crowding the playing field. Though few of the map kibitzers are willing to cop to allegations that they will soon be running for council seats in these brand-new districts, here is some of what we know so far.
The groups offering up maps can be divided, roughly, into two waves. There are those who have helped usher in the new era of single-member districts, and lent a (heavy) helping hand to the ICRC from the beginning. And there are those who, after seeing the preliminary map that was released at the end of September, have eagerly offered up hands (or fingers) to a commission they feel has missed the mark.
The first wave preceded the commission and the charter change itself. After its win at the ballot box in November, the Austinites for Geographic Representation has made no secret about its attempts to steer the ship. And unsurprisingly, AGR maven Peck Young yanked the chains of newer groups at Saturday's ICRC Southeast public input meeting, specifically criticizing those who have the gall to think that their input "should be given the same weight" as the AGR originalists. (Young quickly made it clear that he was singling out the Compact Districts Coalition, an alliance of neighborhood advocates that has proposed its own map.)
"I think those that have participated in the process from the beginning – whether you agree with what they're recommending – it ought to be noted that they have been part of this process, as it was intended, as it was drawn up, and as you have implemented," Young told commissioners. It's unclear whether, according to his criterion, the now-venerable Northwest Austin Coalition should be listened to more or less than AGR. Though the group didn't hold its first meeting until Aug. 5, members hit the ground running and submitted their map, which focuses on Northwest Austin, before AGR – on Aug. 14.
NWAC member Jimmy Flannigan explains that they represent a "smattering" of neighborhoods, from west of MoPac and north of FM 2222. That footprint covers Districts 6 and 10 on the ICRC map, though Flannigan says they've been working closely with representatives from Districts 7 and 4. "This is a big puzzle piece. We want to make sure that what we do fits into what other parts of town are advocating for," says Flannigan. He says that while NWAC is okay with the current Districts 6 and 10, they prefer their maps because of the impact on the "weird" District 7 in the ICRC version.
Flannigan thinks that NWAC will "absolutely" endure beyond the districting process, which brought people together initially but now constitutes less than half of their public meetings. "We're obviously trying to build some public infrastructure that hasn't existed in Northwest [Austin]," he said, "so that when we have council members that are from our area, there will be community input that speaks to them directly."
In fact, some of the apparent Johnny-come-latelys aren't new at all. Many groups held off on mucking with the process until the official preliminary map was released at the end of September. After that, a scramble to define "communities of interest" has become more intense, with each ICRC meeting attracting more people – and the acronyms are accumulating. In recent weeks, older groups like OHAN and WANG have stepped up to offer their maps, and shiny new coalitions – ABCD and CDC – have also joined the soup.
The Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods has been around for more than 23 years. The group counts "some 89 neighborhoods" among its members, and has drawn up a map (submitted Oct. 19) that retains those neighborhoods, while kicking out Zilker and West Austin.
And the West Austin Neighborhood Group (whose acronym has been making Austinites snicker since 1973) spoke up after seeing the "bacon-shaped leftover district extending from Lady Bird Lake up a narrow strip along MoPac to the northeastern boundary with Pflugerville" that is the currently proposed District 7. WANG drew its own map proposal on Oct. 25, which it is calling the "Alternative Compact Map Proposal." The concept accords with the drive of the fledgling CDC, which has representatives from (at least) Bouldin, Oak Hill, Barton Hills, Rosedale, Heritage, Highland Hills/Balcones, Hancock, North University, Travis County, Zilker, Galindo, South River City Citizens, Bryker Woods, and Hyde Park.
The CDC is not unique in proposing a map of the entire city, but thus far it has the strongest momentum; the group has also drafted a Change.org petition, imploring Austinites to rally in favor of its map. They've attracted the particular disdain of Young, who thundered, "They seem fascinated with neighborhoods. They do not seem fascinated with the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act" – suggesting that the CDC's map would inevitably encroach upon the minority opportunity districts drafted by AGR.
In the wings is also the Airport Boulevard Corridor District (yes, ABCD), which has united to focus on the Airport Boulevard corridor and to maintain it as a community of interest. Despite its recent birth, which occurred the day after the ICRC's preliminary map was released (Sept. 29), the group has attracted support from the Mueller Neighborhood, Hyde Park, Ridgetop, Cherrywood, Brentwood, St. John's, Coronado Hills, Delwoods I & II, and Wilshire Wood.
It also has a familiar spokesperson, James Nortey, who has participated in ICRC meetings as a Mueller resident and is also a planning commissioner. Nortey says that though he's unsure of whether the group will stay together in its current form after the districting is completed, it's probably just the beginning of some kind of dialogue along the corridor as a corridor. He's not expecting that all those neighborhoods will be in one district – just that they will be grouped as communities of interest – and while he understands why the commission drew the map from the borders in, as a Mueller resident, he rarely visits the southernmost parts of the current District 9 and calls the current clustering "a little bizarre."
This is hardly an exhaustive list of the maps – let alone opinions – that have been offered to the commission so far, and there remains a full month of meetings and deliberations before the lines are finalized. Nevertheless, there's no question that – like an obstreperous flock of grackles – ward mapping has arrived in Austin.
The ICRC will hold two more public input meetings, on Nov. 13 and 14, locations to be announced. More info at www.austinredistricting.org.
News, 10-One, City Council, Austinites for Geographic Representation, Compact Districts Coalition, Peck Young, Northwest Austin Coalition, Jimmy Flannigan, Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods, West Austin Neighborhood Group, Airport Boulevard Coalition District, James Nortey