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Redistricting: Making (Almost) Everyone Happy

The ICRC settles on new City Council maps

By Elizabeth Pagano, Fri., Nov. 15, 2013

The ICRC Redistricting Plan, Nov. 6, 2013 (interactive version at <b><a href=http://www.austinredistricting.org/>www.austinredistricting.org</a></b>)
The ICRC Redistricting Plan, Nov. 6, 2013 (interactive version at www.austinredistricting.org)

"Maps, wait! They don't love you like I love you."

– Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Austin's first City Council redistricting is quickly nearing its end.

As the Chronicle goes to press Wednes­day, the final public response meetings are on tap – one Wednesday night, and another tonight, Thursday (6:30-10pm, Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex, 1156 Hargrave). The commission will have only a couple more business meetings left to make any final changes – at this point, only minor ones. Barring unexpected developments, changes of heart, or straight up yearning for more cartography by the majority of the commission, here are what will most likely be your new Council districts. Probably.

Despite some pleas for radical change to the map during the previous round of public meetings, the map remains substantively similar to the preliminary draft released by the commission at the end of September. The changes are so slight that at least one commissioner – Arthur Lopez – thought it necessary to point out that they had gotten a lot of input on the first draft of the map. A lot. "If we move forward with this one, are we not ignoring that and merely saying, 'Hey, we are going to divide you in ways that you're not going to be happy with anyway, so why bother even trying to make a change?' Are we saying it's just too difficult?" asked Lopez. "Is that our position?"

Chair Magdalena Blanco responded that, instead, the last two meetings had borne fruit, getting the commission – and the map – to a "very good place." She went on to say she wasn't sure that the negative public comment was that overwhelming. But her reply reflected a slightly fatalistic streak. "We know we aren't going to make everyone happy. Because it's just too big a task to do that," she said. "This is a huge pioneering effort ... because what's been ingrained in this city is now going ... to evolve into something better," she concluded. "Change is difficult for a lot of people."

Blanco said that, by focusing initially on the minority opportunity districts, commissioners realized the remaining six districts would required a balancing act. That focus on the minority opportunity Districts (1-4) seems to have to paid off – in the end there were some revisions to those districts to balance populations and to shift Mon­topolis, but they remained substantially the same, and there were very few complaints about their shapes.

The outcry has come, instead, from the traditional (ingrained) geographic seats of city power, which were fractured in a surprising way. Even so, several major complaints about the early draft were addressed in revision; the commission made an effort to redraw borders that respect traditional neighborhood boundaries. So, although existing neighborhood associations may not be crazy about their new associates, they will individually remain largely intact.

Commissioner Maria Solis seemed confident that new alliances are just around the corner, saying the commission had worked very hard to please as many people as possible. "The sooner we move forward," she said, "the sooner they'll start looking for new relationships."

The commission also managed to address two of the strongest complaints – though perhaps not exactly in the ways demanded. The uproar from Zilker and Barton Hills neighborhoods about being placed in a district with northerners paid off: those neighborhoods are now in the middle-southern District 5. And the weird, bacon-strip of District 7 was chopped off at 45th Street, and expanded north enough that it now resembles a stouter, thicker, more artisan-style breakfast meat.

The other major shift from the September draft occurred in Northwest Austin, where District 6 has shifted to become a far-northwest district, and District 10 has become a west/northwest district that now encompasses the hotly debated Tarrytown.

During the redrafting, there emerged an extended, confusing dialogue about Tarrytown. A disproportionate amount of time seemed to be spent trying to figure out who "Tarrytown" wanted to be districted with, and who wanted to be districted with Tarrytown. And – at least as interpreted by the commission – there was little overlap between those two desires. By its third meeting, the commission had clearly had enough of Tarrytown and its series of unsuccessful playdates. "Tarrytown hasn't really even spoken to us as much as some of the other neighborhoods," pointed out a clearly exasperated Commissioner Ryan Rafols, "So why are we giving so much consideration to Tarrytown?"

With all commissioners present, they voted unanimously to approve the proposed final map, though only one chose to mark the vote with a speech. Vice Chair TJ Costello – who at the previous meeting had jokingly vowed to wear earplugs at upcoming public meetings – declared: "I want to say to my friends on Nixon and out on Loyola Lane: You now have representation. To my gentleman that spoke so passionately about I-35 not being a barrier: It's no longer a barrier. Six districts are outside of center-city influence. Williamson County is now whole. ... OHAN [Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods] is a district. And to my friends in Dove Springs and Montopolis: While we couldn't keep you together, I think you will be really happy with what we have."

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