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Neighborhoods mostly unhappy with first map of Council districts

Wednesday, October 9, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

Though some may have worried that breaking Austin up into 10 Single-Member Districts would divide the city, that hasn’t proven to be true so far. Monday night, Austinites from across the city united in expressing their discontent with the initial map drawn by the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission.


The complaints emphasized two main points of contention with the initial map, which was released in late September. First, several districts cut through existing established neighborhoods, dividing existing neighborhood associations. As a corollary problem, the new districts group some neighborhoods improbably. Critics say the oddly-shaped districts fail to preserve existing “communities of interest” in the city.


At the moment, it appears that the two most controversial districts are Districts Nine and Seven. District Nine sweeps from Barton Hills to the Mueller Development, while managing to exclude Bouldin Creek (or at least part of it – the neighborhood has been divided in two). District Seven stretches from downtown to Austin’s most northern areas, much to the surprise of former 10-1 advocate David Orshalick, who lives in the portion of Allandale that is in that district.


“I worked pretty hard on getting 10-1 onto the ballot, and I was pretty excited about it,” said Orshalick. “Never in a million years would I have ever thought that a district could extend from Lady Bird Lake all the way to Pflugerville.”


“I know you didn’t want to do this on purpose, but in essence District Seven is a gerrymander,” said Orshalick.


Austin Neighborhood Council Sector Seven representative Tom Nuckols, who lives in Barton Hills, also spoke against the preliminary map. He asked the commission to focus on the criteria of compactness and preserving communities of interest.


“We think that people should be in a district that all use the same roads, go to the same parks, use the same swimming pools, are served by the same utility segments, go to the same branch libraries, are affected by the same zoning cases, eat in the same restaurants and shop in the same grocery stores,” said Nuckols. “For example, I am not in the same district as my own grocery store. I am in the same district as the Home Depot in Mueller, although I’ve never set foot in that store.”


Carol Martin, who is the vice president of the South River City Citizens Neighborhood Association, told the commission that their executive committee had voted to oppose the preliminary map.


“This preliminary map literally splits our neighborhood in half,” said Martin, who explained that the boundaries are based on the neighborhood school districts.


Martin said the SRCC also hoped to be grouped with other neighborhoods in the 78704 zip code. She explained that they shared many of the same issues with the other neighborhoods, and had worked to form effective alliances over the years.


Though the Allandale Neighborhood Association has not had a chance to meet since the initial map was released, President David Mintz spoke to the commission, and expressed concern that the boundaries of the neighborhood were not entirely within one district either.


Mintz said Allandale’s executive committee had passed a resolution asking that their district include Bryker Woods, Brentwood, Crestview, North Shoal Creek, Oakmont Heights, Ridgelea, and Rosedale neighborhoods.


“As early suburban neighborhoods we are dealing with growth, and face similar issues such as how we deal with development along the Burnet (Road) corridor,” said Mintz.


Downtown resident Barry Lewis took things in another direction and expressed his concerns about voter parity.


District Nine, which includes Downtown Austin, is currently about 4 percent over the population target. Lewis noted that with a flurry of construction currently underway, that disparity would be way over the target by the first election under the new system, should the current map be retained.


Because the comments were presented in Citizen’s Communication, commission members did not address any of the concerns brought forward. Instead, they spent the majority of their discussion on scheduling future meetings and marketing and outreach campaigns.


The ICRC is scheduled to hold four more public input meetings – one in each of the four Travis County Precincts – where members of the public will be given time to present their maps and opinions on the current map. Commissioners also encouraged the public to comment through their website.


The first public hearing is set for 10am on Oct. 19. The locations will be announced at a later date.

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