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Redistricting Commission gets final public input on district map

Friday, November 15, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

Edging ever closer to a final City Council district map, the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission held its final public meeting last night and received mostly positive feedback for its work in creating 10 single-member districts.


The commission met at the Millennium Youth Center in order to gather input on their final proposed map, which was completed Nov. 6.


Though some criticisms of the most-recent draft of the map remain, most who spoke at the Thursday meeting praised the commission for their work so far.


Several Northwest Hills residents pushed for a return to something more like the previous map, which they said preserved communities of interest better than the current map. They cited concerns with deer and wildfire that residents in the more central areas of the proposed District 10 do not have.


“As we know, Old West Austin is not overpopulated with deer,” noted Leon Whitney.


Other residents of the proposed District 10 praised the new configuration.


Michael Chinati spoke in favor of the current District 10, and said that though he lived closer to town, his area had its own wildlife concerns. He suggested that his areas’ coyotes could, perhaps, deal with the further-out


“Good work, good map, good night,” said Chinati.


Jan Soifer, who is Chair of the Travis County Democratic Party, spoke as a resident of Mt. Bonnell Shores and in favor of the current District 10. She told the commission that the recently-formed Northwest Austin Coalition did not speak for her.


“It’s not a representative body. In fact, it appears to be a group in which some of the most active participants are potential candidates who are acting to draw districts that they could run in,” said Soifer.


“For me, the only thing that would be worse than letting incumbents draw these districts… would be letting potential candidates try to convince you to draw districts that are the perfect districts for them to run in while ignoring the communities of interest,” said Soifer. “Many of us feel strongly that you have avoided that trap.”


Fred Cantu spoke on behalf of the Austin Tejano Democrats. He thanked the commission for prioritizing the minority-opportunity districts.


“When I first came before you, I asked you to please follow the law and please set the bar high, and I think that you did that,” said Cantu.


However, Cantu criticized the current District 5, which he said represented several disparate communities, including Onion Creek, Barton Hills, Garrison Park and Southwood neighborhoods. He pointed out to In Fact Daily that communities in the far Southwest had little chance to elect their own representative to City Council with Barton Hills and Zilker neighborhood in the mix.


Austin NAACP’s Nelson Linder praised the commission, and thanked them for the example they set despite predictions to the contrary and for sticking to the Voting Rights Act.


“You have defied the odds. You have exceeded expectations, and I am proud to be here tonight,” said Linder.

I think I’m going to be the wicked witch at this celebration,” said Jean Mather of the Travis Heights neighborhood. She praised the minority-opportunity districts, but asked that the commission reconsider their fracturing of the south central neighborhoods that have, traditionally, worked together.


Mather said that she understood the commission was selected based on their lack of involvement with politics, but said she wished they understood some of the long political history in the area.


Tom Nuckols, who is the president-elect of the Barton Hills Neighborhood Association, scaled back his requests, asking to move Zilker Park into District 5, which currently includes both Zilker and Barton Hills Neighborhood Associations.


The commission may make some changes to the map next week but it seems unlikely that there will be any major changes because each small change in one area necessitates changes in other areas. Commissioners are tentatively scheduled to vote on and certify the final map next Wednesday.

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