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Residents express concerns over final Council districts map

Thursday, November 14, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

A week after the final proposed map of Austin’s first single-member districts was released, Austinites gathered mainly to tell the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission what they felt was wrong with the map and, occasionally tell them what the panel had done right.


The meeting, held at The Lodge at 700 Dawson (formerly the Elks Lodge), was the first of two final public meetings held to gather public input on the map.


As the first speaker, Jeff Jack welcomed the commission to 78704. He asked the commission to reconsider the placement of “south bank” in District 9 with the rest of the Zilker Neighborhood. That area, which is just north of Barton Springs Road near South Lamar Boulevard, contains such things as the Zach Scott Theater, Casa de Luz and the future residents of 211 South Lamar. That area has been placed in the downtown District 9, not with the rest of the Zilker Neighborhood in District 5.


Jack said that there was a “great deal of pressure to move downtown south of the river” and that retention of that area was crucial for the neighborhood.


Several people from the Galindo Elementary Neighborhood Association, including Kathryn Kawazoe expressed concern about the division of south central neighborhoods.


“If you wouldn’t consider splitting up Circle C, why would you consider splitting up South Central?” asked Kawazoe. She explained that her neighborhood, and all of the other neighborhoods that she knew of objected to splitting up the area, and the inclusion of the northern portions in District 9.


Many of those who spoke did so to complain about the fracturing of south central Austin. Though tomorrow’s meeting will more specifically address concerns north of the river, there were also a handful of people who spoke about the northwest districts, which have changed significantly since the Sept. 28 draft map.


Northwest Austin Coalition co-founder Jimmy Flannigan told the commission that he had “pierced the river” to speak to the commission about changes to the most-recent map, and urged them to return to something closer to the previous incarnation, which followed the recommendations of his coalition. He promised similar testimony from others at tomorrow night’s “northern meeting.”


Those who live closer-in in the proposed District 10, however, spoke in favor of the new map and its more central configuration.


Likewise, John Sullivan, president of the Walnut Crossing Neighborhood Association in further northwest Austin said that he liked the changes made in the northwest, which he felt “reflect common sense.”


Dick Peroni, who lives in the Onion Creek neighborhood and has lived in Austin for 70 years, told the commission that his district had been “bruised and battered, and the result is not good.” He pleaded with the commission to take a second look at District 5 and consider keeping far-south Austin separate from neighborhoods that are closer to Lady Bird Lake.


Ken Jacob also lives in Onion Creek. He expressed frustration that they had backed off, as advised, once a preliminary map was drawn that they agreed with. The group was subsequently shocked to find a whole new map that connected them to more northern communities.


“My question, quite simply, is why? Why did you make so many changes in the final hour of your final meeting?” asked Jacob.


Chair Magdalena Blanco explained that those changes, too, were because of packing fears in the originally-planned District 2.


Not all of the commentary at the meeting was negative, however.


Jim Schissler, president of Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods, read a resolution passed by the neighborhood supporting the boundaries of District 8, which contains the OHAN neighborhoods.


Chris Hayden of the Allandale Neighborhood Association, thanked the commission for making the map more compact, and urged the commission to continue to make the map more compact.


Former SRCC President Jean Mather acknowledged the hard work of the commission and said that it might be discouraging to go back and look at the Compact Districts Coalition Map, but urged them to do just that.


“I think if you looked at that map it might give us hope,” said Mather.


Representatives from the Asian-American community expressed displeasure with both maps, and the fact that there is no minority opportunity district for Asian-Americans, and, in fact, no publicly-available data on the district breakdowns until requested.


Fred McGhee spoke as past-president of the Montopolis Neighborhood Association. He questioned moving Montopolis from District 2 to 3, saying its historical associations were with Dove Springs and Del Valle. He said that though he would respect the choice to move the district north, he questioned the motivation behind that choice.


“We were advised by many people that our District (2) was a packed district,” explained Commissioner Carmen Llanes Pulido. “We’ve been working pretty extensively on it for the past three weeks.” The ICRC has been advised that a district packed with too many minority voters could cause legal troubles for the city.

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