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Early redistricting map reflects population growth of Northwest Austin

Friday, September 17, 2021 by Chad Swiatecki

City Council districts for the rest of the decade will largely look the same as those created in 2013, based on the reveal of the preliminary map that has been in the works for much of this year.

While the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission voted to approve the map, it could still undergo some changes ahead of the Nov. 1 deadline to adopt a final map for next year’s Council elections. Even that map could see minor changes post-adoption, based on how Travis County decides to redraw voting precincts based on 2020 U.S. Census data, since precinct populations and block populations are the base units of population consultants use in the creation of the new map.

The most noticeable changes are a result of the substantial growth in District 6, a geographically large area in Northwest Austin that had more than 108,000 residents in 2020, making it by far the most populous district. The redrawn districts will have between just over 99,000 and 94,000 residents each, meeting the guidelines of less than 10 percent difference among all 10 districts.

The need to move roughly 12,000 residents out of District 6 created what commission members referred to as a “domino effect” of shifting the boundaries of districts 10, 7 and 8, which all grew, though at a slower rate.

Also entering into the thinking was the protections from the Voting Rights Act given to the four districts in East Austin, which have a large proportion of the city’s Black and Latino/Hispanic populations.

With census data not arriving until August, the commission welcomed a recommendation from its mapping consultant to leave the districts largely as-is instead of redrawing them from scratch. It was also believed that changing voting districts for a substantial number of residents would depress turnout in city elections.

“There’s a lot of work and thinking that went into how the boundaries would be formed this time and we received proposals from the NAACP and Hispanic coalition because they wanted to start from scratch and not even look at the 2010 (data) boundaries,” ICRC Chair Christina Puentes said. “After all the work, they ended up where they started with the boundaries of the 2010 districts. That tells us even if we’d had more time we would have reached the same conclusion, but the difference if we’d gotten the data sooner would be getting the maps out earlier and being able to spread out the public input a little more.”

Commissioner Luis Gonzalez said the east side’s federally protected priority districts formed the base around which the other districts were adjusted. “The opportunity districts, in a way, are the first priority and so we approved using (districts) 1, 2, 3 and 4 as our base, and then going through the population shifts,” he explained. “Those were required federally to be our base, and then the biggest shift was caused by population growth within District 6, which still had 108,000 based on the census data. Because it was the top of the map, it created a domino effect, so it spilled into District 10, which spilled into District 8 and also kind of spilled into District 7.”

Puentes said with Asian populations growing quickly in Northwest Austin, the commission took care to shift some majority-white precincts into other districts, to help with the goal of eventually creating a priority district for the area’s substantial Asian community.

Asked how the unsuccessful charter proposal to create an 11th Council district would have changed the outcome of the map, Puentes said the late-arriving census data and lack of guidance from City Hall about the redistricting process would have made that difficult.

“That would have made this a steeper hill to climb for redistricting, and even if we had an 11th district we wouldn’t have wanted to mess with the east side too much because those are protected districts,” she said. “I could see the 11th district eventually coming out of the west and with each of our districts big, at close to 100,000 residents each, I could see next time around the number of districts not staying at 10.”

Concerns over continuity of neighborhoods became something of an issue with residents of the Allandale, Brentwood and Crestview communities, which at various points faced partial splits into different districts.

Joe Reynolds, a longtime community activist in the Allandale area, said keeping those neighborhoods together helps to preserve the influence residents want to have over coming city initiatives.

“Allandale, Brentwood and Crestview is a big chunk of opinion and we’ve got county commissioners and state senators and all kinds of people and judges who live in our district from retirements,” he said. “One of the things that influenced the last elections was the CodeNEXT stuff and the idea of going in and stepping on neighborhoods and saying we’re going to rezone you and you can’t do anything about it. The next thing that’s going to come with that is the transit-oriented districts and the idea that you’re going to try to rezone around a transit stop just like they would with CodeNEXT. That’s going to be the next thing that’s going to cause influence on who’s going to be our City Council member, because it’s about who’s willing to protect us.”

The ICRC has scheduled public forums for viewing and offering feedback on the preliminary maps. Find information about the five public forums on Facebook and SpeakUp Austin. Feedback may also be submitted directly to the commission by emailing or writing to the Housing and Planning Department, Attn: ICRC, P.O. Box 1088, Austin, Texas 78767.

Preliminary citywide and district maps are embedded below. 

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