What could be causing such a commotion? It was a public hearing of Richardson's Council District Boundary Commission (aka the City Planning Commission, or CPC). Every ten years, with the new census, Richardson redraws its council district boundaries to ensure balance in the population of each district. This public hearing was for receiving comments related to the three district boundary options under consideration by the CPC.This is the most passionate I've seen people. My email is blowing up, my phone is blowing up.
Source: Public Hearing, City of Richardson.
After the jump, what the passion is all about.
Richardson divides itself into four districts, with four of the city council members being required to reside in four separate districts. The other three members of the seven-person council can reside anywhere in the city. Regardless of which district a council member resides in, all are elected at large, so each council member represents the whole city and is accountable to all parts of Richardson.
The Wheel examined Richardson's existing district boundaries a few months ago, when there was a call (by some) for single member districts, meaning council members would be elected only by members of a single district, not at large. Here was my conclusion then:
So, given the fact that all council members are elected at large and that there isn't much racial or socio-economic difference across Richardson, at least compared to a city like Dallas, why would some be passionate over redistricting? We have to look at the proposed options being considered to answer that question.There's really not that much difference in the averages from district to district (look at those median property values again) to expect vastly different voter careabouts. Moreover, you can find aging neighborhoods everywhere in Richardson. Even in northeast Richardson's District 2, almost half of the houses are 20 to 30 years old or more. ... There's no evidence that switching to a system of single member districts would elect a city council any more sensitive to this issue than our current council is.
Source: The Wheel.
There are two arguments, one in favor of option #1 (let's call it the quadrant option, or maybe the status quo option), and the other in favor of option #2 (let's call this one the vertical district option, or maybe the "shake 'em up" option). Option #3 is a little of both and seems to arouse few passions, for or against, from anyone (let's call it the "meh" option).
In northwest Richardson, residents of both the Cottonwood Creek Civic Association and the Canyon Creek Neighborhood Association object to any plan that puts their two neighborhoods in different districts. They argue that the two neighborhoods have the same issues and have a history of working together. They feel that any separation would tend to disrupt that relationship. As one speaker said, "We are one neighborhood. To separate them in any way, it's a big deal, it's a really big deal." They favor option #1 (with northwest Richardson as a quadrant).
In southwest Richardson, a resident of the Richardson Heights Neighborhood Association said he "adamantly" opposes the option that creates (keeps?) a district limited entirely to the southwest quadrant of Richardson. His argument is that this would create a district segregated by income, housing type, traditional representation, and future development. He favors option #2 that would create three vertical districts that stretch from Richardson's southern city limit all the way to Richardson's northern city limit (four if you count the Richardson panhandle as stretching from southern city limit to northern city limit). He argues that this would increase the number of council members who would have southern Richardson as part of the district they reside in, and thereby increase the attention southwest Richardson receives.
So, who has the better argument? Remember, all council members are elected at large. The bottom line here is where four of the council members will be required to reside.
I'm all for fair and equitable representation -- geographically, racially, ethnically, socioeconomically, the whole nine yards. Practically, this is rarely achieved by trying to achieve a balance of those measures within each political district. What typically happens is that slight imbalances lead to the majority within a district controlling power in that district. The remedy is usually to create some so-called majority minority districts where the minorities can be in the majority locally.
In the case of Richardson council representation, this is moot, as all council members are elected at large. The only tool the city charter wields to achieve fair and equitable representation is its geographical requirement that four of the council members reside in specific districts. When that's the only tool you have, it would be unwise not to use it for its intended purpose.
Options #1 and #3 give the best assurance that a council member will reside in each of the four quadrants. Option #2 carries with it the possibility of having all of the council members who represent districts 1-4 living *north* of Renner Rd. That's hardly geographically fair and equitable representation. It's unlikely to happen, but still possible. That's enough to eliminate option #2 for me.
How to choose between options #1 and #3? I see very little to distinguish between them on the grounds of fair and equitable representation. But there is something else that distinguishes between them. Option #3 respects current district boundaries more than option #1 does. Stability and continuity are values that should not be underestimated. That's enough of a factor to sway my own choice to option #3. Meh.
The CPC decided to postpone taking any action until city staff can calculate average property value, rental percentage, and median income for each proposed district, after which the public hearing will be reopened for additional input.
My prediction? The CPC will likely recommend option #1 as they seek to appease the residents in northwest Richardson who are "blowing up" the emails and phones. There's a slim chance that the CPC will recommend option #3, the choice nobody preferred but nobody said they were adamantly opposed to either (the "meh" option). No way will they recommend option #2 (the "shake 'em up" option for a "steady as she goes" city). Then, the city council will go along with whatever the CPC recommends.