Council districts must change, but how?

October 21, 2011
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Jamaica Plain’s City Council District 6 must grow and District 7 must shrink in this year’s redistricting process. That could mean that Egleston Square shifts from City Councilor Tito Jackson to City Councilor Matt O’Malley.

But while big changes are on the way, the local councilors involved with the process are not being specific about what they think should happen. Jackson waved away a question about the possible move at an Oct. 13 redistricting hearing at the Franklin Park Golf Club House.

“While I recognize that changes need to be made, I believe that the district can be best served if the neighborhoods of Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury can be kept whole. I support keeping neighborhoods intact—as much as possible,” District 6 City Councilor Matt O’Malley, who attended the hearing, said in an open letter to the community.

District 6, which includes JP and West Roxbury, needs to add about 3,500 people, according to figures distributed by City Councilor Bill Linehan at the hearing. Linehan heads the City Council Committee on the census and redistricting, which his hosting a series of public hearings to collect public input this month.

That means District 6—which was intentionally redrawn to conform to JP’s neighborhood boundaries 10 years ago—will likely expand into today’s District 7, which includes Egleston Square and most of Roxbury, or today’s District 8, which includes Mission Hill.

It’s also possible that some of southern JP could be cut from the district. That is because District 5—which includes Hyde Park, Roslindale and parts of Mattapan—needs to gain 2,750 residents. District 5 is boxed in by District 6 and Mattapan’s District 4, which itself needs to gain about 6,400 people.

But Linehan and his colleagues on the committee—District 7 City Councilor Tito Jackson and District 4 City Councilor Charles Yancey—did not go into that level of detail at the hearing. They pointedly avoided making any comments about what the new map would look like.

At one point a District 7 resident matter-of-factly stated that it looked like part of District 7—which needs to shrink—would have to join District 6. But Jackson waved his hands to indicate that it is too early to make that kind of assumption.

The main goal in redistricting is to balance out the City Council districts so that they all have equal shares of the population. The goal this year, Linehan said, is for every district to be within 10 percent of 68,621 residents—so the range is 65,190 to 72,052.

This year, all of the too-populace districts are in a contiguous block to the north of the city, and all the districts that need to gain population are to the south. That means that what would, under other circumstances, be a more piecemeal process will end up looking like a south-to-north wave, he said.

“I am going to be the butcher in all this. It is not fun at all,” Linehan said toward the end of the hearing.

The Oct. 13 hearing was the third of five currently scheduled. The idea, Linehan said, is to develop criteria for decision making rather than discussing what should happen. Linehan listed neighborhood boundaries, protecting incumbents and making sure that districts remain or become majority people of color as possible criteria as possible criteria the committee could consider.

Most of the hearing attendees were from District 7, and the comments made at the hearing indicated that they want to remain in their current district and keep Jackson, their current councilor.

But most of the attendees’ comments were expressions of concern about the process.

Linehan said he is hoping to wrap up redistricting by the end of the calendar year in order to get it done before the new City Council session begins in mid-January.

Rahsaan Hall, deputy director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said that advocacy groups and individuals who would otherwise be focused on the process are currently working on state-level redistricting.

Public hearings on city redistricting are scheduled to end in October, but some at the hearing asked that they be extended into November so people focused on the Nov. 8 City Council election have a chance to participate. And some expressed concerns that the current schedule means that the committee’s proposed map will be released for public comment during the holiday season when people are distracted.

The legal deadline for redistricting is one year before nomination papers are due for the 2013 City Council elections, because election laws require council candidates to have lived in their districts for at least a year prior to nomination. That means City Council does not have to approve a new map at least until spring 2012.

Speaking to the Gazette last week, District 8 City Councilor Mike Ross, who lives in Mission Hill, and whose district currently includes a small part of JP, said he could see a scenario where the process is extended beyond Linehan’s calendar year deadline and into early 2012. “If we are not ready [at the end of the year] I think we need to take more time,” he said.

To find out which City Council district your home is in, and to see a detailed map of the district boundaries, go to cityofboston.gov/myneighborhood and enter a street address. Click the “map” option and then the “neighborhood” tab on the map.

 

Updated version: This version includes information about accessing City Council district maps.

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