Battle lines were drawn as Phoenix residents grappled over electoral districts during a redistricting meeting held Thursday at the Burton Barr Central Library.
Redistricting is the elaborate process that occurs every 10 years where electoral districts are redrawn using census data to make them more representative of population proportions. Phoenix has eight districts; downtown currently resides within Districts 7 and 8.
The City Manager’s Office and City Clerk’s Office are overseeing the redistricting, which began in December. An initial round of public meetings was conducted in January and February. During these meetings, Phoenix residents were asked to submit concept maps for the new districts. The deadline to submit public input was March 12.
A total of 69 maps were received and given to Research Advisory Services, a public-policy and demographic research consulting firm tasked with developing the new district boundaries.
Research Advisory Services took the maps, census data and other public contributions and created eight maps to present to the Phoenix City Council, which chose the two maps presented to the public yesterday during the second set of meetings that began in April.
Michael Mandell, an attorney with RAS, said the company received the project bid last October.
“We’re hearing from people all over the city and need specificity in the comments,” he said.
Cris Meyer, Phoenix city clerk, said District 7 currently has a population of 260,000. Each district ideally should contain 180,891 residents, according to the concept plans. The two proposed plans are titled C and Phoenix 88. Each plan would splinter downtown Phoenix into Districts 4, 7 and 8.
However, many residents who attended the meeting expressed concerns with each map, citing issues with minority populations, the arts and culture community, and neighborhood associations.
Viva Samuel Ramirez, a representative for Voto Latino, an organization focused on Latino issues, lives on Central Avenue and McDowell Road and opposes splitting District 7.
“To chop it off is like castrating the district,” he said. “If you want to prune a tree, you don’t chop the trunk. You trim the leaves.”
Ramirez has been enjoying the growth in the neighborhood and said that when his family moved to the area, “District 7 was pretty much urban blight.”
If District 7 is split up, Ramirez said that would ruin the momentum the community has been building up.
“I’ve just been able to get into a groove with these people, and now they want to put me into a new district with new people,” he said. “It’s devasting to the momentum and my little part of the world.”
He likened dividing the district to “breaking up a basketball team right before playoffs.”
Splitting the district would also jeopardize relationships people have been building to improve and revitalize the downtown community, Ramirez said.
“I’m shaking in my boots right now because we’ve been working so hard,” Ramirez said.
Marci Rosenberg, a consultant with RAS, spoke with Ramirez after the meeting about his concerns with the plans.
“We are trying to balance population numbers and minority voters,” she said.
Meyer stressed that the concept plans presented at the meeting are not final. Residents’ comments from these meetings will be considered during the creation of the final district map.
The deadline to submit a final map will be June 19, Meyer said. If the City Council approves it, it will be sent to the U.S. Department of Justice to verify it passes the Voting Rights Act. If it passes, it would take effect in January 2013.
“We’re about to get really good in downtown Phoenix,” Ramirez said. “Let’s see what else we can accomplish now that we’ve coalesced.”
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Correction: May 11, 2012
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that downtown is currently in District 7. The downtown area is split between District 7 and District 8.