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Commentary: More Balance Needed in Redistricting Map

Change is hard and even more so when it comes without being asked for and nearly two years into a global pandemic. But with the release of the 2020 Census population counts, change has been imposed on residents of Ward 6 via ward redistricting.

On Nov. 19, after three months of public discussion, the Council Subcommittee on Redistricting released their final map, showing where those changes are likely to occur in Navy Yard and Hill East.

The full Council will vote twice on this map, with the opportunity to propose amendments at each opportunity. The first vote is Dec. 7, the second Dec. 21.

At a special call meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6B scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 1, commissioners will vote on a resolution introduced by three Commissioners, Edward Ryder (6B07), Alison Horn (6B09), and myself [Corey Holman] (6B06).

The resolution spells out the problems with the current map. It also offers solutions that would involve more residents being redistricted to Ward 7 compared to the subcommittee map.

But before discussing the map and changes, I want to recount conversations I’ve had with neighbors over the last couple of weeks.

The first question is always about residential parking permit zones. The Council has made clear that the final legislation will keep the ward parking zones permanently as they are now (barring any changes to the entire RPP system in the future).

Inevitably the next question is “so…how does actually impact anything?” And for most people, it won’t! School zones are unchanged. You’ll still go to the same stores and restaurants. You may have new faces to learn at the Councilmember’s office and maybe your Department of Public Works (DPW) sanitation employee crew may change.

But when it comes to local and hyperlocal political representation in things like Zoning or Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) cases, or for those seeking to organize and advocate for policy changes or capital projects, a compact and coherent Ward 7 with a substantial west of the river population better serves the residents and businesses in that community.

Maps Referenced in Resolution: [click to enlarge]

Here is a pared-down version of the concerns identified and solutions proposed in the resolution [See full text here]:

1) Ward 7 is simply too small
The Subcommittee map this leaves Ward 7 at just 114 residents above the legal minimum and with a population nearly 6,000 residents fewer than Ward 6, despite the absence of natural features or other logical boundaries along the proposed border. The West of the River portion in Ward 7 would include 9,993 residents, including 2,226 residents at the DC Jail and Department of Behavioral Health psychiatric facility. As a matter of voter equity and very real inequalities, the Council should equalize the population size of Ward 6 and 7.

2) Commercial Corridors Should Not Be Split
The small commercial corridor in eastern Ward 6, anchored by two large consumer magnets, Harris Teeter and Safeway and now the Roost, is split along Potomac Ave SE in the Subcommittee map. Shared representation in commercial corridors better serves residents and businesses on those corridors to ensure consistency in dealing with the impacts and mitigations related to transportation, community safety, nightlife issues, ABRA licensing, and more.

3) Community of Interest South of Pennsylvania Avenue Should be Maintained
The subcommittee map splits Census Tract 71 at Potomac Avenue SE. This oft-forgotten triangle between the Anacostia River, 11th Street SE and Pennsylvania Avenue is a community centered on Chamberlain Elementary and Potomac Gardens, and now includes Harris Teeter and The Roost. It is a diverse, mixed income community often insularly focused, hemmed in by freeways and freeway-like roads on all sides. For nearly two decades and through four mayoral administrations, the community has been promised removal of the Southeast Freeway/”Boulevard”. As that project stumbles along, residents who would be most acutely impacted by this development would now be politically separated along Potomac Avenue SE.

4) Ensuring Single Member District representation at the DC Jail.
Since the first ANC elections in 1975, the ANC containing the DC Jail was always large enough to ensure it could function with continued vacancies in the SMD containing the Jail, most recently in ANC 7F., which currently has seven members As technology changes to allow remote meetings, I am hopeful residents of the Jail can follow in Commissioner Joel Castón’s footsteps and serve their community while residing at the Jail. However, the Subcommittee map will lead to the end of the SMD containing only DC Jail residents. When the Census was done, there were 2,197 incarcerated residents and 0 residents at Reservation 13. These facilities are both in the same census block. With this breakdown, it is possible to draw SMD lines such that the DC Jail continues to be its own SMD and Reservation 13 can be grouped with the rowhouses to the west. But that will simply not happen in a five person ANC as that is too small to handle the impact of frequent vacancies, potentially caused when residents return or are sent to out of state Department of Corrections facilities.

5) Historic Districts
Historic districts should not be the only factor in boundaries, but residents in contributing buildings must be assured they will have competent and consistent representation at the ANC level, where so much happens related to historic preservation. The subcommittee map leaves less than 100 residents in the 25 contributing buildings in Ward 7 on K Street SE and Potomac Ave SE. This is an ANC where over 99 percent of the residents will not live in contributing buildings and would have no regular interaction with the historic district regulations.

But there are solutions to these problems! Presuming the Council keeps Kingman Park and Rosedale in Ward 6, which is a major assumption and may not be the case, there are at least three maps that meet these challenges head on. These increase the population in Ward 7 in ways that better serve the commercial corridor, communities of interest, and residents of the DC Jail all while better protecting the Capitol Hill Historic District. They do this by pushing Ward 7 west from line drawnthe Subcommittee map. One map uses the Historic District as the ward boundary. All three maps marginally increase the diversity of Ward 6 without impacting the electoral power of black residents in Ward 7.

We’ve seen what happens when politics drive ward boundaries at Reservation 13. The surrounding community of Reservation 13 was systematically shut out from impacting the disposition and use as Reservation 13, as it was given to Ward 7 as a make weight for ensuring no residents west of 19th Street were moved from Ward 6 after the 2010 census. We must reject the politically driven map which again makes Ward 7 as small as legally possible. If the Council moves forward with the Subcommittee’s recommendation of keeping Rosedale and unifying Kingman Park, it must expand Ward 7 in Southeast Capitol Hill.

Corey Holman is the commissioner for ANC 6B06. Reach him at 6B06@anc.dc.gov or 301-664-4132.

The ANC 6B Special Call meeting will be held from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Dec. 1. Learn more here.

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