Debates Continue During Final Public Hearing on Redistricting

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Chair of the Subcommittee on Redistricting Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) opens the final public hearing, April 28. Screenshot: Zoom

Discussion continued on the way Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) should look in 2023 at the second public hearing held virtually Thursday by the DC Council Subcommittee on redistricting.

During the nearly 9-hour meeting, several members of the community from each ward provided verbal and written testimony regarding the new redistricting guidelines proposed by each task force. Discussion focusing on the new Ward 7ANCs in Hill East continued; meanwhile, folks in opposition to the Ward 8 map came out for the first time in numbers.

It was the final public hearing hosted by the subcommittee. The DC Council plans to have an initial reading of the bill by May 24. A final reading and vote are expected to take place no later than June 7.

Redistricting Guidelines

At the start of the meeting, Chairperson of the DC Council Subcommittee on Redistricting Councilmember Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) reiterated the redistricting guidelines.

Those state that Single Member Districts (SMDs) must be home to between 1,900-2,100 residents by DC statute. Task force members worked to stay within that range and to limit the scope of change to current Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) and SMD boundaries where possible. They also worked to balance the workloads and resources of the ANCs, avoid splitting census blocks, recognize neighborhood cohesiveness and population balancing and utilize natural features such as parks when drawing boundaries.

Commissioner Mark Eckenwiler (6C04) appeared to present an alternative map focused on the divisions between ANC 6C and 6E. Screenshot: Zoom

Ward 6

ANC 6C Commissioner Mark Eckenwiler (6C04) was the sole witness to testify in the Ward 6 portion of the hearing. Eckenwiler, who also testified at the April 7 hearing, returned with an alternative map to the one proposed by the task force.

His new map addresses issues with the census block splitting in 6C04 and 6C06. The Ward 6 task force created this census block split to rectify an imbalance in population as 6C04 has over 2,200 people, and 6C06 has less than 2,000 people.

ANC 6C unanimously approved Eckenwiler’s alternative map, which redistributes the population into more equal sections giving 6C04 2,075 residents, and 6C06 2,081 residents. Eckenwiler said it also improves geographical compactness, requires no census block splitting and uses a pre-existing alley boundary.

Eckenwiler said he has discussed the proposal with Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen (D) who, Eckenwiler said, has “expressed support.”

Ward 7

Unsurprisingly, much of the discussion about the Ward 7 maps focused on the two cross-river ANCs. Silverman appeared to indicate the submitted map could be altered at the subcommittee level, asking attendees if there was a way to increase balance in those commissions.

The map and report submitted to the redistricting subcommittee by the Ward 7 Redistricting Task Force called for two cross-river ANCs, ANC 7A and 7F.  Supporters say the map promotes equity and unity; detractors say it cripples the hyperlocal function of ANCs and contradicts principals of redistricting, which call for “compact and contiguous” commissions.

Councilmember Christina Henderson (I-At Large) asks questions about the Ward 7 Taskforce map during the April 28 hearing. Screenshot: Facebook/CMElissaSilverman

There were indications that change is possible. Subcommittee member Christina Henderson (I-At Large) said that, “from the idea of compact and contiguous, it [the map] seems a little perplexing.”

ANC 7A includes four Single Member Districts (SMDs) on each side of the river. “When you’re talking about population and power, it’s sort of equal,” she said. “If there’s an issue that might be divided b east and west, someone has to persuade someone else to to get the majority vote. That seems fair to me.”

But Silverman asked attendees to find a compromise solution to balance SMDs in ANC 7F, where only three of eight SMDs are posited west of the river, one of them dedicated to the DC Jail. “If there is an east versus west issue, east is just always going to win,” she said. “It’s an imbalance of population, and an imbalance of power.”

Some attendees, including Villareal Johnson, allowed that changes to ANC 7F were a way to build community and create wholeness while working on matters concerning bridges and roadways. However, it was unclear how it would affect boundaries of the other ANCs. However, Ward 7 Taskforce Co-Chair Tamara Blair, current Commissioner for the only west of the river SMD in ANC 7D, said that a cross-river ANC would be difficult whatever the balance. “Cross-river is a difficult position no matter how many SMDs are on either side of the river,” she said. “It’s about familiarity.”

Taskforce member and ANC Commissioner Brian Alcorn (6A08) argued that other organizations might be a better place to foster ward unity than the creation of cross-river ANCs.

Ward 8

Several community members spoke for the first time in opposition to parts of the Ward 8 task force map. Many new map proposals were displayed by witnesses. Specifically, the individuals who testified in the public hearing focused on maintaining compact and contiguous neighborhoods and maintaining current neighborhood boundaries.

Alternative Ward 8 map presented by Commissioner Jamila White (8A05). Screenshot: Facebook/CMElissaSilverman

Much of the discussion centered around the Anacostia Historic District, with 4,000 to 5,000 residents. Witnesses spoke in favor of moving parts of the task force’s proposed 8B01, 8B02 and 8B03 into 8A, emphasizing their common interest. Attendees argued that their communities want to feel protected and the map should keep contiguous neighborhoods, particularly the historic district of Anacostia, together.

Additionally, witnesses discussed where the notch sections of ward 6, proposed to be moved into Ward 8. Taskforce member Commissioner Jamila White 8A05 presented a counter-proposal map supported by the Historic Anacostia Preservation Society which would keep Anacostia and Fairlawn together. The map proposes that proposed ANC 8A07 would join the Ward 6 Navy Yard notch in ANC 8C. Several members of the organization and the community spoke in support of the proposed map.

Commissioner White said she had been in conversation with Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White (D) about the map. The only remaining question is about the Navy Yard notch, she said.

You can watch a recording of Thursday’s hearing here. The subcommittee will meet again in late May.

Sarah Payne is a general assignment reporter for Capital Community News. She can be reached at sarahp@hillrag.com

Elizabeth O’Gorek has written for Capital Community News since 2017. Email her at Liz@hillrag.com