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Why You Should Pay Attention to City Council Redistricting Before May 9

The 15-person citizen commission tapped to steer the city council redistricting process is nearing the finish line. Which district will you land in?
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A deceptively quiet-looking Dallas City Hall. Photo by Kelsey Shoemaker.

First, there were 40, then 17. Then, on Monday, the Dallas Redistricting Commission narrowed down the potential maps outlining proposed boundaries for City Council districts to two.

The task of realigning council district boundaries happens every 10 years, after the most recent U.S. Census data is released. The city began the process of redistricting in October, and the commissioners could have a final map to present to council as early as May 9. 

The council would then have 45 days to make any changes and approve a final map, or the commission’s final version would automatically be adopted. The new map would go into effect for the May 2023 municipal election, when all 14 council seats will be on the ballot.

But before then, the committee will meet May 2 to begin adjusting the maps and will have a public hearing on May 7. 

If Monday’s commission meeting was any indication, that public hearing will have a long list of people ready to speak. While the city is mandated to make sure all 14 districts are as close to equal as possible, there are plenty of communities speaking out, asking for historic ties to be honored in places where both potential maps could shift neighborhoods into new districts.

At Monday’s meeting, the 15-member panel heard from a lot of speakers who expressed some real concerns about where their neighborhoods would land, something commission chair Jesse Oliver tried to address.

“There are a lot of competing interests in a city as diverse as Dallas—not only in terms of population but communities and interests and area,” he said.

The two maps selected Monday were created by commissioners Randall Bryant, Bob Stimson, and Roy Lopez (map 17); and community members Melanie Vanlandingham and Darren Dattalo (map 41).

Note: The city has made it a lot easier to compare current district boundaries to proposed boundaries in newer editions of the maps, which we’ve linked to. Once you’ve opened the map, click on the data layers tab to the right of it, and choose “show painted districts,” “show numbering for painted districts,” and (under boundaries) “show boundaries.”

Now you can compare to your heart’s content.

Each district should have about 93,000 residents (the 2020 census numbers show that the population is 1.3 million). Since the boundaries were drawn in 2013, eight districts have grown enough to mean boundaries will need to shift.

Still with me?

OK, good, because now we’re going to flirt with the kind of math I tried to avoid by becoming a journalist. (Sidebar: If you’re an aspiring journalist, please know that the whole “become a journalist, there’s no math” is a complete fallacy—you will math so hard sometimes, like now.)

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Map 17 Courtesy city of Dallas

There are several benchmarks by which to measure what is called compactness of a district, or how geographically gerrymandered what you’ve drawn is. Compactness, in its simplest terms, means the district you’ve drawn is contiguous, and not some crazy shape like Bart Simpson with scoliosis or three unicorns cavorting in a meadow. 

The usual ways of measuring compactness include a series of mathematical equations with funny names: Polsby-Popper, Schwartzberg, Convex Hull, Reock, X-Symmetry, and Length-Width. The city used the first four options to determine compactness.

All four use different formulas (please don’t make me explain them) that boil down to one thing: the closer you are to 1, the more compact your district is. The thing is, none of the methods are the same, so you can be very close to one under one metric yet not so close in another, which is also why, when you look at this on a statewide and national scale, it’s even harder to determine what “compact” means.

On both maps, you’ll find similar compactness scores. So, you know, good job, good effort, except for the traditionally weird-shaped District 2, which has the lowest score across the board because it is shaped like that one chunk of fettuccine stuck to the bottom of the to-go box. It stretches east-west across Dallas, and in both maps (and the current one) it touches at least six other districts, and generally has a single-digit compact score across the board.

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Map 41 Courtesy city of Dallas

So in addition to making the districts compact, the maps also have to avoid splitting up communities of interest, which is why you see so many representatives of various neighborhoods schlepping to City Hall to make a case for not moving or splitting up their communities.

In map 17’s neighborhood splits, there are 41 neighborhood associations out of 443. In map 41, there are 36 out of 443.

 And remember, both of these maps will be massaged quite a bit between now and May 9, and again by the city council—so these numbers will likely change. 

As it stands, if you are on the outer edges of your council district currently, you may find yourself in a new one regardless of the map that is ultimately chosen. 

For instance, map 17 moves District 1 (currently home to Bishop Arts District and the like) into West Dallas, including Arcadia Park and the community around Mountain View College, while District 14 (currently represented by Paul Ridley, who would no longer live in his district) would move southwest to include Bishop Arts District, Methodist Dallas Medical Center, and a whole lot of North Hampton Road below I-30. It basically is the inverse of the current 14: it keeps downtown and Uptown, but trades East Dallas for North Oak Cliff.

District 2 would stretch further east to include parts of Far East Dallas and Casa View.

District 4 wouldn’t change quite as much (South Oak Cliff remains there), but it would also include Deep Ellum, the Cedars, and parts of South Dallas. District 9 would grow to include the White Rock Lake area west and a whole lot of Old East Dallas.

If you have a headache now, please know there’s a whole other map. 

In that one, map 41, District 1 retains Bishop Arts, but adds the Design District. District 2 will continue to be misshapen, extending into Far East Dallas. District 4 would scoot into the Cedars and parts of South Dallas, and District 6 would include parts of West Oak Cliff near Cockrell Hill, as well as the Medical District.

District 7 would extend into the northwest side of Pleasant Grove.

While the majority of the major changes happen everywhere but North Dallas, there are some gentle nudgings on a few boundaries. For instance, in map 41, Casa Erickson’s neighborhood would likely shift from District 6 to District 13; District 11 would lose some territory in the southwest corner to District 10; and District 9 would include Vickery Meadow and the area around NorthPark. Both maps would also move the Elm Thicket/North Park neighborhood near Dallas Love Field that is currently in District 2 to District 13.

Needless to say, not everyone is thrilled, and Oliver was quick to recognize that Monday. Proponents of both maps say that it will increase Latino and Black voting power in areas where populations have shifted. Opponents dislike seeing longstanding communities split, like Elm Thicket/North Park.

“It is not easy to come up with a plan that fits everybody’s desires and demands, but if we all work together on that effort, we can get close and kind of walk away with something that is acceptable and not (one) that gets essentially pushed down the throats of the public,” he said.

To speak at the May 7 public hearing, you’ll need to register online by 10 a.m. the day of the meeting. Anyone who wishes to speak at the May 2 or May 9 commission meetings must register via email at [email protected] by 10 a.m. the day of the meeting.

Author

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson

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Bethany Erickson is the senior digital editor for D Magazine. She's written about real estate, education policy, the stock market, and crime throughout her career, and sometimes all at the same time. She hates lima beans and 5 a.m. and takes SAT practice tests for fun.

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