Friday, October 29, 2021

The redistricting commission maps city council districts for next decade




AUSTIN, TX (Oct. 29, 2021) – Unlike the state of Texas's political maps, the new Austin City Council district maps, certified by the Independent Citizens Commission (ICRC) on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021, were devoid of political party influence.

"I think these maps are a testament to the strength of our expertise and ultimately the strength of this redistricting process under an Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission," said ICRC Chair Christina Puentes (District 7) after signing her name to the certification document at Wednesday's meeting. "We have followed in some really courageous and thoughtful footsteps in previous positions, and I hope to see that this movement will sweep the country. We are living proof that this system works."

Austin's independent redistricting system was set in place in 2013 after the passage of a proposition that moved the City Council from a seven-member, all at-large group to its current 10-1 configuration that centers on demographics. Before this system, Austin's at-large system for electing council members had been in place since 1953 with a change or unofficial concession termed "a gentleman's agreement" to reserve two seats for minority candidates. However, the explosive growth of the Hispanic population in the '70s and every decade afterward and the protests and litigation that followed made the change a reality in 2013.

Commissioner Joshua Blank (District 8), research director of the Texas Politics Project at The University of Texas at Austin, said he was proud of the work the commission produced.

"I study politics for a living, and currently, almost all politics are defined by their toxicity. By the inability of people to work together, and by those in power using the levers at their disposal to maintain or increase that power," Blank said during the certification of the map on Wednesday. "This map, by contrast, was made among citizens who approached this task humbly. Who asked for input at every stage, and who then received that input without prejudice or predetermined outcomes in mind. Citizens who truly sought to follow the charter that established this commission and this process, and in particular, the maintenance of the geographic integrity of local neighborhoods and communities."

Wednesday marks the second time an independent commission redrew the city council districts, and the obstacles the 2021 commissioners had were different from the 2013 commission in that they were apolitical. In its path to redistricting, the ICRC weathered a global pandemic, February freeze, late U.S. Census data numbers, learning new virtual meeting protocols and the shortening of public engagement timeframe.

Austin City Auditor Corrie Stokes noted these obstacles before awarding commissioners certificates for the volunteer work they put into the redrawing of the new Austin City Council boundaries.

"I wanted to recognize the challenges that you all faced this time that we didn't have last time. Number one is we were in a global pandemic. We were all struggling to adapt to real time virtual meetings and developing a coordinated community engagement plan for Austin residents to give input on this map. You all were able to do this within COVID-19 protocols. I think that was a significant feat and I'm really impressed," Stokes said. "That wasn't enough, though. You also had late Census data. When we set out to do this in late 2019, we had no idea you would have less time for public engagement, and you were still able to pull that off, so I am so impressed with this group."

The ICRC held 20 public forums from July through October, four more than mandated by the City Charter. Since July, commissioners spent over 23 hours in meetings, hosted 173 attendees, listened to 82 speakers, collected 70 maps and 187 emails.

"I want to thank the voters of Austin for establishing this process for redistricting," Blank said. "While city councils, commissioners courts, and legislatures throughout the country engage in a process wherein, for the most part, elected officials pick their voters, ours was a process of citizens representing their fellow citizens in an effort to create a city council map that as accurately as possible, reflects the many, often overlapping, communities of this great city that we all clearly hold dearly."

The ICRC will present the certified map to the Austin City Council by the Nov. 1 deadline set out in the City Charter. The commission will remain inactive except when necessary to comply with its duties under the City Charter mandate.

Visit speakupaustin.org to download a copy of the 2021 Austin City Council Final District Map.

Contact

To contact the commission please email: icrc.commissioners@austintexas.gov; call 512- 512-710-5329 or write to: Housing and Planning Department, Attn: ICRC, P.O. Box 1088, Austin, Texas 78767.

Due to rapid changes in scheduling due to COVID restrictions, for the most up-to-date events information from the ICRC please refer to the following events pages:

https://www.speakupaustin.org/city-of-austin-redistricting/

https://www.facebook.com/pg/AustinRedistric/events/

Public input forums are recorded and made available after the meetings here: http://www.austintexas.gov/page/watch-atxn-live.

Past meetings, agendas and map presentations can be viewed on the commission's website at www.austintexas.gov/cityclerk/boards_commissions/meetings/116_1.htm

Interpretation and/or translation services will be available free of charge by advance request in Spanish, Chinese or Vietnamese. Call 311 or email matthew.dugan@austintexas.gov to request these services 48 hours in advance of a forum.

ICRC Information

Commissioners are: Joshua Blank (District 8), Sara Inés Calderón (D2), Erin Dempsey (D10), Camellia Falcon (D7), Luis Gonzalez (D10, Vice-Chair), Errol Hardin (D1), Shaina Kambo (D9), Prabhu Kannan (D5), Dr. Sterling Lands (D4), Hoang Le (D3), Brigham Morris (D3), Christina Puentes (D7, Chair), Eugene Schneider (D6) and Selina Yee (D1).

The ICRC board has scheduled its next weekly commission meeting at the Permitting and Development Center (PDC), 6310 Wilhelmina Delco Dr., Austin, TX 78752, 6 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2021. 


City of Austin Opening Cold Weather Shelters Tonight

Warming Centers Available During the Day The City of Austin and partner agencies will be opening warming centers and cold weather shelters t...