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City Council redistricting on the agenda

Houston’s continued population growth may trigger a need to redraw City Council boundaries so as to include two new district seats.

The decision, Mayor Bill White told the council Wednesday, would depend on whether updated U.S. Census Bureau estimates, expected to be released next week, show the city has grown to more than 2.1 million residents.

That would trigger a provision in the city charter that requires two extra single-member council districts, White said.

The city now has nine single-member districts covering specific geographic areas and five at-large districts, each of which covers the entire city.

“It will require some reconfiguration of every district within the city, practically,” he said. “Obviously, we want to keep as much continuity as we can, so the citizens learn that they are part of a district. We want to keep neighborhoods together.”

Some community activists have hoped adding the new districts – which would be known as J and K – could bring the election of new Hispanic or black council members, keeping up with the city’s changing demographics.

Thus, the complicated process has the potential to divide some on the council and the community along racial or political lines, depending on where the seats are drawn and the makeup of the residents within them.

If population growth requires the change, White said he would immediately appoint a “diverse, bipartisan” council committee to study how to proceed.

He also said outside experts could be called in to help.

Jerry Wood, a retired city planner and redistricting expert, said Houston residents should expect a complicated process of deciphering the makeup and location of new districts. But that could mean their districts are smaller in both population and geography, possibly giving individual neighborhoods more sway over who gets elected, and the issues pushed by their respective members.

“It gives more focus to the district representative,” Wood said. “But it also gives the population of the district a chance to be more representative of the person it elects.”

This subject came up last December, at which point I think it was reasonable to assume Houston was already at or very close to the 2.1 million mark. I feel pretty confident that this will be done in time for the 2007 elections.

Here’s some background on Jerry Wood, who was a key figure in the drawing of the original City Council districts in 1979.

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One Comment

  1. Keith G says:

    I don’t see why some enterprizing software geek hasn’t written a program that “randomly” draws reprsentative disticts based on a few simple rules.

    Such rules could include preferences for: keeping census tracks whole; keeping zip codes whole; repecting man-made or mother nature made boundries, geographic density (eliminate the snake-like shapes)

    Have the program configure several similar maps, evalute them, then draw lots to see which is submitted for approval.

    In a continuum of software engineering difficulty, this would barely approach the mid point.