New proposed boundaries between Oakland’s hills and flatlands are near the top of the agenda as Oakland prepares to redraw boundaries of city council and school board districts.
Shifting lines between these two areas could tip the scales at election time because “the hills” typically have greater voter participation and greater involvement in city affairs than “the flats.”
Redistricting is required this year due to a drop in the city’s population, said Doug Johnson, a consultant hired to advise Oakland from the National Demographics Corporation, based in Glendale, CA. Oakland’s population fell by nearly 9,000 people– or about 2.2%– to 390,724 at the time of the 2010 census from 399,484 residents at the time of the 2000 census.
Proposed redistricting maps submitted by community members and the city’s consultant Johnson will go before the City Council’s Rules and Legislation Committee in an open meeting October 3. The full City Council hearing on the plan selection is slated for October 15.
Representatives from the Strategic Planning Division said they are seeking community involvement and striving toward a transparent process.
The City of Oakland has been receiving submitted maps from community members and seeking input through community meetings and outreach from constituents to councilmembers since June.
“The conversation has been so robust and so passionate,” said Devan Reiff, a planner with the Strategic Planning Division. “It’s been really encouraging.”
At the last of these initial community meetings on Sunday in District 1, Johnson included the 10 submitted maps and an explanation of the city’s efforts to keep the community involved in the boundary decisions. He stressed that there is no preference given to his maps over that of the community members.
Responding to fears that minority voting power might be eroded, Reiff said planners are following the Voting Rights Act closely.
“Nothing that the city staff would approve, or the City Council would adopt, would reduce minorities’ ability to elect the candidate of their choice,” Reiff said. “We’re here to serve the council and help bring the public to the council and let them decide basically.”
Officials also stressed that redistricting would not affect school attendance, only school board elections.
“It’s really important that some of the legacy of gerrymandered maps really gets looked at with fresh eyes,” said Sharon Cornu, consultant and project coordinator for Oakland Votes Redistricting Coalition.
Cornu referred to areas of Maxell Park, Fruitvale, Chinatown and West Oakland as places that need special attention.
“You’re always going to have some funny pieces to a map like this. But Oakland needs to take a fresh look at this,” she said. “I think it will improve voter participation and I think it will improve the quality of services and how people are heard and represented.”
Overall, community members at Sunday’s gathering praised the city for its process and efforts to keep its residents involved in redistricting.
“I think that the city of Oakland needs to start to build trust again,” said Shanina Shumate, a college and career counselor who lives in District 1. “You have to build those relationships, and this is one element of getting people involved, getting people to collaborate with the city and how they want to see the lines restructured. So I think overall, it’s good.”
District 1 City Councilmember Dan Kalb avoided voicing an opinion on the issue of whether redistricting will shift the balance power between the hills and flatlands at election time.
“It’s a very valid theory,” Kalb said at the Sunday meeting in his District 1 area. “I don’t have a hard-and-fast position of what the maps should look like, but I don’t have an objection to that theory.”
District 1 resident Tonya Love echoed his uncertainty.
“As far as the whole flatlands-versus-hills thing, I’m still undecided about that,” Love said. “It just depends on the councilperson.”
Complications come into play where boundaries are expected to accommodate current councilmembers and school board members in an effort to continue to honor the decisions of voters in the last elections and in the next. The City Council has also pledged to try to keep “communities of interest” intact. But even that is a term which Johnson admitted lacks concrete definition particularly within the city council.