Oak Hill, 78704 ZIP code strive to keep neighborhoods together
Austinites have been given a glimpse of what their new voting districts may look like next year.
The Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission unanimously approved a preliminary map of proposed districts during its Sept. 28 public meeting.
The map splits most of Southwest Austin along Brodie Lane: the Oak Hill and Circle C neighborhoods are in District 8, while neighborhoods along West Gate Boulevard and Manchaca Road form District 5.
Two areas close to I-35—the West and East Congress neighborhoods, as well as the Sweetbriar community—have been grouped into districts to the north and east.
The ICRC is expected to finalize the map in December for use starting with the November 2014 elections.
Neighborhood groups have lobbied the ICRC to keep certain areas together during the redistricting process.
Oak Hill leaders had opposed an earlier draft map that divided the neighborhood between two districts.
In a Sept. 28 letter, Rick Perkins, secretary of the Oak Hill Neighborhood Association, wrote that Oak Hill residents have supported the redistricting process "because we hope that we will finally get at least one person at City Hall who will listen to us and be responsive to us."
"In the past, we have had City Council members come to our meetings and flat out tell us that downtown was not listening to Oak Hill because we did not have a high voter turnout," he wrote.
"So we are very much desiring a single, united Oak Hill district so that we might finally get at least one voice downtown to express our needs in our fast-growing and neglected area of town."
Last November, Austin voters approved Proposition 3, which changed how City Council members will be elected.
Currently the six council members and mayor are elected at-large, or elected by everyone to represent everyone. Starting in November 2014, Austinites will elect 10 council members to represent newly created voting districts, while the mayor will still be elected at-large.
The city auditor's office helped form the ICRC earlier this year to draw the new voting districts.
The ICRC has been meeting since June. So far, it has hired its own staff, heard public comments and received map ideas from various civic groups and grass-roots organizations.
The map must be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice and must meet Voting Rights Act standards. Ideally each district should have 79,783 residents in it, but a small percentage greater or less than that amount is considered acceptable.
The rough draft
On Sept. 21, the ICRC produced a first draft of the redistricting map. The map split Southwest Austin into two districts along a jagged line that ran west to east south of William Cannon Drive.
The northern part of Oak Hill and parts of Hwy. 71 heading toward Bee Cave were part of District 8. The southern part of Oak Hill was part of District 5, which stretched from Hays County and Circle C to east of Onion Creek.
"[The Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods] and myself and a lot of other people went and very politely, very firmly made our case," said John Rosshirt, president of the Oak Hill Business and Professional Association.
Residents drew up an alternate map that kept Oak Hill intact, Perkins said. OHAN sent the alternate to the ICRC and neighbors testified in favor of it.
The Sept. 28 preliminary map kept Oak Hill together.
"Right now, it's going in what we feel is a very positive direction for Oak Hill," he said.
In a Sept. 28 letter, Joan Owens, president of the Southwood Neighborhood Association, thanked the ICRC for keeping the neighborhoods in the South Austin Combined Neighborhood Planning area together in the preliminary map.
The SACNP covers the neighborhoods of West Gate, South Manchaca and Garrison Park and is part of a citywide planning effort.
Resident Robert Sowards Jr. wrote that District 5 shares common bonds among its diverse population.
"Three of my neighbors are Hispanic and one is a black/Anglo family. We do not care what ethnicity might represent us on the City Council, only that they indeed represent our area of Austin and not areas 15 miles to the east of us," he wrote.
78704 ZIP code
North of Ben White Boulevard, some neighborhood groups have opposed the preliminary map for breaking up the 78704 ZIP code, which they argue is a community of interest—a protected status under the Voting Rights Act.
South River City Citizens Neighborhood Association has opposed the map, Vice President Carol Martin said.
She said it was wrong not to include the neighborhood with others that share many common issues.
South Austin resident Tom Nuckols said he was not in the same district as his local grocery store but was in the same district as The Home Depot in the Mueller development, even though he has never set foot in the store.
He said that communities of interest use the same roads, parks, libraries, grocery stores and restaurants.
Resident Nan Clayton said the Sept. 28 preliminary map was an improvement over the Sept. 21 draft map.
As a resident of the proposed District 9—an area spanning parts of 78704 ZIP code, downtown, The University of Texas campus and part of east Austin—she would like to see 78704 remain intact.
"I feel like whatever was leftover got stuck in that [district]," she said. "We have so little in common when you look at it. Between downtown, the university and [the Mueller development], what is the common thread?"
Future meetings and public hearings
Oct. 26, 10:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m., 5803 Nuckols Crossing Road, 78744
Oct. 30, 6:30–10 p.m., 8401 Cameron Road, 78754