New district boundary lines will go into effect Jan. 1 as the result of the annexation of Greatwood and New Territory last December, which added nearly 30,000 residents to Sugar Land.
The city operates with four district council members who must live within the district they choose to run to represent. Additionally, two at large council members and the mayor, who can run from anywhere in Sugar Land round out the City Council.
A call for rebalancing these districts after annexation was necessary in accordance with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which requires equal representation across all districts, City Attorney Meredith Riede said.
The new boundaries have District 1 encompassing the north side of the city; District 2 encompassing the west side portion south of Hwy. 90 and Hwy. 6 and north of Hwy. 59; District 3 encompassing the east side south of Hwy. 59 and north of Steep Bank Creek; and District 4 encompassing the southern portion of the city south of Hwy. 59 and Steep Bank Creek.
“This is pretty common for redistricting, and it’s pretty common for this to occur,” Riede said. “It’s just not common for us because we do this every 10 years [with new census data], but when you take 30,000 people into your city, you’re going to have to move some lines.”
A city-appointed committee met with representatives from consulting firm Bickerstaff, Heath, Delgado and Acosta LLP during three meetings held from late July through mid-August. For full transparency, all committee meetings were open to the public, committee chairman Randy Garbs said.
“Due to the annexation of New Territory and Greatwood, the committee recognized that there were going to be some significant changes that would be necessary to make the district relatively equal in population,” Garbs said. “The committee through this process considered seven plans—three of them were provided by our consultant. Four were actually suggested by the various committee members.”
Using the 2010 census population for Sugar Land, Greatwood and New Territory of 108,697, the target was to have 27,174 people in each district, attorney Bob Heath said. The approved plan has 27,177 residents in District 1; 26,225 residents in District 2; 26,966 residents in District 3; and 28,329 residents in District 4, consulting firm officials said.
“Generally, it’s very recognizable boundaries, which was one of your criteria,” Heath said. “Also, it keeps election precincts together.”
In addition to adhering to the VRA, the city followed the U.S. and Texas constitutions. The population figures are used from 2010 because Texas and the U.S. Supreme Court deemed these the appropriate numbers to use, so boundaries will be looked at again after the 2020 census comes out, Riede said.
A key factor in redistricting is ensuring overall demographics are equally represented in each district. Typically, a city’s Hispanic population is looked at closely and can even be made into a Hispanic district, Heath said. However, Sugar Land’s Hispanic population is relatively small, and its Asian population is large, he said.
“We end up with one district, which has a significant concentration of Asians, and it’s District 2,” Heath said. “There is a very compact concentration in that area. We have preserved that.”
Guidelines, according to the Voting Rights Act, also state that, during redistricting, identified geographical boundaries should be followed; communities of interest should be maintained; county voting precinct lines should be followed when possible; districts should be compact and include contiguous territory; and representation and minority voting should be preserved.
The new boundaries stick to these guidelines, with a few minor exceptions—one being the division of precinct 4080 that stretches across Hwy. 6 along Hwy. 59. Council voted to include the Lake Pointe subdivision on the north side of Hwy. 6 in District 1.
Although keeping voting precincts together creates less confusion for voters and is more convenient for county administration, it is challenging to keep all precincts together, Heath said.
“We also recognize that when you’re trying to redistrict by precincts, it’s very hard to do unless you’re someplace like the city of Houston,” he said. “On the other hand, a single-member district in Houston is about 200,000 people, so it’s pretty easy to get your numbers to work out when you have something that big. In a smaller city, as everything in the state is, it gets a little harder.”
As steps toward implementation are taken, residents should be aware of a slight change in the 2019 elections.
“An election is not just one Saturday in May,” Riede said. “It is actually a long process. It is a series of events that go together to make the election. When you adopt a new redistricting plan, you’re adopting new boundaries. So, that’s going to change the representation, but it’s effective for that election, not on a date on a calendar for every event. It’s a phased process.”
Council members Amy Mitchell of District 3 and Bridget Yeung of District 2 have reached the term limit and cannot seek re-election in 2019. However, Council members Steve Porter of District 1 and Carol McCutcheon of District 4 are eligible to run for reelection.
“The new District 1 will continue to be the most diverse in our city, both culturally and economically,” Porter said in an email. “District 1 includes the city’s only current business park, the taxes from which help to lower residential property taxes. It also includes Constellation Field and Sugar Land Regional Airport, and, hopefully soon, Imperial Market to complement our Sugar Land Visitors Center. This district is rich in history, as celebrated by the Sugar Land Heritage Museum.”
The new lines add Sugar Creek to District 3, which will have the largest effect on the district, Mitchell said.
“Because of being term-limited, there’s going to be a new District  council member, so anybody who is anywhere in the new district can apply for the position,” Mitchell said.
Candidate filing for the May 2019 council member elections will adhere to the new boundaries, so residents wishing to run for office who may live in one district now and will be in a new district as of Jan. 1 will need to file for candidacy in their new district, Riede said.
“For filing purposes only, the new plan will be going into effect in January,” she said. “For all other purposes, you will continue to represent the incumbents that elected you to office.”
The longest phase leading up to full-fledged implementation of the new boundaries is the campaign process, during which time candidates follow the new lines to campaign, Riede said.
“Campaigning—this is the phase that’s going to be the most confusing,” Riede said. “This is where you’re going to have the opportunity to contact your incumbents for any questions you might have while at the same time you’re going to receive mailings, door knockers and possibly signs in your yard telling you to vote for a certain candidate, and that may be a different district or different name than what you’re currently sitting in.”
During the May election, residents will vote for council members corresponding to their new district should their district change, Riede said.
“On that date the plan goes into effect for everybody,” she said. “You have your new council district boundaries, and whoever is elected during that election is your new representative.”