Monday, July 15, 2013

Drawing "Community of Interest" Boundaries for Oakland City Council Districts

"Oakland's hills are but a few miles from the flatlands of West Oakland, but the landscaped front yards up the hill and the unforgiving streets of the flatlands are culturally a world away from each other." ~ Chip Johnson, S.F.
"For whatever reason they were drawn in the first place, Oakland’s Council districts have evolved to represent a certain theory of government: that to a greater or lesser degree, each district represents a cross-section of Oakland’s diverse socio-economic population. ... 
But what if you wanted to elect a different type of Councilmembers—those who represent neighborhoods that have a stronger common socio-economic interest—say an upper income district only, or a middle income district only, or a working class/lower income district only. Would it be possible to redraw the district lines to reflect that type of representation?
Yes, it’s possible, and easily done. ...
Instead of fiddling with maps and neighborhood lines in the beginning, we should first have a discussion of whether we want socio-economically diverse Council districts (as we have now), or if we want those districts to be divided in such a way that the citizens within them have more similar socio-economic interests. It’s an important discussion, and would decide the future way government operates in the city." 
Read the rest of J. Douglas Allen-Taylor's article here

What is your reaction to the article?

Median Household Income in Oakland by Census Tract

Here's how districts might look if reconfigured more along socioeconomic lines. (Click on maps to enlarge).

Redistricting 2013 Implications

Redistricting sounds easy enough, at least in theory, does it not?

Anyone who can add and subtract should be able to prepare a plan that evenly distributes population such that "each Council District shall contain a nearly equal number of inhabitants" (City Council Resolution No. 84443).

We start with a city population count of 390,724. Divide that by seven districts and we arrive at an ideal or target population of 55,818 for each district.

It follows that the two Council Districts that are over the target need to shrink and the three that are under need to expand so that their populations are equalized.  The remaining two districts, which are only slightly below the target population, could be left alone or given a minor tweak.

So, why all the fuss?

Simply stated, the devil is in the details. That is, how do we get from here to there?  There are myriad ways this population balancing can be accomplished. Redistricting can take the form of tweaking existing Council Districts, leaving them largely intact, or it can involve radical redesign using a "clean slate" approach. Though, to pass the smell test, it must be done in such a way as to comply with the U.S. Constitution, federal and state laws, and the City Charter.

We might start by asking, what does the City Council mean by "nearly equal" in population?

  • "Nearly equal" obviously does not mean "equal" or exactly the same.  
  • How close, then, must the population of districts be in order to meet with their approval?  We might get as many as eight answers to this question since it is open to interpretation.
  • The City Charter, which prevails, says "as equal as possible in population."  
  • City Attorney Barbara Parker, in a legal opinion, has written that a 10% deviation (+/- 5%) is generally acceptable.  
  • The City's redistricting consultant, in public presentations, has said that 10% is not necessarily acceptable and that any deviation from the ideal population requires an explanation.

It should also be noted that even if districts do not need adjustment from a population standpoint, their boundaries may still be adjusted to: better reflect communities of interest, avoid splitting or reunite neighborhoods, prevent dilution of minority voting power, make them more compact, and/or to easily recognizable boundaries without a lot of zig-zags.

From my perspective, "nearly equal" or "as equal as possible" should be construed to mean within a very narrow range of deviation, perhaps no more than 5% (+/- 2.5%) at the outside. But, that is just my opinion.  The EPA disclaimer, "your mileage may vary," certainly applies here.

City of Oakland
Redistricting Implications of 2010 Population Data
Population Relative to Target
Redistricting Implication
Population Change Needed to Reach Target
No Change*
No Change*
* D4 and D7 have populations that are within 1% of the 55,818 population target.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Changing Oakland's Political Landscape

Unhappy with your political leadership? Oakland’s 2013 Redistricting Process is your once-in-a-decade chance to influence who’ll represent you at the most local level.

Oakland District 4 (Montclair-Dimond-Laurel) Councillor Libby Schaaf presents several ways Oakland residents can become involved and have their voices heard in the redistricting process.

Read her article on Oakland Local:
Changing Oakland's Political Landscape

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Communities of Interest

"Council districts shall reflect communities of interest as much as possible."

The paramount objective in redistricting is to draw district boundaries so that they are "nearly equal" in population, and to do so in compliance with the the U.S. Constitution, the federal Voting Rights Act, the City Charter, and other applicable laws. 

Next, in order of priority, in the criteria adopted by the City Council (Resolution No. 84443): "council districts shall reflect communities of interest as much as possible." 

This, naturally, begs the question: What are "communities of interest?"

Generally speaking, "communities of interest" are whatever the people living in a particular area, neighborhood or community understand them to be. For example: a neighborhood with a strong sense of identity and cohesiveness, a police beat, a school attendance area, the area around a business district or a park. It could also be a combination of neighborhoods that share the same culture and/or socioeconomic characteristics.

More specifically, Oakland city staff provide the following definition in their staff report presented to the City Council on June 4, 2013.

Neighborhoods, defined both by official and informal boundaries:

  • Officially-defined communities of interest can include areas such as homeowner associations, master-planned communities, historical neighborhoods, police patrol areas, school attendance zones, business development/improvement districts, redevelopment/planning areas, or other similar officially-designated areas.
  • Informal communities of interest can include areas such as neighborhoods around a given park; areas of multi-family units or single-family units; areas around a school; areas where a large number of people speak a language other than English; areas of similar income, home values, poverty levels, or other socio-economic factors.
  • Any other definition of "neighborhood" provided by the people who live in a given area, who feel a common legislative interest.

Introduction & Overview

"Unhappy with your political leadership? Oakland’s 2013 Redistricting Process is your once-in-a-decade chance to influence who’ll represent you at the most local level."   ~ Libby Schaaf, City Councilor, District 4

Redistricting is the redrawing or adjusting of electoral district boundaries for governmental entities to ensure that they are balanced with the same number of residents.

Every 10 years, as required by the City Charter, the City of Oakland must review its City Council District boundaries and adjust them (as needed) to be "as equal as possible in population" based on official population figures provided by the U.S. Census Bureau from the latest decennial census. At the end of this process, the City Council adopts an ordinance setting forth the new boundaries of each City Council District.

City Council District areas and borders were last adjusted by ordinance and their populations balanced in 2003 using the 2000 census.  

According to the 2010 Census, Oakland's population is 390,724.  District populations are out of balance: 2 are above, 3 are below, and 2 are close to the target population of 55,818. Consequently, significant changes will need to be made in order to evenly distribute population between the districts.

On June 4, 2013, the City Council adopted Resolution No. 84443, which sets forth the following criteria for the 2013 Redistricting, in order of priority:

  1. Each Council district shall contain a nearly equal number of inhabitants.
  2. Council district borders shall be drawn in a manner that complies with the United States Constitution and the Federal Voting Rights Act.
  3. Council districts shall respect communities of interest as much as possible.
  4. Council districts shall consist of contiguous territory in a reasonably compact form.
  5. Council district borders shall follow visible natural and man-made geographical and topographical features as much as possible.
  6. The population and territory of each existing Council district shall be considered when drawing each corresponding new Council district.
  7. Districts should avoid displacing any incumbent City Council member or Oakland Unified School District Board member from the district he/she was elected to represent.

Clear communication about redistricting, community participation, and transparency will be essential throughout the process.

High-Level Summary & Timeline

June 4: City Council Meeting on Redistricting Schedule and Criteria
July 10 -13: Public Workshop/Forum
August 12: Deadline for Plan Submissions by the Public
September 5,7 & 8: Public Workshop/Forum
October 3: Rules and Legislation Committee Meeting
October 15: Council Hearing on Plan Selection - Review of District Alternatives
November 5: First Council Hearing on Redistricting Ordinance
November 19: First Council Hearing and Adoption of Redistricting Ordinance

City of Oakland 2013 Redistricting Webpage:

Here is a link to the City of Oakland's official redistricting webpage with more information regarding the process and the timeline for public participation and adoption by the City Council.  

From this page, you will find a link to an online mapping tool using Maptitude software, which you can use to create your own redistricting plan(s) and, if you wish, share with others and submit to the City for public consideration.