By Steven Piper
Per 2010 Census data, Long Beach is facing a redistricting process that will reshape the city’s nine districts, changing affected citizens’ representatives and the resources that are allocated to their neighborhoods. Depending on where the new borders are drawn, the changes might also affect who is eligible to run for the 2012 city council elections.
In order to gain citizen input and offer information regarding the redistricting process, Ninth District Councilmember Steven Neal hosted a town hall meeting last Tuesday at Ramona Park Community Center.
According to the Census data, the ninth council district has a population of 55,096. In 2000, the district had 53,734 residents, indicating an increase of 1,362 people.
Neal’s goal is to make about a two-and-a-half percent reduction in the district’s population, and according to a media release issued by Neal’s office, the desired margin is between 48,794 and 53,930 constituents.
“We have to shrink. There is nothing else we can do,” Neal said. “So, unfortunately, there are some neighborhoods in the ninth district that aren’t going to be in the ninth district after this process. What we are attempting to do is to make that as least obtrusive as possible.”
During a PowerPoint presentation at the meeting, Director of Government Affairs and Strategic Initiatives Tom Modica explained that all of Long Beach’s nine districts must have an approximately equal population, within five percent of each other, which helps to ensure equal representation among the city’s diverse population.
Modica also explained certain rules and guidelines that should be considered during the redistricting process. “We want to avoid splits in neighborhoods, splits in ethnic communities, and other groups that have a clear identity wherever we can,” he said. “Almost all litigation dealing with any type of redistricting process nationwide has to do with underrepresented minorities.”
The largest ethnicity represented in the ninth district is Hispanics, totaling 32,023 people, which is a 22.2-percent increase from the 2000 Census statistics. “You can’t dilute minority strengths,” Modica said. “That’s called cracking the district. You can’t purposely split minority populations if they are a majority of the district’s population.” Conversely, Modica warned against packing a district, which would be intentionally redrawing a district’s boundaries in order to have a certain demographic over-represent that area.
Eighth District Council candidate Mike Kowal used Neal’s question-and-answer session as an opportunity to express his opinion regarding whether or not the redistricting process is even necessary.
“I would advocate for doing nothing– the same thing they did five years ago. They don’t have to, by law,” Kowal said. “The five percent is merely a guideline. The city attorney’s office likes to call it a safe harbor, meaning it’s a safe place, so they can’t touch a lawsuit. I intend to provide to City Council proof that, yes, they can go outside of the five percent. All they have to do is testify that they’re not taking away from the one man, one vote.”
Other residents were curious about the cost of redistricting, which Rex Richardson, Neal’s chief of staff, said is negligible. “Don’t worry about the cost of this process. We’re having community events that have no cost to the city,” Richardson said. “It’s less cost than getting a lawsuit for under-representing our people. The more people you pack into your district, the less your vote actually counts.”