LB Council approves redistricting map that won’t ‘break Bixby Knolls’

<strong>At Tuesday night’s Long Beach City Council meeting, the Council voted 7-2 to approve a redistricting map that would not split Bixby Knolls into two districts.</strong>

At Tuesday night’s Long Beach City Council meeting, the Council voted 7-2 to approve a redistricting map that would not split Bixby Knolls into two districts.

Steven Piper
Staff Writer

After a 7–2 vote– Councilmembers Rae Gabelich and Gerrie Schipske dissenting– by Long Beach City Council Tuesday night, a redistricting map was approved that would not split the Bixby Knolls neighborhood into two pieces.
Instead, a new map, proposed by Johnson and seconded by First District Councilmember Robert Garcia, draws a border between the seventh and eighth districts at Bixby Road to the north, portions of Atlantic Avenue and Long Beach Boulevard to the east, a southern boundary that includes 36th Street and Wardlow Road, and bound on the West by the 405 Freeway and Pacific Place.
According to the city attorney’s office, the allocation of land would move 900 more people than is required by the City’s guideline of being within five-percent variance from the ideal population. According to Tom Modica, director of government affairs and strategic initiatives, the bare amount of people required to move from the eighth district to the seventh district is 1,311. The land that would be redrawn into the seventh district accommodates 2,334 constituents.
The new lines would also draw eighth council district candidate Mike Kowal out of the upcoming 2012 elections, unless he chooses to move his residence to within the proposed boundaries of the eighth district. The new map, however, must survive a multi-step process before taking effect. City staff will begin preparing an ordinance– including a full legal description– that will set forth the new district boundaries, since the map did pass the vote last Tuesday.
Next, the ordinance will be brought back before City Council on July 19 for the ordinance’s first reading; the second reading will be during the Aug. 2 council meeting, and it will become effective 30 days after that meeting. Opportunities for public comment will be possible throughout the process.
Eighth District Councilmember Gabelich said she did not understand why Johnson was suggesting a map that would move 900 more people into his district, the seventh, than is necessary. “Mr. Johnson’s proposal gives him another 900 people who have had an established relationship with the Bixby Knolls and Los Cerritos community,” said Gabelich. “Why you want to insist on dividing that, I do not understand that. I know we have to find a way to make this right… Why are you pushing to take more people than you need? I need an answer to that.”
In response, Johnson cited the logic of his map, which follows major thoroughfares such as Bixby Road, and the fact that it avoids gerrymandering his current district, which some councilmembers have described as “modern art.” (The term “gerrymander,” defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “to divide an area into political units to give special advantages to one group,” had been part of redistricting discussions among the various councilmembers for weeks.) “So, once again, it minimizes changes to Wrigley and eliminates the changes to the west side… You’ll see it’s a straight line, a major corridor. You’re not dividing a census track, and keeping a community unified,” Johnson said. “And with that, I’d make the motion, and I’d appreciate a second.” Councilmember Suja Lowenthal seconded Johnson’s motion.
Also, the new map circumnavigates the contentious issue of whether or not Bixby Knolls should be split into two pieces at Atlantic Avenue, which is what would have occurred had Johnson’s previously proposed map been made city ordinance.
In order to make sure the map did not go unchallenged, over 30 people voiced their opinions at the meeting, citing their concern regarding the potential split of Bixby Knolls. The vast majority of them were also toting index cards that read “Don’t Break Bixby Knolls” and encompassed an image of a broken heart containing a fractured map of the affected neighborhood.
One of those speakers was Jeffrey Kellogg, a former Long Beach councilmember. Kellogg said the sequence of events, like having public input on a motion and item that had not been described, is ineffective. “Mayor, if there was a motion on the council and a proper second at this point when I came up to the podium, I could talk directly to a motion, but I have no idea what you’re voting for,” Kellogg said. “It makes it very difficult for the public to have good, concise comments when they don’t know what you’re dealing with…”
Partly responding to the collective voice of those citizens, the city council voted 7 to 2 for Johnson’s substitute substitute motion– the map that draws a straight line dividing the seventh and eighth districts at Bixby Road.
Prior to July 5’s controversial council meeting, a series of maps were presented to the city council, and only one map, which had been circulated among the public, was voted on. The approved map was modified by Johnson to include a large swath of the Bixby Knolls area– Carson Street to the south, San Antonio Drive on the north, Atlantic Avenue to the west, and Orange Avenue on the east– that accommodates 2,043 constituents.
The proposal roused widespread community activism, which was observable at numerous town hall meetings. Johnson hosted one of those meetings, which more than 200 people attended, on Thursday, June 30, at Bixby Knolls Christian Church. Emotions ran high at the community meeting, and numerous constituents questioned the motives driving Johnson’s call to split Bixby Knolls via Atlantic Avenue. The modification would include the area bounded by Carson Street to the south, San Antonio Drive on the north, Atlantic Avenue to the west, and Orange Avenue on the east, which houses an additional 2,043.
During a breakout session, concerned citizens had a chance to devise their own maps for the redistricting option, some of which suggested the strategy used in the map that was passed during last Tuesday’s meeting– straightening out the section of the seventh district that is adjacent to the 405 Freeway by using Bixby Road as a northern boundary.
Despite the controversy surrounding the numerous maps, the seventh district has no choice but to grow. The ninth district contains too many people and must shed some of its constituents to the eighth. The first and second districts must also grow, putting pressure on the seventh district to expand in some direction. If the proposed map passes, then the Los Cerritos neighborhood stands to join the seventh district.

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