After some 11th-hour changes by a citizens advisory committee, San Antonio City Council unanimously approved the committee’s recommended map of redrawn council districts Thursday, moving roughly 40,000 residents from one district to another.

The new council districts take effect immediately. City staff stressed that residents can still reach out to their old representative for constituent services, but the immediate change allows potential City Council candidates to prepare for the 2023 elections.

San Antonio requires that residents live in a council district for at least six months before running to represent that district on City Council. Candidates for City Council can file for the May 6 election starting in January 2023.

The districts remained largely unchanged from the last time the City Council viewed the map in April, when members praised the work of the committee they chose to redistribute residents across the 10 districts. That 23-member body, which was appointed by council members and the mayor, was designed to keep politics out of the redistricting process, which has in the past been done by council members themselves.

Politics crept in anyway.

Council members on Thursday expressed their frustration with how the final weeks of the more than six-month process unfolded, with last-minute maneuvering in attempts to adjust the map. In particular, the business community asked for and was granted a change that kept most of the downtown business district consolidated in District 1.

“Every constituency group is going to represent its interest, and as long as that is within the process where council members are leaving it up to the committee to decide … I’m comfortable with the way it plays out,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said of the business community’s influence.

Council district boundaries were redrawn to balance population growth across the city, with the most growth taking place in the Northside districts 8 and 9. Credit: Courtesy / City of San Antonio

Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (D2) said the city’s business community was trying to push the council’s progressive bloc out of office, forcing him to get involved in a process that was intended to be independent of the council.

“Some of this stuff is disgusting,” said McKee-Rodriguez, who helped residents in his district successfully fight off an effort to consolidate Brackenridge Park into District 1. “We have to really have a conversation about who influences us and who influences our decisions. … That’s not a place for redistricting, when we’re talking about the goal of making sure that every person in our city has a vote.”

Councilwoman Teri Castillo (D5), another progressive council member who like McKee-Rodriguez is in her first term, was expected to gain several downtown precincts before the business community’s push to remain in District 1.

“Somehow there were multibillion dollar companies … with high-powered government affair teams, who somehow don’t know how to open up a City Council agenda to learn that the redistricting process is ongoing,” she said.

Castillo’s district had the fewest residents before redistricting and still has the fewest residents under the new map, which meets the legal requirement of ensuring no more than a 10% population difference between the most populous district and the least populous district. District 5 was 16.5% below the size determined to be ideal for each council district, 143,494 residents; it’s now 4.9% below that number.

The new map redistributes the city’s residents following the 2020 census, which indicated that San Antonio had grown by roughly 100,000 residents since the 2010 census. Population growth in Districts 8 and 9 on the city’s North Side had outpaced that of other districts, requiring some neighborhoods to be moved into less-populous districts.

Major changes include moving the Maverick, Vance Jackson and Greater Harmony Hills neighborhoods into District 1. The El Sendero neighborhood moved into District 4. Collins Garden and some of Los Jardines moved into District 5. Districts 2 and 3 remained unchanged.

Speaking to reporters after the vote, Nirenberg there was room to improve the redistricting process, such as potentially making the committee’s decision binding without City Council approval.

“There is going to be inevitably some political influence,” said Nirenberg. “But overall, I’m glad that the process played out and and worked out towards an outcome that achieved a greater sense of transparency and independence than we’ve ever had before.”

City staff will begin working to educate the public about the new districts, including placing large maps at city libraries and other locations.

Assistant City Attorney Iliana Castillo Daily said the city also will conduct direct outreach to the households that will be impacted by the boundary changes, directing them to a website with more information about their new representation.

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Andrea Drusch

Andrea Drusch writes about local government for the San Antonio Report. She's covered politics in Washington, D.C., and Texas for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, National Journal and Politico.