Redistricting battles elsewhere in the country have devolved into partisan warfare even the courts have struggled to sort. In San Antonio, where new City Council districts must be drawn to account for the city’s roughly 100,000 new residents, initial maps are being cheered with nearly unanimous support from the body set to approve them in the coming months.
“For the first time we’ve tried to make the redistricting process independent from the politics of the offices that they represent,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said in a City Council meeting Wednesday. “Obviously it’s a work in progress. … But I think this is a great first start in the effort to do redistricting in the city on principle as opposed to politics.”
Last year, City Council delegated the process of redistributing the city’s growing population among its 10 districts to a committee of citizens — as opposed to council members drawing new district boundaries themselves. The committee released an early version of its proposed changes earlier this month, giving the public an opportunity to provide input, a process that will continue through May 31.
Results of the 2020 census showed that the city’s 1.43 million residents were dispersed unevenly across council districts, with most of the population growth occurring in the north, necessitating a rebalancing of the districts to comply with the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits boundaries that would discriminate on the basis of race or minority group.
On Wednesday, council members and the mayor heaped praise on the committee’s results, suggesting the residents appointed by council members had done far better than the lawmakers could have done on their own.
“I’m extremely pleased with the process and I’m ready to throw it down [to residents],” said Councilwoman Teri Castillo (D5). “Whether it’s a policy or a plan, when we put it in the hands of community, I think that’s when we get the best product.”
The council has given itself a deadline of June 9 to approve the new maps, which would become effective in early 2023, ahead of the filing deadlines for May City Council elections.
Four more public hearings are scheduled to take place throughout the city, which could result in further changes to the districts after input is considered.
“There’s a possibility they’ll come back with a different map,” City Attorney Andy Segovia said of the advisory committee.
Some members are eager to get new districts in place as soon as possible.
Councilman John Courage (D9) suggested Wednesday the council should go ahead and adopt the new map in October when it approves city budget, so that candidates and voters can prepare for the changes.
“There’s something like 50,000 residents, maybe more that are affected by these changes,” Courage said. “We should clearly tie the budget allocations and priorities that the council is going to be making this summer to the districts … so the residents know who their council members are and … anyone who wants to run knows which district they live in before they get into a campaign.”
Other concerns raised by council members included the redistricting of Brackenridge Park, part of which would move from District 2 so that all of the 349-acre park would be within District 1.
“It would make sense at face value for Brackenridge Park to be in one district, but because of the nature of Brackenridge Park and its historical significance and its impact on neighborhoods, this might be one exemption to that,” said Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (D2).