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San Antonio City Council Finally Approves New Districts

Mayor Ron Nirenberg and other city council members have lauded the maps for their independence and transparency. The new districts will go into effect for the May 2023 city elections.

(TNS) — After six months of long meetings, contentious disagreements and a few reversals, San Antonio City Council approved new district boundaries.

For the first time, they didn't draw the new districts themselves. Instead, council members mostly lauded what they called an independent process that took power away from them and placed it in the hands of the community in a more public forum.

"I'm glad the process played out and worked toward an outcome that achieved a greater sense of transparency and independence than we've ever had before," said Mayor Ron Nirenberg.

Nearly 40,000 residents will be affected, but District 2 on the East Side and District 3 on the South Side saw no change.

The new map will be in effect for the May 2023 city elections. Impacted residents can work with both their current and new council representatives until that time to transition any constituent services, and then they'll vote in their new City Council district next year.

The process of creating new political borders, called redistricting, occurs every decade after new U.S. Census data is released. San Antonio has seen booming growth and had to balance its population more evenly among the 10 City Council districts so that every resident's vote has a more equal chance of counting toward the representation they want.

The task at hand is to balance population and stay in line with the federal Voting Rights Act, which prevents the city from diluting the vote of certain racial or ethnic communities.

Last decade, City Council members met with attorneys to provide their input for the map. Those conversations mostly took place behind closed doors, although the city later held public meetings.

This time around, Nirenberg ensured the process was more transparent. He appointed three people, and each council person appointed two residents to a committee that drafted the new map with the help of attorneys.

Although most agree the committee's work is a vast improvement from the past, it didn't remain completely separate from City Council — politics still showed its head.

To some extent, that was expected, Nirenberg said.

First-term council members Jalen McKee-Rodriguez, representing the East Side, and Teri Castillo, representing the West Side, criticized the process before approving the new map.

"I think it's important that folks are not able to appoint their family members to sit on the redistricting committee, that folks do not appoint their staff members to sit on the redistricting committee," McKee-Rodriguez said. "This is significant."

The reference called out District 3 Councilwoman Phyllis Viagran, who appointed her sister and former Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran, and District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez, who appointed his zoning director Laura Garza to the committee. Neither Viagran nor Pelaez responded directly to the criticism.

When redistricting began, District 8 on the Northwest Side held the most people — in line with where much growth and development has occurred in San Antonio. District 5, which covers the near West Side, held the least.

In the new map, District 8 is still the most populous, and District 5 is still the least. But the gap is now much smaller.

"I'm extremely grateful for all the residents who repeatedly showed up," Castillo said.

(c)2022 the San Antonio Express-News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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