- The Washington Times - Monday, May 21, 2001

D.C. Council members have bemoaned their task of redrawing the citys eight ward boundaries while trying to preserve neighborhood identity, political representation, diversity — and parking permits.
"There is no constituency for this," said council member Phil Mendelson, the at-large Democrat who created the current proposal for changing ward boundaries. A final version must be approved by the full council and the mayor by July 14.
The D.C. Council Labor, Voting Rights and Redistricting subcommittees proposal, known as Plan H, tries to address the problem of equalizing the wards by shifting them westward. Wards 1, 2 and 3 lose territory and residents while the other wards gain. Wards 7 and 8 will increase the most. Specifically:
* Rock Creek Park no longer would divide Ward 3 and Ward 4.
* Almost 6,300 affluent residents of Chevy Chase and Barnaby Woods would be cut out of Ward 3 and redrawn inside the boundaries of Ward 4, while some working-class residents would transfer from Ward 4 to Ward 5.
* As residents east of the Anacostia River lose some of Ward 6, Ward 5 would gain 4,700 residents.
* Palisades would be fully contained in Ward 3.
* Residents of Fairlawn, on the east side of the Anacostia River, would transition from Ward 6 to Ward 8.
These are the most debated elements of the proposal. Many residents are unhappy with the changes set forth in Plan H because they diminish neighborhood identity and diversity.
"There isnt anyone writing in, saying: 'Please do this," Mr. Mendelson said.
The population shift has been toward the western, whiter, wealthier part of the city, and to other parts of the region. It is this demographic change that is causing concern over redistricting, say city officials.
The five wards that lost population are majority-black wards, while two that gained are majority-white wards. Ward 1, which has no racial majority, remained mostly unchanged.
"By concentrating minorities in their own districts, you waste their votes," said Yavocka D. Young, an ANC commissioner from Ward 6. "I call it racial gerrymandering and believe it is detrimental to east of the river and to the city as a whole."
Some say the diversity argument is overplayed and disguises an unspoken wish to remain with more "desirable" wards because they are wealthier and, in some cases, whiter.
"People are using diversity as a weapon," said one city source who declined to be named. "Sure, some wards are getting less diverse, but not by much. And the areas east of the river have always had a majority-black population. People are overstating this because they dont want to join certain less-desirable wards or lose theirs."
Others complain that they would be represented by council or school board members for whom they didnt vote. Still others say they will lose their parking permits and be forced to go through another complicated procedure to obtain perplicated procedure to obtain permits for their new wards.
Every decade, the District and other cities adjust boundaries based on census results. This time around, the citys population declined by 34,000 residents, mostly in Wards 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8, according to Census 2000 results, to a total of 572,000 residents. Each ward is required to fall within 95 percent to 105 percent of the average ward population of 71,507. Thats where redistricting comes in, and it has to be performed without diluting the voting power of minority residents.
Redistricting this time falls across a landscape of a city in renaissance. In the past decade, business development has been booming, urban blight has been steadily erased, and the city has become a richer and more attractive place to live. Although the District lost white residents in the past decade, it lost even more blacks.
"The damage is evenly spread around," said Ward 4 council member Adrian M. Fenty, whose ward is the only one to meet population requirements and who supports the current proposal. "There are no winners in this type of thing."
Regardless, council members have time to tinker with Plan H and say they expect to review it carefully based on public comment. Still, they expect the final redistricting plan to closely resemble the current proposal.


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