On October 6th, the Ward 5 Redistricting Task Force approved an Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) redistricting plan (despite having limited information about the details) that splits apart communities and distorts voter power.
Since then, and without the approval of the Task Force, Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr.‘s office released another plan in an email response to a constituent’s questions.
The DC Council should reject both plans. Instead, they should adopt a more neighborhood-centered plan, such as one we will propose in part 3 of this series.
Any redistricting effort should build from two bedrock principles:
1. Equalize voter strength. Ensure that an individual’s vote carries as much weight in the political process as every other vote. The District Home Rule Charter states that each SMD should contain “approximately 2,000” people.
"Approximately” recognizes that 2,000 people is an ideal that may be difficult to reach exactly, and that numbers are not the only criteria that a redistricting plan should consider.
2. Bring related neighborhoods together. Create political subdivisions (ANCs and SMDs) that strengthen neighborhoods and bring together neighbors with related issues. Do this by promoting neighborhood cohesiveness, respecting natural boundaries and barriers, grouping neighborhoods that have common concerns and would be able to communicate easily with one another, etc.
The task force empowered its executive committee to “create ANCs that maintain neighborhood cohesiveness, respect natural boundaries and barriers, and combine neighborhoods that have common characteristics and interests.” Yet the plan presented on October 6th (and the subsequent revision) violates the basic goals of redistricting and the task force’s criteria.
It connects disconnected neighborhoods. The plan from the executive committee ignored the principle that ANCs should span areas which share common characteristics and issues. One proposed ANC is over 3.3 miles long, stretching from New Jersey Avenue, NW to the Maryland border.
The neighborhoods at either end of this proposed commission—Woodridge and Hanover-Bates—are as different a pair of neighborhoods as you could put together in Ward 5. Woodridge consists of detached, single family homes with more in common with their Mt. Rainier, Maryland, neighbors than with the dense, row house, central-city neighborhood of Hanover-Bates.
It disconnects connected neighborhoods. The plan separates communities with clear commonalities and concerns. If passed, Truxton Circle, Edgewood, Stronghold, Bloomingdale, Eckington, and Hanover-Bates, neighborhoods that frequently collaborate, would be forced into separate ANCs.
It undermines neighborhood integrity. The plan does not respect neighborhood cohesiveness. It splits Bloomingdale, Carver-Langston, and Woodridge between two ANCs. Such splitting undermines neighborhood unity and efficient governance.
The revision of the plan maintains some of these splits. Bloomingdale is still divided between two ANCs, and Bloomingdale’s McMillan Sand Filtration Site is shifted to an ANC that does not include the rest of Bloomingdale and other neighborhoods that the proposed development will most significantly affect.
It distorts voter power. The executive committee’s plan dilutes voting strength by increasing the difference from the smallest to the largest Ward 5 SMD to about 850 people.
One of the more egregious changes was in Bloomingdale. 2 districts with nearly equal populations became 3 with populations of 2,061, 2,039, and 1,399. A change was necessary because the population grew, but while the first two districts are roughly proportional, the third is significantly smaller and about 33% short of the 2,000 resident target.
As indefensible as these numbers are, what is even more stunning is that the latest Thomas plan expands those disparities further. Its SMD populations range from approximately 900 to nearly 2,800. Because this plan can neither be reconciled with the law nor justified by any circumstances on the ground, the Office of Planning will have to reject it as not worthy of serious consideration.
It ignores natural boundaries and barriers. In the long, thin ANC (colored green on the map), a huge no-man’s land separates the 4 districts in the western end from the 4 in the east: the CSX/Metro train tracks, the Brentwood rail yard, and the commercial area near the Rhode Island Avenue Metro station. Residents on one side of these barriers live very far from those on the other.
A similar problem exists in the proposed ANC is southeast Ward 5 (colored red on the map). There, the eastern half of the Carver-Langston neighborhood would share an ANC with neighborhoods like Fort Lincoln and Arboretum, ½ to 2 miles away and separated from by railroad tracks, a freeway, and the grounds of the National Arboretum.
For all these reasons, the executive committee’s plan is fatally flawed. But the plan from Councilmember Thomas is even worse. Tomorrow, we’ll look at that.