Photo by swanksalot on Flickr.

The US Census Bureau will be releasing detailed data for the District of Columbia this week, which will kick off the decennial process of adjusting DC’s wards and, also very importantly, the boundaries for Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs).

The ANC boundaries are very important. ANCs have a role in everything from liquor licenses to bike lanes to new housing constructed in our neighborhoods.

Following the redistricting schedule used after Census 2000, the Council and Mayor will approve new ward boundaries by July. Task forces will then be convened in each ward to draw the new ANC boundaries. Those task forces will be appointed by the ward councilmembers, with the council chair and at-large councilmembers having the right to select a member for each ward’s task force.

This DC Watch article on redistricting includes a section called “City Council Principles.” The source of these principles is unclear, but if they are taken at face value, it’s safe to assume that they haven’t always been followed closely. The sixth principle states that the ANCs should be of approximately equal size, but ANC 2D has two commissioners, while each of the ANCs in Ward 5 (5A, 5B, and 5C) have 12 commissioners each.

With such large ANCs, commissioners are often voting on local quality of life issues very distant from their own homes. During last year’s debates over a Big Bear liquor license in Bloomingdale, for example, commissioners from near Fort Totten Park — as far away from Bloomingdale as the White House is from Columbia Heights — were casting votes about whether Big Bear would create too much noise.

Very small ANCs can create their own problems. ANC 2C, which covers part of Shaw, has four commissioners. In recent years, it had numerous deadlocked 2-2 votes, including votes for chair, due to the presence of two factions overtly at odds with each other. Over the years, incidentally, ANC 2C has shrunk from 22 to 11 to 4 single member districts (SMDs), according to long-time resident Ray Milefsky.

Last fall, I spoke with Mary Eva Candon, formerly of ANC 2D in Sheridan-Kalorama, about the unique situation of being a commissioner on the only two-member ANC in the city. When asked if compromise is required to avoid deadlocked 1-1 votes, she responded, “We don’t have tie votes; we work through our neighborhood’s issues thoroughly and thoughtfully, open to all neighbors/residents input. In the eight years I have been one of a two-member ANC, we have never had a tie vote.” This may be the only example of complete agreement in an American governmental body I’ve ever come across. 

The ANCs in Ward 2 generally mirror neighborhoods, and in fact they are often called the “Dupont Circle ANC” (2B), “Georgetown ANC” (2E), and so forth. In other wards, there is little connection between and ANC and its neighborhood. Brookland, in Ward 5, is actually split between two ANCs (5A and 5B). ANC 4A contains neighborhoods between Georgia Avenue and Rock Creek Park in the northermost part of the city, and then also Crestwood, separated from the others by parkland.

There are currently 286 SMDs in the city. If the average size of an SMD continues to include 2,000 residents, as has been the practice in the past, the city’s new population of 601,723 will yield approximately 301 commissioners. That means 15 new SMDs will be added in the parts of the city that have seen significant population growth.

One of the most controversial parts of drawing SMDs may be around universities. Some districts include large numbers of students, but they have little voice on the area’s ANC.

New ANC boundaries should take into account how neighborhoods have changed and how relationships between commercial and residential space in the city have evolved, while also considering how those relationships are planned to continue to change in the coming decade. The city’s population has grown for the first time since the 1940s, and new ANCs that accurately mirror that growth are needed.

I will discuss ideas for potential new ANCs in a future post.

Geoff Hatchard is an employee of the US Census Bureau, but the opinions in this article are his personal views alone and do not represent the Bureau’s opinion or position on any issues.

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Geoff Hatchard lived in DC’s Trinidad neighborhood. The opinions and views expressed in Geoff’s writing on this blog are his, and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer.