Has the city of San Antonio exceeded its 10 city council districts? It’s possible, perhaps inevitable, but it would take a charter reform election in 2023 to expand to, say, 12 districts. In the meantime, a citizens’ advisory committee appointed by Mayor Ron Nirenberg and the City Council is working tirelessly and mercilessly to redraw the boundaries of the 10 districts following the 2020 U.S. Census.
That’s no small feat in one of the country’s most sprawling and fastest growing cities. As the population continues to move northwest, north, and to a lesser extent northeast, it becomes increasingly difficult for mapmakers to comply with federal law and adapt a equal number of people in downtown neighborhoods.
District 1, where my family lives in precinct 1001, required the addition of citizens – over 8,400 – to ensure that its population would be within 10% of all other populations in the district. With over 100,000 new residents added to city rolls since the 2010 census, the target population is 143,494 for each district.
The redistricting committee has convened at least 13 public meetings since it began work in January, and there have been twice as many presentations to neighborhood groups and district-level meetings as council members compete to reshape political representation and gaining power. Working directly and through their appointed committee members, the process among board members has become, unsurprisingly, highly politicized and contentious.
This was most evident in an unsuccessful effort by District 7 to separate part of the South Texas Medical Center from District 8, and as representatives and members of the public from Districts 1 and 2 fought for Brackenridge Park and whether he will remain in both Districts 1 and 2 or be placed only in District 1.
Committee members voted to move the park to District 1 on May 31, but later reversed that decision after intense 4:30 meeting Tuesday evening.
Now, the future of District 1, which for more than 50 years served as the “downtown district,” is in a standoff with District 5. Various businesses are at stake, including the largest downtown employer, HEB, and its headquarters campus at the Historic Armory. Cultural assets, including San Pedro Creek and Market Square in the 2051 precinct, are also disputed. District 5 advocates are pushing for the two District 1 constituencies to be moved to what was traditionally the Westside district.
Committee members previously drew a line through the HEB campus, where 2,000 workers are employed, leaving part of the headquarters in District 1 while placing the other part in District 5. The committee reversed that decision. previous Tuesday night after San Antonio Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Richard Perez urged members to leave the central business district untouched.
But Tuesday night’s vote was not the last word. A key meeting will be held Saturday at City Hall at 2 p.m. If the past is any guide, committee members will be influenced by the turnout at the public hearing. Business leaders and neighborhood residents rarely attend these meetings, which favors activists and other organized groups who sign up to speak publicly. Click here to Register attend and speak.
As stated above, I live in compound 1001, which also houses HEB’s head office. I did not attend Advisory Committee meetings and, like my neighbors and HEB leaders, I had no idea that our neighborhood would be moved to District 5 prior to the initial Advisory Committee vote. Few of us paid close attention to the process, and there was no individual outreach to residents of the compound by city staff.
If Ward 1001 remains in Ward 1, as now agreed by members of the advisory committee, there will only be a difference of 16 people in populations 1 and 5, and the currently underpopulated 1 will be at least 8% of the other nine districts.
I haven’t spoken to a single person in the Arsenal Overlay District who wants to move from District 1 to District 5. No one has asked us, and no one has told us that our neighborhood is being targeted by District 5 officials. It seems even crazier to me to move or cut in half the HEB, which has invested heavily in expanding its campus in recent years, away from the central business district.
That said, I don’t have a vote. But I feel strong enough to spend my Saturday afternoon attending the advisory committee meeting at City Hall to make sure my voice is heard. Democracy is messy, often takes time, and doesn’t stop on weekends.