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Ward 5 redistricting plan hurts voters and neighborhoods

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.

Plan approved by the task force.

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.

Geovani Bonilla is a Regional Director of Hospice for Professional Healthcare Resources. As president of the Bates Area Civic Association, Geovani works with the ANC, Mayor's Office and MPD to bring positive change to the Truxton Circle neighborhood. Geovani also serves on the Board if Directors for North Capitol Main Street and Perry School Community Center. 
Tim Clark is Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for 5C05 and the Second Vice-President of the Edgewood Civic Association. He also served as the Ward 5 redistricting task force social media coordinator. Tim works as an arborist for DC's Urban Forestry Administration by day and runs a DC-based entertainment and marketing company by night. 
James Fournier is a commercial litigator and the Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for 5C07. He currently represents Northern Bloomingdale, Stronghold, Franklin Commons, and a sliver of Park Place. 
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. 
John Salatti has represented the Bloomingdale community as an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner and as an officer of the Bloomingdale Civic Association for the last 5 years. John also runs his own business, LAWriters, that provides writing training services to judges and lawyers across the country and around the world. 


Add a comment »

Would you expect anything else from city elected officials and well payed brain-dead bureaucrats?

How does Ward 5 elect Thomas? What is wrong with DC voters?

Carver-Langston and other 'hoods shouldn't be split up - this is foolish.

by 7th & Jackson Street NE on Oct 31, 2011 11:03 am • linkreport

Just get rid of ANCs and the problem will go away.

by Jasper on Oct 31, 2011 12:25 pm • linkreport

Maybe there is only need for 4 ANCs, which would be better than the 3 ANCs currently. The blue ANC could take over the AFRH area, which doesn't really fit anywhere else. The green ANC could be split up between the yellow ANC on the east and the purple one on the west (at the railroad tracks). You could give Ft. Lincoln to the red ANC, and maybe Trinidad and Carver Terrace (which could be either in the orange or the red) to the orange ANC.

Still, it's too bad that Brookland still gets broken up between ANCs.

by Richard Layman on Oct 31, 2011 12:33 pm • linkreport

Thanks to all the authors for their work on this. The ward 5 redistricting process has been a fiasco and shouldn't be this difficult.

I hope that it shakes out alright and I look forward to see what kind of sensible solution the authors present.

by Nolan on Oct 31, 2011 2:29 pm • linkreport

I understand that these maps are terrible.

So what are we going to do about it?

by NFT on Oct 31, 2011 3:00 pm • linkreport

NFT: As the article said at the end, more will be coming in an article tomorrow (and Wednesday). Stay tuned...

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Oct 31, 2011 3:05 pm • linkreport

While I agree with most of your points, I also believe that the 'green' ANC on this first map does make some sense. In particular, the green area unites the Rhode Island Avenue corridor that many are hoping becomes a more livable place. There are many similar challenges (not very bike-friendly; vacant store fronts; some crime) and opportunities (potential streetcar; attracting new businesses) along RIA that this ANC could help to address.

by barry on Oct 31, 2011 6:39 pm • linkreport


I can see your point, but the 'green ANC' is only the southern half of Rhode Island Avenue, so any of those initiatives you mention would only work for the south side of the street. you'd have to engage the 'purple ANC' and the 'yellow ANC' also.

And the 'yellow ANC' is the only one that spans RIA. somehow that line is drawn a block beyond RIA, while all the others use RIA as the line.

Finally, I think the most relevant point is that the housing and neighborhoods are just fundementaly different between Eckington and Woodridge (for instance).

by Nolan on Oct 31, 2011 7:15 pm • linkreport

This post states that “the Office of Planning will have to reject it as not worthy of serious consideration.”

We think it’s important for readers to understand that redistricting plans aren’t considered by the DC Office of Planning at all. That is for Council to do. Our role in this is purely technical. We review proposed legislative language provided by the Task Forces (or Council) and verify that the lines on the maps we use reflect that language accurately. Often we discover that this can’t be done because the language isn’t clear or consistent, and we work with the authors of that language to help make it clear and consistent. Once the lines are drawn, we report to Council on how many residents would be included in each proposed SMD and ANC. Ultimately final SMD and ANC boundaries are the Council’s decision. OP’s role is to provide technical support to Council in arriving at whatever decisions they deem best.

by Charlie Richman on Nov 1, 2011 10:15 am • linkreport

Maybe Thomas WANTS to screw over those neighborhoods. They're all gentrifying - they're not exactly his power base, and his next election is going to be tough - what with all the widely known corruption and graft in his office.

Why not try to damage the neighborhoods of the voters who'll surely vote against him, right?

by bcc on Nov 1, 2011 11:12 am • linkreport

Maybe this explains, in part, why Eckington was excluded from Ward 5 Dem's timely meeting announcements in October. The 'powers that be' don't want to have those pesky residents in and around Bloomingdale and Eckington raising a lot of difficult questions.

by brian on Nov 1, 2011 1:48 pm • linkreport

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