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Pierce Districting Committee gets Map D: Proposed 7th District puts much of Tacoma with Gig Harbor peninsula

Post by Peter Callaghan / The News Tribune on June 17, 2011 at 10:08 am |
June 17, 2011 3:38 pm

Now it’s all about University Place.

The fourth formal iteration of new Pierce County council districts was presented Thursday night to the appointed Districting Committee. And depending on who was speaking, it is either the best plan presented so far or a shotgun marriage between urban and suburban areas.

Leading the opposition was Pierce County Councilman Stan Flemming who found out after he arrived at the Gig Harbor City Hall meeting that he would no longer live in his current district, No. 7.

“The map has been redesigned at the expense of the people of the 7th District,” Flemming told the committee. “This map addresses all of the concerns of the citizens of the other districts and has completely ignored the concerns of the people of the 7th District.”

Not only did Flemming object to U Place being in the 6th with Lakewood, he argued that Fircrest has nothing in common with Tacoma and should not be in 4th with South and east Tacoma.

Map D for Pierce County Districting

Steven Garrett, the geographer hired as the committee’s districting master, said he must include about 40,000 on the west side of the Narrows to make up a district. His choice is to go north into Tacoma or south into University Place. Since there is some precedent for the district to combine the peninsula with Tacoma and because that allowed the other fixes he was asked to make, he followed that path.

There was a debate as to whether University Place has more in common with Lakewood than with Gig Harbor. Flemming asserted that the town where he was the founding mayor has affinity with the other shoreline communities in the peninsula.

But Tacoma resident Justin Leighton said Map D treats Tacoma as distinct neighborhoods rather than a pool of population to be grabbed to make surrounding districts pencil out. He also noted the U Place and Lakewood just merged their fire districts.

And David Sawyer said Census data shows that 27 percent of peninsula residents commute into Tacoma while just 2 percent commute into U Place. He also referred to Census reports that U Place has a sizable military and veteran population and would work well in a district that includes the military bases

Finally, former State Sen. Bill Smitherman, a 2001 districting committee member, said he represented a district that included both Gig Harbor and West Tacoma.

“I don’t think, if you’re a politician, you’ll have a problem. Unless you get moved out of your district. That would be a problem,” Smitherman said.

The other issue was population variance. Earlier plans had the districts nearly identical in number but as Garrett has responded to concerns about keeping communities together the variance has grown. Until Flemming, no residents have complained about those differences.

Republican appointee Mike Abernathy said the primary point of this process is to reequalize the districts by population.

“If that was not required we wouldn’t have to do this at all,” he said.

But the charter also demands that communities be kept together. And Garrett said the courts have allowed variances of up to 10 percent. His latest plan has District 6 8.8 percent above the target population of 113,605 and District 5 at 4.5 percent below.

At one point Chairwoman Karen Seinfeld asked if some of U Place could be added to the 7th. That would help correct the overpopulation of the 6th and perhaps satisfy some of Flemming’s concerns but it would make U Place the only community other than Tacoma – which has to be divided because of its population – to be in two different districts.

Democratic appointee Ken Blair objected, saying residents are more concerned with keeping communities together and only some committee members have been concerned with population variances.

“We have to make a choice,” Blair said. “Do we want to keep the communities happy as a whole or do we want to keep the committee happy with variance. I will side with the community every time.” He and the other Democratic appointee Sam Ross said they favor Map D over all others presented.

Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland testified in support of Map D because of all the plans presented it does the best job of keeping Tacoma neighborhoods together. She was especially supportive of have both South Tacoma and the South end in a single district. Even though the have separate identifies they have much in common via demographics, schools and profile.

Stickland said she is “OK” with the proposed 7th because it has West Tacoma and the North End together. They were in different districts under earlier plans.

She also said Fircrest and Tacoma share a school district and she considers Fircrest an informal part of Tacoma.

Republican appointee Deryl McCarty said he liked all of the new plan except the 7th which he thinks has too much of Tacoma in with a primarily suburban district.

“This is not an R vs. D thing,” he said in reference to Republican and Democratic politics. “It’s a suburban, rural, urban thing.”

For those who have been following along, Garrett produced an initial plan and has adjusted that plan based on comments from residents and committee members. This fourth version responds to most of the earlier criticism: it keeps the military bases in with the Lakewood-centered 6th District, it keeps Steilacoom in the 6th; it draws the rural eastern districts into two east-west districts rather than one north-south district, it keeps Puyallup Valley towns together; it keeps the East Side and South End of Tacoma together, it keeps Summit and Waller together, it keeps Bonney Lake and Lake Tapps together.

But because the districts have to be roughly equal in population and not divide recognized communities, each change made by Garrett has a domino effect on other districts. Garrett says it reminds him of a Rubiks Cube.

What would happen if the new plan does not keep Flemming’s house in his district? Under the charter he would continue to represent the district until his seat come up for reelection in 2014. He could run for the 6th District which becomes open next year and if elected resign his seat in the 7th, creating the need for an appointment process there.

Here’s a link to the Districting Committee webpage which includes pdfs of all proposed plans. It also provides an opportunity to comment and includes the schedule of remaining meetings, the next being June 22 at 7 p.m. at the Pierce County Annex.

Garrett must present a final plan to the committee by June 28. The committee then has 15 days to amend the plan (which takes four of the five members to approve) or adopt the plan with at least three votes. But according to the Pierce County Charter, if the committee can’t muster three votes to approve, the plan is deemed adopted.

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