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UPDATE: Pierce County districting committee – and council members – wait for THE map

Post by Peter Callaghan / The News Tribune on June 23, 2011 at 10:31 am |
June 23, 2011 2:51 pm

All of the maps produced so far by Pierce County districting committee “master” Steven Garrett have been works in progress.

At least four times the geographer hired to produce new county council districts based on the 2010 Census has drawn maps that both redivide the county’s nearly 800,000 people and keep communities with common interests together. Each map in the sequence has been in response to concerns raised by the five-member committee or residents who attended a series of public hearings around the county.

But now, it’s for real. By June 28 Garrett must submit THE map. It is that map that triggers a two-week period in which the committee can amend it or approve it. But it takes four votes to amend it and three to approve it. If the committee does neither, the map is deemed approved and will govern county elections for the next decade – baring a successful legal challenge.

The committee isn’t scheduled to meet again until July 12, the evening before its deadline to act.

So what will that map look like? Based on Wednesday evening’s second-to-last meeting of the committee, that is the fundamental question. There was no consensus for changes so the final version may well look a lot like Garrett’s most-recent map – known as Map D. And if that is the case, then Republicans are likely to be unhappy with the final result.

Map D for Pierce County Districting

Two incumbent Republicans on the council are not in their current districts in Map D. Seventh District Councilmember Stan Flemming, who lives in University Place, would be in District 6 under the most-recent iteration. The Gig Harbor peninsula would once again become partnered with West and North Tacoma, a pairing that occurred after the seven-member council was created in 1981, after the first redistricting in 1982 and again after the 1990 Census.

Second District Councilmember Joyce McDonald is also outside her district by about a block. On Tuesday I wrote that McDonald’s house was inside a rural separator containing the WSU extension service property. If that was true, moving that territory from the 5th to the 2nd would have been simple.

But McDonald’s house now appears to be within the county’s designated Summit community. to be in an area that has different designations depending on what descriptions are used. Pierce County Long Range Planning Supervisor Sean Gaffney said her small neighborhood is not inside the Mid-County Community Plan area, the area that contains Summit, Waller and Clover Creek. Instead it is in a gap between that planning area and Puyallup. The expectation is that it be annexed into Puyallup because it is in that city’s urban growth area.

Garrett, however, says it is in the area deemed Summit by the Census.

The County Planning and Land Services (PALS) sent data to Census Bureau (via the Puget Sound Regional Council). The Census Bureau then made changes in the boundaries of the communities,” he wrote. “I have both datasets and in both, McDonald is in Summit-Waller.”

Whether she is in Summit or not is important. If she is not, the fix is easy. If she is, redrawing the line around her house would violate one of the committee’s standards and perhaps the charter itself. Incorporated cities and recognized communities are to be kept together. Only Tacoma, because of its size, has parts in more than one district and even there, recognized neighborhoods are not divided.

Moving the entire Summit community and its nearly 8,000 people would make both the 2nd and the 5th out of whack in terms of population. That would trigger a redrawing of the entire map, something the two Democrats on the council opposed.

Ken Blair, one of those Democratic appointees, noted Wednesday that the committee has not looked at how the maps impact incumbents and should not start now.

“If I’m 300 feet inside (district) 5 and want to be in (district) 3, can I come in and ask you to change it?” Blair asked.

Chairwoman Karen Seinfeld said she would support making the change to accommodate McDonald. But if the final map keeps her in the 5th which is already represented by Democrat Rick Talbert, it does not appear there would be four votes to amend it to McDonald’s benefit.

Blair and fellow Democrat Sam Ross repeated their support for Map D. Ross said it solved every issue that had been raised by committee members and residents of the county. Seinfeld said she was OK with Map D except that it has variances in population that are uncomfortably large. The Lakewood-centered 6th District is 8.8 percent above the target population of 113,605 and the mid-county 5th District is 4.5 percent under the target.

“I want D-minus,” she said. “D ,minus some of the population in District 6.”

Republicans Deryl McCarty and Mike Abernathy were much-less enthused, objecting mostly to the shape of the 7th District and its marriage of Tacoma and Gig Harbor. That, said McCarty, links an urban area with a suburban area. They preferred keeping the peninsula with University Place and Fircrest as it is now.

If Republicans end up unhappy, that will be the opposite of what happened a decade ago. The result of that process was a Republican-driven map that was passed with the help of chairman Kelly Haughton, a Libertarian. That year, incumbent Democrat Calvin Goings did not end up in his district and had to move to run for a second term. It also changed incumbent Kevin Wimsett’s district enough to make it difficult – impossible as it turned out – to retain his seat. A Democratic legal challenge failed.

Ross tried to preempt conclusions that this map is about Democratic revenge.

“People are mentioning 2002. I don’t know what happened in 2002. I was 15 in 2002,” Ross said.

Garrett said he would take into account what he heard Wednesday and produce a final map by June 28.

Here is a link to an earlier blog post that attempted to provide access to earlier maps, earlier blog posts and the county page on the districting committee.

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