One day last week after Houston City Council overwhelmingly approved adding two new seats to the body, District C Councilwoman Anne Clutterbuck hosted a town hall meeting to discuss and receive public input on the redistricting process.
Clutterbuck’s meeting at Pershing Middle School is one of 10 being held throughout the city in March to describe the process by which the city will redraw its single-member districts, including the two new ones.
On March 9, the council voted 13-1 (with District A Councilwoman Brenda Stardig dissenting) to accept the conclusion of Mayor Annise Parker’s administration that the city’s population had indeed reached 2.1 million, the trigger-point required by the city charter (and a 1979 agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice) for the two new seats. (The U.S. Census Bureau concluded after last year’s dicennial count that the city’s population was about 500 people short of that mark, but the city plans to appeal that conclusion.)
Then, with District E Councilman Mike Sullivan the lone vote against, the council voted to go ahead with the redistricting and expansion.
The town hall meeting hosted by Clutterbuck was supposed to follow the same format as the others. But when technical difficulties prevented the showing of a 10-minute video in which city attorney Dave Feldman described the process, Parker jumped in to give the somewhat sparse audience a rundown of what the council had done the day before.
Afterward, Feldman gave a brief recap of what the video was supposed to explain, noting that the city charter requires that the council be redrawn both to correct “material imbalances” in the number of residents and also reduce that number once the 2.1 million mark was reached.
Feldman noted that since Texas and Houston fall under the auspices of the 1964 federal Voting Rights Act and its amendments, the city must draw district lines that adhere to the “one person, one vote” principle — meaning that districts cannot be drawn to discriminate against voters based on their race, color or protected language group.
Whatever map the city comes up will have to receive “pre-clearance” by the Justice Department, Feldman told the audience.
After the presentations from Parker and Feldman, the floor was opened up to residents to give input, which is a requirement of the Justice Department’s pre-clearance process.
Several people representing areas within the Brays Oaks Management District and the nonprofit group Southwest Houston 2000 Inc. spoke up to ask that whatever happens, that the entire management district remain within one council district.
Bruce Krewinghaus, president of Southwest Houston 2000 Inc., also told the officials that residents would like to see that the Willow Waterhole Detention Area, which is being developed as a neighborhood amenity, be kept within one district.
Vincent Sanders, a resident of the Fondren Southwest area, asked that the city officials recognize the “uniqueness” of the area.
“It’s a very diverse area, by race, creed and socioeconomic status as well,” he said, noting that the area includes multimillion dollar mansions and single-family apartments. “I hope we don’t lose that flavor.”
In the only point of discord (albeit minor) in the meeting, former councilwoman and state representative Martha Wong peppered Parker and Feldman with questions, including which of the eight criteria the city is using to draw the new boundaries are required by federal law and which are discretionary. Wong pointedly asked about whether the city staff knew how much of the city’s growth in population was made up of residents living in apartments or condominiums.
City staff will submit its final redistricting plan to City Council on April 6. There are three city-wide public hearings scheduled — on April 13 at 9 a.m. and on April 20 at 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. The council is expected to vote to approve the final plan on May 11, or May 18 if the item is “tagged” by one or more council members.