San Antonio – EDITOR’S NOTE: The broadcast version of this story misstated the deviation between the biggest and smallest districts. It has been corrected in the script below.
As San Antonio begins its redistricting process for its 10 council districts, the more populated districts at the northern edge of the city are set to shrink while central and southern districts are poised to expand their footprints.
San Antonio’s population has grown by about 8% between 2010 and 2020, but that growth hasn’t happened equally across the city. An initial assessment of 2020 Census data by an outside law firm indicates the ideal size of a council district should be about 143,441.
The ideal size for a district based on the 2010 Census was 132,672, according to a council presentation.
The city charter requires redrawing the council district boundaries after every decennial census, and federal law requires that each single member district be roughly equivalent in size.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Though the initial assessment presented to council lists the ideal size as slightly smaller, 143,378, the law firm that created it acknowledged that was a discrepancy compared to the total population of 1,434,412. KSAT has therefore adjusted the statistics to reflect an ideal size of 143,441, which represents 10% of the city population.
The city’s council districts as they are drawn currently vary widely from the ideal size, though, with a 49,600 person gap between the most-populated District 8 and the least-populated District 5.
Districts 1, 3, 4, and 5 fall below the ideal size by anywhere from about 4,400 to 23,700 people, and Districts 6, 8, 9, and 10 exceed the ideal size by roughly 6,500 to 26,000 people.
Districts 2 and 7 are already close to the ideal size, falling short of the target by just a few hundred residents.
The districts on the final map don’t have to be exactly equal, but there can only be a 10% deviation between the biggest and smallest ones. There’s currently a 34.6% gap between Districts 5 and 8.
Staff say the city is trying a new approach to redistricting by using a citizens advisory committee made up of council appointees to lead the redrafting process. The committee will work with city staff and two outside law firms to draft a new map, and it will also get public input.
The process will likely change the boundaries of all the council districts, though, not just the biggest and smallest.
“It’s like a domino effect, yes, as you redraw one it may impact the adjoining one. And then as you redraw that it affects the adjoining ones,” City Attorney Andy Segovia said. “So yes, that’s why this committee has a very challenging work to do in terms of looking at it holistically. But with the overall objective of trying to get us as balanced as we can.”
The committee is proposed to have 13 members, with three appointed by the mayor and one by every council member. Several council members asked about expanding the committee, though, which Segovia said his office would need to discuss with the city manager and mayor’s office.
Ultimately, the city council will have to approve the map, which it expects to do in the summer of 2022. It will be used for the first time in the May 2023 municipal elections.
The map won’t expand the number of council districts, though. That would require a city charter change, which could only happen in May 2023 at the earliest.
Even if the number of districts were to be increased, it would only go into effect in May 2025 at the earliest.