SAN ANTONIO – An advisory committee that will lead the city’s redistricting process will nearly double in size after council members raised concerns about having more representation from their districts.
The City of San Antonio must re-draw its 10 city council districts based on the data from the 2020 U.S. Census. Though the city council is ultimately responsible for approving a new map - likely in summer 2022 - the city is using an advisory committee, consisting of council appointees, to draw it up.
Following a presentation on the redistricting process and subsequent council discussion on Oct. 7, Mayor Ron Nirenberg and city staff have increased the number of committee members from 13 to 23.
The use of a committee will be a change from the last redistricting process in 2011 and 2012, when consultants took the lead on most of the work. According to staff’s Oct. 7 presentation to council members, there were also several closed-door council discussions and individual council member meetings before the proposed plans got a set of public hearings.
This time around, council members will appoint residents to an advisory committee, which will lead the way on redrawing the maps. The committee will have a series of open discussions between November 2021 and June 2022 with public input, while getting help from city staff and two outside law firms.
Speaking to council members on Oct. 7, City Attorney Andy Segovia said the use of a committee to draw up the final districts for council to approve isn’t required, but staff were recommending it because it adds “a level of transparency and a level of engagement that you would not have otherwise.”
City staff had originally recommended a 13-person committee, made up of a single appointee from each council member and three mayoral appointees. However, during the Oct. 7 presentation, some council members questioned whether that number couldn’t be expanded.
District 9 Councilman John Courage noted there were differences between his constituents who live on either side of Highway 281 or Loop 1604.
“It would be better representative of my district that I could have at least a couple of people who understand the diversity and the different challenges and things in our district to be on that committee,” Courage said during the meeting.
Segovia told KSAT after the meeting that his office, the city manager, and the mayor’s office would have to discuss whether the number of committee members could be expanded.
In a memo dated the next day, Oct. 8, Mayor Ron Nirenberg told council members they would each get two appointees to the committee, while he would have three, including the committee’s two co-chairs, for a total of 23 committee members.
Nirenberg also stressed the committee’s role in creating the final map for council approval.
“To augment the community’s trust in the process the Committee will submit a Final Plan to the Council with the expectation that the Council will decide on approving, or not, without amendments,” Nirenberg wrote in his memo. “This balances the need for an objective and community-driven decision-making process with the Charter’s requirement that City Council ultimately adopt a Final Plan.”
The members’ responsibilities, according to Nirenberg’s memo, will include:
- Raise awareness for the redistricting process
- Encourage all residents to participate in the process and inform them of opportunities for public input
- Collect public input on proposed plans
- Evaluate and objectively discuss proposed plans
- Recommend revisions to plans to form a Final Plan
- Consistent meeting attendance and participation
- Adhering to the City of San Antonio’s Code of Ethics”
Nirenberg instructed council members to submit their appointees by Oct. 29.
The committee is expected to return a final map to the council for approval in summer 2022. The new map will be first used for the May 2023 municipal elections.
Generally, the city’s more-populated northern districts will need to shrink while the southern and central districts will need to expand to get closer to the “ideal” size of 143,441 people.
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.