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City Council chambers were overflowing Tuesday night with residents lined up to voice their concerns about which redistricting map will – finally – be the final map, but the meeting didn’t end until one council member asked for one more map to be brought to the table.
With audience members behind them holding signs that read, “Just tell us why?” and “Keep Oak Park whole,” more than 70 speakers chastised, questioned and – at times – shouted at council members as they expressed outrage over the most recent development in the redistricting saga.
The outpouring of emotion from meeting attendees stemmed from a City Council vote last week on a proposed map to redraw city district boundaries – the eighth map to be discussed by council members since the citizens advisory committee sent its final recommendations to the council on July 12.
The map, designated “Neighborhoods Together 2.0,” was introduced by Councilman Steve Cohn at the Aug. 9 council meeting – after public comment had concluded and before some council members had an opportunity to review it. That map was ultimately passed on a 6-3 vote as the ‘base map’ to be considered for final approval later this month.
During two hours of public comment Tuesday, council members heard testimony from lifelong residents of Oak Park, Sacramento High School students and community leaders.
Some speakers accused council members of “back room dealings,” while others questioned council members’ intentions by “creating a charade that was the advisory committee” on redistricting.
“You’re going to sit there and rip off the economic arm of Med Center off of Oak Park with no regard for the community?” asked Betty Williams, president of the Sacramento NAACP. “Really? No!”
Williams chastised council members for the “political theft of Oak Park,” and – with no subtle implication about the future of council seats – she added, “You are not the only ones who will take something away.”
All who spoke Tuesday opposed the boundaries in one district area or another, but the majority specifically opposed the shift of the neighborhood that includes Med Center and Sacramento High School from District 5 into Councilman Kevin McCarty’s District 6.
“My mother told me never to call folks ‘stupid,’ “ said Oak Park resident Joe Debbs, “so I’ll just say you are ‘unwise’ to break up Oak Park.
“It’s not too late to fix your mistake,” he added.
The impact of the outpouring of public comment seemed to sink in with council members right before the council adjourned.
District 5 Councilman Jay Schenirer asked city staff to re-analyze the most recent map and bring it back to council for consideration at the Aug. 23 meeting – this time redrawing district lines to return the contested area surrounding the Med Center to District 5.
“We’ll see if this (map) changes anybody’s mind (on the council),” Schenirer said after the meeting.
Although redistricting was not an item on the meeting agenda, the opportunity for public comment is a regular part of every council meeting. Speakers are limited to two minutes to address council members, and council members do not usually respond from the dais to public comments.
Tuesday’s meeting was anything but “usual,” however.
As the council chamber filled with people and stacks of speaker requests were handed to the city clerk, the first to step up to the podium was County Supervisor and former Sacramento mayor Jimmy Yee.
Yee told council members that he was speaking to them for one reason only – to plead for the South Land Park neighborhood to be kept together.
“I know how hard this (redistricting) process is and, as a county supervisor, I’m going through it now,” Yee said. “But what you simply have to do is try.”
Yee encouraged council members to consider the history of South Land Park and try to keep the neighborhood together.
Councilman Rob Fong, who represents the South Land Park neighborhood where Yee lives, thanked Yee for addressing the council but said there might not be any solution to dividing that neighborhood.
Yee suggested drawing the district boundary line at Sutterville Road instead of at Fruitridge, where the latest map shows it.
“So, you don’t care what district it’s in,” Fong asked, “you just want all of South Land Park together?”
“I love having you as my councilman, Rob,” Yee responded, “but I’ll love Jay Schenirer, too, if he’s my new representative. I’m not here for politics – I’m here for my neighborhood. Don’t split South Land Park.”
Michael Boyd, president of Oak Park Neighborhood Association, referred council members to an email sent to Elmhurst residents from McCarty that asked for support of the newest map and called Oak Park a “treasure.”
“Of course you see (it) as a treasure,” Boyd said to McCarty. “One that belongs in District 5.
“It smacks of elitism that cannot be ignored,” Boyd said of the new map boundaries.
At the end of the meeting, after the chambers had emptied, Schenirer said he asked for the new map revision so there would “at least be something on the table” when the council returns next week and takes up redistricting as a discussion item on the agenda.
“If we’re really about neighborhoods and keeping neighborhoods together,” Schenirer said, “and there’s no detrimental effects or musical chairs with other districts around (the changes), then I would hope the council takes it into consideration.”
Schenirer’s map revision will be brought before the City Council at its next meeting Aug. 23. A vote for final approval of a redistricting map is expected before the Sept. 6 deadline for submission to the state.
Melissa Corker is a Staff Reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow her on Twitter @MelissaCorker