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At the outset of the City Council meeting Tuesday, Mayor Kevin Johnson promised a robust discussion on the subject of redistricting, and robust is what he got.
It was another full house Tuesday with nearly 500 people crowding into City Hall, filling every seat in the council chambers and overflowing to makeshift seating areas on the second floor – everyone with the same agenda item on their minds: redistricting.
Neighbors, schoolchildren and spokespeople for Latino and African American communities of interest lined up – more than 100-deep – to give their two minutes’ input on where new district boundary lines should be drawn.
At the council meeting on Aug. 16, more than 200 people attended and nearly 70 people spoke during public comment expressing outrage about the proposed redistricting map, even though the item was not on the agenda.
Representatives from the Oak Park and Med Center neighborhoods – which are the focal point of contention for the council at the moment – took center stage once again this week as speaker after speaker took council members to task on a decision that may change the way their community is represented for the next 10 years.
“We are speaking with one voice,” said Mike Boyd, president of the Oak Park Neighborhood Association. “We’re speaking about how it feels to a community like Oak Park to have the heart of our community cleaved from our neighborhood body.”
In a letter sent to Oak Park residents on Friday, Boyd encouraged people to “organize and mobilize” to keep the community “whole.”
“We will not allow our assets to be looted,” the letter stated. “Keep the pressure on!”
The Neighborhoods Together 2.0 map changes the district boundaries around Oak Park, placing the Med Center neighborhood – which includes Sacramento High School and the UC Davis Medical Center – from District 5 into District 6.
Strictly speaking, they’re talking about 1,053 residents, with all but six people living west of Stockton Boulevard.
Practically speaking, however, the discussion is about more than population – it’s about history, community, and the will of the people.
“You wouldn’t take the Statue of Liberty out of New York; or the White House out of Washington, D.C.; or the zoo out of South Land Park” said Junea Montoya, a senior at Sacramento High School, “so why would you take Sac High and the Med Center out of Oak Park?”
In response to public comment at last week’s council meeting, Councilman Jay Schenirer asked city staff to provide a map variation that places the Med Center neighborhood in District 5 rather than District 6, as it’s drawn in the current 2.0 map.
Schenirer said that he hopes the council will give serious consideration to his revision, “if we’re really about neighborhoods and keeping neighborhoods together.”
With the legal deadline looming to finalize a new district map for the city, council members are under the gun to make a final decision – and it’s a decision that has, so far, spurred an outpouring of emotion from people in every camp.
“Redistricting is not about moving assets from district to district,” said Andie Corso, an Oak Park resident and a member of Johnson’s Stand Up education initiative.
“It’s about evening out population,” Corso said. “We’re talking about two community assets being moved (because of) the 2.0 map, and it’s completely unnecessary.”
Councilmen Steve Cohn and Kevin McCarty each addressed the crowd to explain the rationale for the makeup of the 2.0 map, but their words were met with groans and head-shaking from the audience.
“We’ve collected more than 500 signatures in just 13 days,” said Oak Park resident Kristina Smith. “Fifty-four of these signatures are from your neighbors on your block, Mr. McCarty. Will you ignore the voices of your own neighbors?”
Before starting public comment, Johnson told the audience that a record 103 speakers had signed in – 24 supportive of the Neighborhoods Together 2.0 map, and 79 opposed to it.
“It’s clear by the showing here today – nearly three to one – how you feel about it,” Johnson said, referring to the number of people who asked to speak Tuesday.
One of the speakers in opposition to the 2.0 map was Sacramento County Supervisor and former Sacramento Mayor Jimmy Yee, who returned to council a second time in two weeks to reiterate his feelings about the division of his neighborhood, South Land Park.
Holding up a sign that read “Keep Oak Park whole,” Yee said, “I want to change this sign a little and have it read ‘Keep Oak Park and South Land Park whole.”
At a press conference earlier in the day, Johnson said he hoped Tuesday’s meeting would have at least one “happy surprise” for Sacramento – that of coming to a consensus about what the new map will look like.
“It’s about doing what’s right tonight,” Johnson said.
The council was set to vote on an ordinance finalizing the 2.0 map, unless someone on the council made a motion to amend the map in some way.
The ordinance stated that preserving existing neighborhoods was “a major focal point” during the deliberations by the City Council.
“The concern over existing neighborhoods made for difficult policy decisions,” the ordinance states, making it “impossible to satisfy” the wishes of all of the residents who voiced their concerns at public meetings.
More than three hours into the meeting – and after more than an hour of public comment – a final vote was yet to be taken at the dais.
The Sacramento Press will post an update in the morning on the result of Tuesday’s council meeting.
Melissa Corker is a Staff Reporter with The Sacramento Press. Follow her on Twitter @MelissaCorker.