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The City Council voted 6-3 Tuesday night in its final redistricting vote, keeping a map that has been hotly protested over the past weeks, leaving hundreds of people sad and angry – and ready to cast ballots in June to prove it.
With a vote identical to the one on Aug. 23, the City Council approved a final redistricting map – a revised version of a map called “NeighborhoodsTogether 2.0”– that puts the the downtown railyards in the same district as East Sacramento, divides South Land Park at Fruitridge Road and makes the Central City one district.
And – against the vehement opposition of residents, business people, students and community leaders – it is a map that takes the UC Davis Medical Center out of Oak Park.
At each of three prior council meetings, members of the public showed up in force to loudly oppose proposed new district boundaries. The Aug. 23 meeting in particular saw a record 103 people signed up to comment on the subject.
Just before public comment began Tuesday, Mayor Kevin Johnson set the tone for the discussion, saying, “I hope we will let civility rule the day.”
Audience members held their applause between speakers and raised brightly colored signs to show their approval of some comments.
“All of the political deals have already been made,” said Oak Park resident Julie Mumma. “Set aside your politics. If you were judging this as unbiased jurors in a court of law, you’d look at the evidence, and you’d do the right thing.”
The 375 people in attendance was less than the 600 to 1,000 that City Hall staff and security had anticipated.
Although a few commenters spoke about the downtown railyards or South Land Park or Del Paso Heights during the five-hour council meeting, an overwhelming majority of speakers Tuesday voiced their opposition to the proposed shift of the Med Center out of Oak Park.
By the time public comment concluded, 76 people had spoken, all in opposition to the proposed map.
Things got heated between council members as they began deliberating on the map and responding to public comments and to each other.
“We can’t deny the economic impact on the region and the city as a whole, but (the Med Center) sits on 140 acres, embedded in my district,” Councilman Kevin McCarty said, in defense of the map. “It’s our neighbor first and foremost.”
Johnson focused on equalizing population as the “primary goal” of redistricting, and asked McCarty what putting the Med Center in McCarty’s district would do for balancing population.
“There are other things to consider besides equalizing population,” McCarty responded.
When Johnson pressed further, it was Councilman Steve Cohn who spoke up to say the district location of the Med Center might not affect population “much,” but other criteria for drawing district maps – such as communities of interest and natural, geographic boundaries – was “also very important” to the process and shouldn’t be ignored.
Although the most pronounced issue of the evening surrounded Oak Park and the Med Center, each council member took a few minutes to address the audience to talk about impacts of redistricting to their own districts.
“I honestly believe that everyone up here is doing what they truly think is the right thing to do,” Councilwoman Angelique Ashby told the audience.
Throughout public comment, council members were reminded that they are elected officials and there were many suggestions of recall or failure at the next election.
“I believe there will be a petition going around after this is all done,” Meadowview resident Ray Park told Councilwoman Bonnie Pannell, “and you’re not going to like it.”
In one brief exchange with audience members, Pannell quickly addressed any concerns about her political future.
“(Former City Councilman) Sam Pannell died in 1997,” Pannell said. “ I am Bonnie Pannell and I’ve made my own way with my district. If anyone doesn’t like how I’ve done things, I’ll be on the ballot in 2012.”
One audience member called out, “We’ll see you there!” to which Pannell responded, “I’ll see YOU there. Thank you.”
By the time all council members had an opportunity to express their opinions on the proposed map, it was clear that each was standing firm in his or her previous vote on Aug. 23.
“I think you can already read the tea leaves for how this vote is going to go,” Johnson said before the vote was taken Tuesday.
“To the faith community, I want to thank you for showing up,” Johnson said. “For the business people, the students and the community at large – this was a powerful act of democracy in action. You did your part.”
Johnson said the council couldn’t justify its vote and the result would be “a real loss” to communities.
As each council member answered to the roll call vote, audience members reacted with sighs and heads shaking in disappointment.
New district boundaries become official on Oct. 6, according to city staff.
Melissa Corker is a Staff Reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow her on Twitter @MelissaCorker.