Tag Archives: city council

Houston redistricting, River Oaks, and St. John’s School

[Edit: Credit to Greg’s Opinion for these awesome yet simple maps.]

The new redistricting map has been a pretty popular topic on the Houston blogs the last few days (though the Houston Chronicle website has had rather minimal coverage). One of the funnier comments on the new map came from The Houston Press’ Hair Balls Comment of the Day:

I love how they engineered District G to gay-marry the Memorial-area millionaires with the River Oaks billionaires.

That whole district looks like a closeted Republican phallus awkwardly inserted into District J’s orifice.

Admittedly, District G is a pretty funny shape. It is basically the Rich Jerk district, covering most of wealthy west Houston, reaching inside the loop to rescue away River Oaks from the too cool for school J district.

Admittedly, this makes a lot of sense. People with similar interests should be grouped under the same representative. On the other hand, 713 Brooks Brothers River Oakers may be insulted to see themselves paired with 281 Memorial types with their jacked up Tahoes and glitter-clad Abercrombie girls. It is George H.W Bush v. George W. Bush all over again.

And upon further inspection, perhaps that little River Oaks cutout isn’t the most optimal shape. Sure, upon first look it basically adheres to the unspoken borders of where the white women at:

Between Westheimer and the Bayou, ending at Shepherd was basically my old stompin’ grounds. However, there is one important River Oaks institution that is split by this map: St. John’s School!

While the new map appropriately puts those public school ruffians from Lamar in District J, (Lamar? More like Lame-r! Amirite?) it also abandons St. John’s Lower and Middle schools (not to mention the Lamar Towers) to the J hoards. The J recruiters could walk on to St. John’s south campus at any time to convert children, ruining the American family structure that River Oaks holds so dear except for divorces and trophy spouses.

This new map splits a prized River Oaks institution, setting brother against brother and Quadrangle against Quadrangle.

Perhaps city council could propose a little switcheroo before approving the new map, putting SJS’s lower and middle school into District G and the Upper School into District J. After all, lower and middle schools are largely populated by legacy kids who were born in River Oaks, will work in River Oaks, and will die in River Oaks, never leaving the protective barrier of those tree lined streets, with its annexes at the University of Texas and various Aspen ski ranges. However, the Upper School has slightly more Rebels, and it would be appropriate to place these burgeoning Fischers in the artsy J district.

This swap wouldn’t be a big deal. After all, St. John’s don’t have any actual population, so the campuses could be exchanged without offsetting the districts’ population balance. And it would be a nice little way of recognizing the underlying theme of the new city council districts.

Then again, in 10 years the glory of these districts may be changed with a new census. So would 10 years of a slightly awkward map just to prove a point be worth it? Sic Transit Gloria.

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Houston redistricting, blacks, and Hispanics

While I am excited about the Houston City Council redistricting plan, and its new District J, not everyone is as pleased. With the opportunity for two new districts, there was a certain expectation that one would be black and the other would be Hispanic. So far, it seems like the map did not create a new Hispanic district.

This could prove to be a legitimate complaint, given Houston’s growing, and already pretty huge, Hispanic population. However, it isn’t as if there are no Hispanics on the city council.

One could hypothetically include Melissa Noriega, if we count marrying into being Hispanic. But I don’t think it works like that.

Yeah.... I don't think she's Hispanic.

However, while there are two (at least obviously) Hispanic members on city council, there are four black members.

This seems a bit off, given that Houston is 25.3% black, but 37% Hispanic or Latino. However, things are not that straightforward.

First, two of these black council members are at-large positions, elected by the entire city rather than by district. Going by a district-only basis, there is an equal number of Hispanic and black members on city council. So it is not as if the black community is being favored over the Hispanic community, at least not on a cursory view.

Secondly, the distribution of the Hispanic population lends it well to two districts.

Each red dot represents 25 White people, each blue dot 25 African Americans, each green one 25 Asians, each orange one 25 people identifying themselves as Hispanic. “Others” are rendered in gray.

Judging by the orange dots, there are two major isolated concentrations of Hispanic populations: one in north Houston, and the other in southeast Houston. It just so happens that these population concentrations overlay well with two current districts: District H and District I.

This is the old city council map.

And it just so happens that H and I are represented by Hispanic councilmen, and generally preserved under the new plan.

The other population centers seem too small or spread out to create a proper Hispanic district. One could try to combine those two population centers in west Houston and northwest Houston into one district. This would require combining, from what I can see, parts of the new A and F, cutting through G and C.

This is the proposed city council map.

However, creating a district like this would both smack of Jerrymandering (which currently isn’t justiciable, but is frowned upon), and could threaten to throw off the necessary population balance between the districts.

Furthermore, it is very well possible that a strong Hispanic political organization and voter turnout in Districts F or A could lead a Hispanic councilman. Or better yet, a good city-wide organization could get several at-large Hispanic council members. But the Hispanic political organizations so far have failed to accomplish this feat. Which leads to….

Third, Hispanic voter turnout simply isn’t high enough to get any more council members. Yes, Hispanic voter turnout in Texas did grow by 31 percent between the 2000 and 2008 elections. However, turnout in Houston is notably lacking. As Paul Burka noted concerning the 2009 Houston mayoral runoff:

The lowest turnout of any precinct in East Side barrio neighborhoods was 7.8%.

The highest turnout of any precinct in the East Side barrio neighborhoods was 8.9%

[By contrast, a] typical precinct in the Heights had a 30% turnout.

If Hispanic turnout were greater, then Houston would see many at-large positions filled by Hispanic representatives. Strong Hispanic political movements could push impressive candidates to a victory in districts with large, but not majority, Hispanic populations. However, Houston Hispanics haven’t been able to accomplish that. Blacks have at-large city council members, and have had a mayor. The gay community has a mayor and has put forward city council members. The Hispanic community is, ideally, next in line.

It is difficult to comment on this situation without sounding condescending or critical towards the Hispanic political community. But at this point, Hispanics have the population to be a major political force. New districts or no, at-large elections are theirs to lose.

Houston City Council Redistricting and Ellen Cohen

As required (well, almost required) under the city charter, Houston is adding two new city council districts due to population growth. After a few months of planning and debate, Mayor Annise Parker has released a proposed map. Public hearings start April 13.

This is the old city council map.

This is the proposed city council map.

It is difficult to get a sense of where exactly some of these boundaries fall. I spent a few minutes trying to do an overlay of the new districts on a city map.

I guess it isn't very good. But I didn't try very hard.

[Edit: Here is a great map overlay]

The two big changes, beyond merely adding two new districts, are the changes to District C, and the J District.

First, District C undergoes a major reshaping. Originally, C was the area around West University and Bellaire, following along that southwest Houston circle of 610 and 59, extending from that into Meyerland and that general area. Under the new map, C loses its northeast corner and southwest extremities, instead following along 610 south, up to Westpark, and following along the area between Westpark and Westheimer (I think) and out to the city boundary near Highway 6.

Looking at a racial breakdown of Houston in this somewhat confusing map by data king Eric Fischer, C probably won’t change too much racially. Some red dots are being trades for other red dots.

Each red dot represents 25 White people, each blue dot 25 African Americans, each green one 25 Asians, each orange one 25 people identifying themselves as Hispanic. “Others” are rendered in gray.

However, not all politics is race. District C is shifting from the more original suburbs to Houston’s new suburbs along the appropriately new Westpark Tollroad. The oldschool Jewish Meyerland suburbs are being taken from the inner loop communities and being attached to distant suburbs. Furthermore, I think a good deal of this area is medium density apartments interrupted by strip malls. It would be interesting to see a real breakdown along election results, comparing what is being taken from C and what is being added. To throw out a guess, Democrats are being taken and Republican votes are being added. The former District C city councilwoman Anne Clutterbuck was a moderate Republican. However, she is term limited out from running again, justifying such a notable district shift. The apparent shoe-in to replace her was former state representative Ellen Cohen. However, this change to the district has apparently drawn her out of the District C race.

Hypothetically, would Representative Cohen even be a good fit for the new District C? During her time in Austin, Rep. Cohen had an image of being that somewhat liberal Jewish grandmother. This would have been a great face for the old District C, with its combo of Meyerland, inner-loop lower-upper class, and parts of the Museum District and Rice University. The new District C, with its slice of tollroad Richmond strip suburbia, may be better suited for a business-y Republican type. Even Clutterbuck, with her commonsense Christian soccer-mom schtick, may not be perfect for this new district in which C is apparently for Commuter.

However, as Cohen indicated, while she cannot run for C, she can run for District J, which brings us to big change number two: District J!

District J will be, as the joke goes, the Jay district. (Wait, is it pronounced Jay or Gay? Its a hard G, right? He’s a Jay!)

http://i.adultswim.com/adultswim/video2/tools/swf/viralplayer.swf

The new District J will be “an almost painfully hip, edgy, so-cool-it-hurts” combo of the Heights, Montrose, Museum District, and Rice University.

During the redistricting planning stages, there were rumors of the creation of a “Gay Council Seat.” While it was dismissed at the time, this is basically it. The Houston gay community is one of the most politically organized Democratic demographics in the city, and there is little doubt that it could successfully run someone for City Council in J. However, Ellen Cohen’s political experience and hip grandmotherly appeal to J’s youthful community definitely make her an appealing candidate.

Furthermore, it isn’t as if Houston’s gay community has had trouble running candidates for city council in other districts.

We’ll have to wait and see if this new city council map is even approved. And while I am not glad that my family’s home is going to be part of the new District C….

My family is now on the bad side of the tracks...

I am really anticipating to see how District J will reshape the debate inside City Hall.