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Redrawing San Antonio’s city council maps means you could have a new councilperson

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City of San Antonio
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The proposed draft plan of the redrawn city council district's move nearly all of boundaries in some capacity as several thousand residents are shuffled to equal out each district's population size.

The lines for San Antonio’s 10 city council districts have been redrawn, at least in a proposal, to have as close to an equal distribution of residents as possible.

Just like the state and its congressional and legislative districts, the city realigns its council boundaries based on the most recent census every 10 years. The 2020 census saw San Antonio's population increase by 107,000 over the last 10 years to 1,434,625 residents. Some districts grew more than others leading to the current mandated reshuffling of territory.

A 23-member redistricting committee appointed by the mayor and council has spent the last several months taking into consideration how the lines should be shifted.

Based on the census data, the new populations of each district tipped the scales to where some had more than 20,000 voters under the ideal size and others had way more.

The perfect number is 143,494. That’s how many people each district should hold. But the lines can’t be drawn for that perfect equal number, so the city charter allows for a deviation of a maximum 10%.

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City of San Antonio
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The city's 10 council districts by population as they are right now.

The lines as they are right now lead to District 1, which is downtown and the city’s near north side, and District 5, the city’s west side, having more than 20,000 residents under that number. District 1 has 123,000 residents and District 5 has 119,000

On the other side of the coin, District 8 is well over that size. The district encompases parts of the densely populated Northwest side between Blanco Road and Castle Hills and the Medical Center between Loop 410 and north of Loop 1604. It has nearly 170,000 residents which is about 16% above the ideal size.

The proposed redrawn districts even out the playing field for constitutional requirements like one person, one vote.

“If I go vote in District 8, my vote should have the same impact in terms of the overall winner as someone voting in District 2 for their councilman or District 4 for their councilman,” said City Attorney Andy Segovia.

The redrawn districts will be in place in time for the 2023 city council election when all 10 districts and the mayor will be up for election. All council members are eligible to run for reelection as no one has reached their limit of four terms that last two years each. City council members are elected as single-member districts, whereas the mayor is elected at-large city-wide.

But these maps are a draft at the moment. There’s still weeks of public comment and feedback before the council will vote to make them final.

By comparison, the new plan has District 1 at 135,000, about 5% under the ideal size, District 5 has 139,000, which is about 2% under, and District 8 has 149,000 which is 4% over.

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City of San Antonio
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The proposed new council district's population if the draft plan is approved by council.

On Wednesday, the council got its first look at the maps, which can be seen by the public here.

The biggest loss of a district’s population will be seen in District 8. Councilman Manny Pelaez said while he’s sad to lose constituents, he understands the necessity.

“District 8 must, by federal and state law, shed neighborhoods,” said Pelaez. “I’m unhappy that I have to lose neighborhoods that I’ve grown to love, but it’s an inevitability that I have to face. I take some solace in knowing that these neighborhoods are going to be represented well by their soon-to-be new councilmember.”

All of the districts had some change in boundary lines, with the exception of District 3 which has virtually no boundary change. Its population grew in proportion to its size based on the census, but its councilwoman said she believes there was a strong undercount.

During the count in 2020, the Trump administration was accused of scaring some communities of color, particularly Hispanic and immigrant communities out of responding to the census. Councilwoman Phyllis Viagran said that may have resulted in numbers that do not reflect the true population of the heavily Hispanic southside.

“I have a lot of residents that were not counted in the census because of the last administration’s take on how he could think he can use the census so I don’t think a lot of people participated in this process,” she said.

The shuffle of neighborhoods is adjusting population size for the larger districts. While not as heavily populated as District 8, District 6 in the far west side will lose about 10,000 residents. Under the proposal, some of the District 6 space is going to Districts 4 and 5.

“It’s terribly difficult to lose them but having said that this process isn’t about any one of us on the dias its about representation,” District 6 Councilwoman Melissa Cabello Havrda said.

District 5 and District 1 are gaining the most new land.

“I love San Antonio, so I’m in the great position to where we’re going to grow and expand and I’m extremely pleased with the process and I’m ready to throw it down for my new constituents,” said District 5 Councilwoman Teri Castillo.

Although the redistricting process is done decennially, it’s possible San Antonio could see another redistricting should the city expand its number of council districts to 12 instead of 10. That would only be possible through a change of the city charter between now and the next census. Segovia said it’s an option that’s on the table but would take a charter review commission to weigh the impact and then a vote of the public to change the city charter.

There are several meetings open to the public for review of the proposed district lines. The city council will likely vote on cementing the new district boundaries in a council vote this summer.

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