Pierce County is undergoing a reconfiguration of its seven council district boundaries due to changes in population, and the proposed changes – if approved by the current County Council – will strengthen the political voice of Graham, Frederickson, and Spanaway.
The redistricting effort has been conducted by a committee of five, chaired by former Pierce County Council attorney Karen Seinfeld, and is led by an independent “Districting Master” named Steven Garrett, who is a consultant hired by the county to dig into the nitty-gritty of community boundaries and is tasked with crafting a fair apportionment.
With a county census of nearly 800,000 residents, the target population for each district is 113,600.
This committee has held public meetings over the past several weeks to share their proposals for redrawn boundaries and to receive input from citizens. At their meeting held May 31 at the Graham-Kapowsin High School, and a follow-up session in Frederickson at the county’s Central Maintenance Facility (CMF) on June 8, the committee revealed that it has heard loud and clear Graham’s call for a stronger political voice.
At these meetings, the committee has offered three proposals, known as Maps “A,” “B” and “C.”
In all proposals, the current egregious bifurcation of Graham into two districts at Meridian Ave has been corrected. Currently, the western half of Graham is part of District Three, represented by Roger Bush, and the eastern portion is sited in District One, represented by Dan Roach.
All the proposals shown to the public will place a unified Graham in District Three.
In addition, other piecemeal delineations, particularly in Frederickson and Spanaway have also been corrected
In the most current proposal, Map “C,” Graham, Frederickson and Spanaway will be placed together in District Three. Another improvement will be that Roy will be included with these areas in the new District Three. As in the past, Eatonville, Elbe and Ashford will also be maintained in District Three.
There are several benefits to this plan. First, all the lands of the Graham Community Plan will be contained within the district, enhancing management efficiencies and also possibly adding to the political voice of the Graham Land Use Advisory Commission.
The Frederickson Community Plan will also be similarly affected as it will mostly be in District Three.
However, the area overseen by the Spanaway-Parkland-Midland Land Use Advisory Commission will be split into two sections, with Spanaway joining its neighbors to the south while Parkland and Midland joins neighborhoods further to the north in south Tacoma, to form the new District Five.
Nevertheless, the Spanaway-Parkland-Midland split reflects the divide between the Bethel School District and Franklin Pierce, and according to Spanaway residents attending the meeting at the CMF, such as Marianne Lincoln, the severance of Spanaway from Parkland and Midland is offset by keeping most of the Bethel School District within District Three.
Following the discussions on Parkland, Midland and Spanaway, residents of Summit-Waller spoke passionately about losing their connection to Midland. Quietly, but intently, they offered a detailed counter-proposal that would place Midland with Summit-Waller in District Two and trade lots of other areas to reform District Five.
Such horse-trading is the nature of the re-districting process, and Mr. Garrett good-naturedly assured the Summit-Waller contingent that he would consider their requests. He further acknowledged that a “Map D” is sure to be created shortly.
The pressure on the committee to keep communities and their regional associations intact is enormous, but certain realities are creating significant problems.
For instance,Tacoma has over 200,000 residents; thus, it must be divided into at least two districts. Further, one must consider that Tacoma has many different kinds of neighborhoods – urban, commercial, and suburban – along with the port.
As a result, in Map “C” sections of Tacoma reside in three districts – the West End and the Narrows Bridge area are joined with Gig Harbor in District Seven, downtown and the port are in District Four, and the aforementioned south Tacoma is in District Five.
Matt Hamilton of Graham raised strong concerns about Tacoma receiving so much representation on the County Council relative to the unincorporated areas of the county, but the counter view was presented suggesting that Graham received little if any additional political clout by being represented by two councilmembers, especially when one of them, Dan Roach, was initially unaware that parts of Graham were in his district.
Another area that has problems is South Hill. With over 54,000 residents, South Hill is too large to easily join with neighboring communities, yet, is not big enough to anchor its own district. As a result, in Map “C” South Hill is placed with Bonney Lake and Orting in a huge District One, but earlier efforts sought to connect South Hill with Graham.
Other issues for the committee have been the placement of Joint Base Lewis McChord, and tribal lands.
After much twisting and tweaking, JBLM and its surrounding neighborhoods of Lakewood and DuPont, stretch northward along South Tacoma Way to join Tacoma’s South End and form District Six.
However, the sprawling lands of the Puyallup Tribe have resisted inclusion in just one district, although Mr. Garrett created Map “A” with tribal land integration as a primary feature. Creating further difficulties, Garrett said the Puyallup Tribe has been non-responsive to all phone calls and emails asking for their perspectives on the re-districting plans, and no tribal representative has attended a single public meeting.
A third issue for the committee was the impact of redistricting upon racial and ethnic groups. Federal law requires redistricting efforts not to erode the political voice of minorities. After much discussion, and input from county counsel Douglas Vanscoy, the committee voted not to seek racial and ethnic census data – and thus risk the charge of skewing the process in one direction or the other – and to simply focus on existing community boundaries.
Nevertheless, the committee is not insensitive to the issue.
“If any group feels excluded, we want to hear about that,” declared Ms. Seinfeld at the June 8 meeting.
To their credit, the committee seems to be approaching – in the main – a fair redistricting. In fact, several committee members praised Mr. Garrett’s work.
“You’ve done a very good job,” said committee member Deryl McCarty. McCarty is a major linchpin of the Republican Party, having been the former Chair of the Pierce County Republican Party, and is the former deputy county Auditor under Jan Shabro.
There is one more public hearing, June 16 in Gig Harbor, before the final proposal goes to the Pierce County Council June 28 for approval.
The maps can be viewed online at www.piercecountywa.org/redistricting . Mr. Garrett stressed that he is amenable to receiving emails and phone calls.
Further, Mr. Garrett’s efforts have captured a wide-spread respect, and he announced at the June 8th meeting that he has been asked to assist Snohomish County in their re-districting, and once the Pierce County boundaries are set, he will begin to work on redrawing the state’s legislative districts as well.
All political boundaries across the nation have to be redrawn every ten years to reflect population changes identified in the census, with the most current one concluding in 2010. As a result, besides the counties, new state and U.S.congressional district boundaries will be developed as well. In fact, due to population growth Washington will add one more congressional district while other states will lose a district, most notably Ohio, which will lose two districts.
© 2011 The Mountain News – WA
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