Redistricting commission sends plan to Mesa City Council - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Redistricting commission sends plan to Mesa City Council

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Posted: Thursday, September 15, 2011 4:43 pm

Many Mesa residents will have a new City Council member representing their interests in 2012 through a redistricting process that's been giving many participants heartburn.

Yet the new district boundaries are likely to get approved, even if unenthusiastically.

The redistricting effort's largest controversy focused on west Mesa and downtown, where attempts to meet federal voting laws resulted in an oddly shaped District 3 of southwest Mesa.

No matter what potential configuration the members of the city's Redistricting Commission tried, they ran into problems. Either they drew a compact district that kept similar areas together but would be illegal, or their plans met the law but had elongated fingers or hook-shaped features that seemed to defy common sense.

The plan barely reached the City Council this week, arriving with a 3-2 vote from the Redistricting Commission. Mayor Scott Smith suggested it's best for the City Council to approve the plan even if it's believed to be flawed. If the council rejects it, the plan goes back to the commission and is automatically implemented without any council influence.

Smith said virtually any political district has bizarre shapes and it's impossible to avoid "weirdities."

Councilman Dennis Kavanaugh doesn't like how his west mesa District 3 will likely change. The district today is generally west of Country Club Drive and south of University Drive. But the proposed new shape extends a narrow band to Lindsay Road, mostly from U.S. 60 to Baseline Road.

Most of that strip is non-residential and has just 174 residents in a 3-mile span. Kavanaugh said while the area is physically contiguous, it's "fictionally contiguous."

Mesa must change district boundaries every 10 years following each Census. Redistricting commissioners had to form districts based on several factors. Federal law prohibits districts with large minority populations from keeping the same percentage of minorities. Also, each district had to have roughly 73,000 residents and follow the lines established by Census tracts. Finally, incumbents couldn't be drawn out of their districts.

The federal law resulted in the downtown District 4 defining itself, commission members said. An alternate plan to redrawing District 3 would have pushed it to the north and included neighborhoods east of Mesa Riverview. That triggered complaints from those residents, commission chairman Scott Higginson said. Public meetings didn't generate complaints for the residents near Lindsay, he said.

"That for me was the deciding factor," Higginson said.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6548 or ggroff@evtrib.com

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