Hyattsville residents will get a chance tonight to tell city officials how they think the city's five political wards should be redrawn. Before tonight's special council session, the city's recently formed redistricting committee will hold a public hearing to gather input on the ongoing municipal redistricting process. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. in the third floor council chambers at the Hyattsville Municipal Building.
Federal redistricting regulations require that the city's population be split among the wards as equally as possible. By law, the populations of the redrawn wards cannot deviate more than plus or minus five percent from each other. With a population of 17,577 residents as of the 2010 Census, up from the 14,000 counted during the 2000 Census, each ward would ideally have 3,515 residents under a new plan.
Committee Gears Up
Chairing the redistricting committee is Ward 3 resident David Rain. He teaches geography at George Washington University and between 1997 and 2004 worked as a Census Bureau statistician. Committee members Christine Hinojosa, from Ward 2, and Ana Pineda, from Ward 3, round out the team charged with carving the city's new political borders.
However, they are not working in a vacuum. A number of city staff are on hand to assist the committee in their work, including Andrew Diaz, a geographic information systems technician in Hyattsville's planning department, and City Attorney Richard Colaresi.
In theory, the group could propose major changes to the structure of City Council, however it's considered unlikely that such changes would pass. Many members of Hyattsville's City Council have said in prior meetings that they are wary of making too drastic changes to the city's uniquely large 11-member, five- ward council.
The redistricting committee has already met three times. At last week's meeting, the members were showing off their first practice runs with the redistricting software. It was a very casual meeting, and the committee members were still getting acquainted with the mapping software being used to redraw the wards.
During last week's meeting, Rain said that the committee's goal was to come up with defensible scenarios for the city council to consider. That includes an effort to make the wards as compact as possible.
There is also a push to try and create a hispanic minority-majority ward in Ward 5, though committee members believe that it may be impossible to redraw the borders in such a way that gives Ward 5 hispanics a dominant 60 percent majority. Instead, Ward 5 might end up as a minority-opportunity ward, so designated because hispanics would easily make up the largest minority in the ward, approaching or exceeding 50 percent depending on how it is redrawn. Rain produced a preliminary map which left district 5 with a 50.8 percent hispanic population.
The maps are still very much in flux, a fact underscored by the manner in which the committee was tweaking their first efforts at last week's committee meeting.
As a result, there will be no maps presented at tonight's public hearing. Instead, Rain said the committee is more interested in hearing ideas and concerns from residents. The plan is to then use that feedback to influence the official redistricting options to be presented before City Council.
If all goes according to schedule, the city could have new ward boundaries approved by council as early as April.