Phoenix City Council begins internal new district boundary discussions in January
By Terrance Thornton | Digital Free Press
Following extensive community outreach, input from consultants and thousands of data points, Phoenix City Council has approved new district boundaries across the Valley of the Sun — but new conversations are emerging about the creation of new council districts all together.
Phoenix City Council Sept. 26 voted unanimously to accept a wide range of district boundary shifts to bring the eight City Council districts within reasonable bounds of population deviations defined by the local Charter, which serves like a local constitution for the municipality.
The new district boundaries go into effect this January.
Phoenix City Hall officials say formal discussions around the creation of new City Council districts — an effort that would require a ballot measure to allow an amendment to the municipal Charter — will begin at the staff level with discussions beginning after the first of the new year this January.
“Council district boundaries must be redrawn every 10 years to reflect the changes in population,” said Phoenix City Clerk Denise Archibald during the Sept. 26 public hearing. “The process was initiated with experts in census, data analysis, and in the redrawing of council district boundaries, which is meant to ensure a fair and impartial process.”
In all, following extensive community meetings, a dedicated website and news releases posted to the municipal website, Ms. Archibald reports the city of Phoenix saw over 300 submissions of feedback — and 155,000 digital page views — that included residents offering their own lines on a map.
Cris Meyer, a former Phoenix city attorney, pointed out to elected leaders prevailing legal distinctions when it comes to a redistricting process.
“The first of those has been mentioned, and that is the population of the districts have to be substantially equal so that every person’s vote has equal weight,” he said. “If the population is not equal in the districts, the weight of an individual’s vote is less with a district with a greater population.”
Furthermore, Mr. Meyer pointed out all American municipal redistricting processes must comply with the Voting Rights Act.
By the Numbers: Phoenix City Council districts
According to 2020 Census data presented to Phoenix City Council, existing district boundary deviation is 14.5% while back in 2010 the boundary deviation was 4.74%.
“Back in 2010 the target population was 180,704, but for the 2020 Census, the city of Phoenix grew by 162,000 making the population 1.6 million,” said redistricting consultant Priti Mathur. “And, with that, our target population for each district grew to 201,017 — that means for each district we needed to have 20,000 people more.”
Ms. Mathur explains that as the city of Phoenix grew over the last 13 years City Council district populations swelled in certain areas of the municipality.
“With this it became clear we had to come up with alternative plans,” she said of what ultimately became Proposal A following a detailed explanation of each proposed change.
Take a look at all the boundary changes HERE.
City Councilman Jim Waring, who represents District 2, prior to his affirmative vote for new City Council boundaries, asked if there was opportunity for the existing consultants from ARC Bridge to examine new boundaries all together given the sheer size of existing governing districts in modern day Phoenix.
“We have a very large districts compared to other large cities, I know this wasn’t the time to discuss adding districts, but I think we have the consultants on retainer, would be the right word, for another couple of years. Is there a plan or can I ask for them to look at that going forward?”
Other members of City Council appeared to agree with the idea of evaluating the current makeup of City Council districts.
“Our districts are almost the equivalent of the city of Tempe,” said Phoenix Vice Mayor Yassamin Ansari. “I agree. We should look at this further — I do think potentially the question around more council districts can help.”
Phoenix City Councilwoman Debra Stark echoed sentiments of equal representation for all residents of the municipality.
“I do believe that we, at a local level impact the everyday lives of our residents and businesses and therefore they deserve good representation,” she said prior to the vote. We need to make sure we are having that customer service … They deserve a conversation with their elected leaders.”