After some hard-fought elections and a failed recall campaign, Capitol Hill’s representation on the City Council could end up being reshaped by the Seattle Redistricting Commission. The commission has released a set of four draft maps which propose new borders for the council districts to meet requirements for regularly rebalancing populations in each of Seattle’s seven districts.
At least one and possibly two of those maps move Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s current residence out of the 3rd District covering Capitol Hill, the Central District, and surrounding neighborhoods.
Surely, robust debate is ahead.
Seattle for decades had been represented by an entirely at-large city council, meaning that everyone in the city voted for everyone on the council. After a voter-approved change in 2013, the city went to its current makeup in 2015; two seats remain at large, and the remaining seven are elected by district.
When initially adopted, each district was drawn to include roughly 88,000 people. Capitol Hill was placed in the 3rd district, which stretches from the Montlake Cut south to I-90, and then a bit further south to include a piece of Mount Baker, and from Lake Washington to roughly I-5, though it extends over to include the northern part of the Denny Triangle.
Mostly by chance, the councilmembers at the time were spread around the city in such a way that combined with some retirements, there really wasn’t a lot of issues of map changes impacting the council makeup.
This time around it could be different. Seattle has grown quite a bit over the last few years, and that growth has not been distributed proportionately, each district this time around is likely to end up with a bit more than 100,000 people. District 3, including Capitol Hill, the Central District, and First Hill, has gotten proportionately larger than that and will need to shrink.
In charge of the process is a five-member redistricting commission that was appointed last year. Two members were appointed by the City Council, EJ Juarez and Rory O’Sullivan. Two more members were appointed by then-Mayor Jenny Durkan — Neelima Shah and former Mayor Greg Nickles. Those four chose a fifth member, Patience Malaba.
That group selected the King County GIS Center as a consultant – formally called a District Master – to help draw the maps in December 2021.
Now, finally, on to the proposed maps. Earlier in February, the first draft of four new potential maps was released to the public.
All four do their job in that they make District 3 smaller, but each does it in a slightly different way.
- Map 1 makes the least drastic changes to District 3. The area on the west side of Portage Bay would be moved from District 3 into District 4, along with parts around the Denny Triangle. A strip along the southern end of the district, roughly south of Yesler Terrace and moving southeast to Mount Baker would move to District 2. In this scenario, Sawant’s Leschi home would remain in District 3.
- Map 2 offers the most radical reshaping of District 3. Broadmoor, Madison Park and Montlake would all be moved into District 4. The western part of Portage Bay would move into District 6. District 3 would shift westward, gobbling up Eastlake and most all of South Lake Union. Madrona and Leschi would move into District 2, with the dividing line running more-or-less but not perfectly along MLK. That same southern strip from the previous map would also shift into District 2. This map is the one that’s a bit dicey about Sawant’s residence. It really could come down to which side of a street a line is drawn on, so it’s a bit unclear if she would remain in District 3 or shift to District 2.
- Map 3 would also move Broadmoor, Madison Park and Montlake into District 4. District 3 would extend out to absorb South Lake Union, though Eastlake would remain in District 4 where it is now. Once again, the southern strip would move into District 2. This map keeps Sawant in District 3.
- Map 4 again moves Broadmoor, Madison Park and Montlake into District 4, along with pretty much everything north of Interlaken and the northern half of Eastlake. District 3 would add the Denny Triangle and expand to include downtown but not South Lake Union. Most of the southern portion of the district would move to District 2. Yesler Terrace would be included in District 3, and then there would be a stair step progression northeast. It would leave Madrona in District 3, but move Leschi into District 2. This map would move Sawant firmly into District 2.
Now, with draft maps in hand, the fun begins. The Redistricting Commission is supposed to hold a public hearing in each of the seven council districts. With Covid restrictions in place, it’s not clear how that will happen.
However, the commission does have regular online meetings on Tuesdays at noon. If you want to comment during one of these meetings, or submit a written comment, go to the commission website.
After that series of meetings, the commission will release a single draft map. It’s important to note that that map does not necessarily have to look exactly like any of the four released, as the commission may elect to shift boundaries here and there. After that, there’s opportunity for at least one more public hearing, some time for map revisions and time for more written comments. Then, by Nov. 14, 2022, the commission is to approve a final map and submit it to county auditors by Nov. 15.
The new map will go into effect with the 2023 City Council election. The council itself has no say in the way the maps are drawn.
The City Charter mandates that a person be a resident of a district for 120 days prior to filing for candidacy. So if Sawant (or any other council member) gets shuffled out of their district in November, there would likely be time for that person to find a new place in their old district. Of course, then the question would be if the newly-drawn district would have demographics receptive to that candidate.
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