The city of Spokane may soon have new council districts, but they probably won’t look too different from the current ones.
The City of Spokane Redistricting Board on Tuesday unanimously approved a map that will be sent to the City Council for final adoption. The council will need to approve the new map, which focuses on minimal changes and splitting downtown among the districts, by Nov. 15.
The most significant change in the final map is the addition of a large portion of downtown into District 1, which mostly serves northeast Spokane. In the new proposal, District 1 would extend further west to South Monroe Street, and it would include Riverfront Park .
It had overwhelming support from residents who filled out a survey and emailed the council about their thoughts on the four proposed maps. More than 65% of survey respondents ranked the map with minimal changes as their first choice.
Board member Jennifer Thomas, who represented northeast Spokane’s Council District 1, said the board was tasked with following the state redistricting law, which requires the districts to be as equal as possible in population, be fair and follow natural boundaries.
Thomas said Council President Breean Beggs asked the board to balance the population and avoid splitting precincts or neighborhoods, if possible.
“The final map met the original set of rules that were given to the board,” Thomas said.
The redistricting board also included Heather Beebe-Stevens, representing Council District 2 in south Spokane; and board chair Richard Friedlander, representing Council District 3 in northwest Spokane. Beggs and Councilman Zack Zappone served as advisory members who did not vote on the map approval.
Through surveys over the last few months, Thomas said some representatives of neighborhood councils that have boundaries split between multiple council districts said they wanted lines moved so neighborhoods would be served by only one council district. Three neighborhoods – East Central, West Hills and Riverside – are currently split.
However, Thomas said that was not the goal of the council. They were there to balance the population without making “wholesale changes.”
“There’s a difference between responsibility and authority,” she said.
The final map had few changes other than splitting downtown among the three districts, something that many residents wrote in emails and survey results that they supported.
Councilman Jonathan Bingle, who represents District 1, said he supported the new proposal. The map reflects the board’s goal to have a shared downtown while balancing population and preserving existing communities, he said.
“The map that came out was the best one that was proposed,” he said.
Mayor Nadine Woodward said she liked the final option approved by the board and called it a “move in the right direction.”
Right now, she said there are a lot of conversations about downtown Spokane, but only two districts actually cover most of the area. Downtown is the economic hub for the region and city, so Woodward said every council member should be involved in conversations about it.
“I know there are some on council that don’t like the downtown area to be approached or treated as if it’s special or different, but I will say that I think it is special and different,” Woodward said.
There was some controversy throughout the process after Zappone designed his own map, as reported by the Inlander. Some council members worried it would make Zappone’s district easier for him to win in the next election. His map moved forward as one of the final four the board was deliberating.
A number of survey results and emails to the board cited concerns with Zappone having a conflict of interest with his map and called it “self-serving.”
Thomas said she had concerns that the board was accepting a proposed map from a council member but not from any in the other two districts.
“It wasn’t ethical,” she said.
Zappone told the Inlander that he had no political motive in drawing the map. Zappone was not present at Tuesday’s meeting.
The final decision is now up to the City Council, which is likely to take up the new maps at its Oct. 17 meeting. A public hearing will then take place on Oct. 24, followed by a final vote on Nov. 7, but those dates are subject to change.
Bingle said he hopes the council will adopt the new maps as is. The council has the opportunity to make small changes to the map before final adoption, but Bingle said he does not want there to be any changes.
Thomas said she encourages the council to adopt their map without making changes. The board spent hours reviewing and creating maps.
“If they’re changes that don’t balance the population better, I don’t think they’re changes to be made,” she said.
S-R reporter Colin Tiernan contributed to this report.
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