Competing Redistricting Plans Propose to Carve Up Georgetown

As mentioned briefly the other day, a commission of volunteers has been putting together a plan for how to redraw the ANC district boundaries to reflect the new census numbers (those districts are called “single member districts” or “SMDs”). Two competing plans have emerged from the committee, although only one has gained a majority of support.

The Co-Chairs’ Plan:

The plan that received majority support on the commission has been dubbed the “co-chairs’ plan” since it was produced by the co-chairs of the commission, Ron Lewis (chair of the ANC), Jennifer Altemus (President of CAG), and Lenore Rubino (President of the Burleith Citizens Association).

Their plan makes only a couple significant changes to the current map:

The biggest change to the old map in the co-chairs’ proposal is that all the dorms will be put into two districts. Currently, the dorms are spread out across four different districts, only one of which is “student only” (SMD 4). By putting all the dorms into two districts, the plan would guarantee two student commissioners. (Both plans call for a new eighth commissioner to account for the fact that the ANC population grew about 800 people.)

The co-chairs’ plan has one glaring flaw: the population numbers are completely out of whack. According to the redistricting law, SMDs are supposed to contain 2,000 people and should not deviate by more than 200. Here’s what the population numbers of the co-chairs’ plan are:

  • SMD 1: 2,409 (Burleith)
  • SMD 2: 1,660 (Upper West Village)
  • SMD 3: 1,705 (Lower West Village)
  • SMD 4: 2,581 (First Campus District, exact boundaries to be decided later)
  • SMD 5: 1,710 (Lower Georgetown)
  • SMD 6: 1,836 (Lower East Village)
  • SMD 7: 1,983 (Upper East Village)
  • SMD 8: 2,581 (Second Campus District)

SMDs 1, 4, and 8 are way too large and SMDs 2, 3, and 5 are too small. The co-chairs are hanging their hat on the provision of the redistricting law that allows for deviation outside the guidelines if:

the deviation results from the limitations of census geography or from the promotion of a rational public policy, including, but not limited to, respect for the political geography of the District, the natural geography of the District, neighborhood cohesiveness, or the development of compact and contiguous districts.

Essentially the theory is this: Burleith is a historic neighborhood different than Georgetown, so it should get its own SMD despite the fact that it’s too large. Second, the campus is a contiguous area with one particular type of resident, so it should be covered by its own SMDs. The other SMDs are, as a result, going to have fewer residents, and there’s nothing that can be done about that.

The Flanagan Plan:

The competing plan has been dubbed the Flanagan Plan due to the fact it was drafted up by committee member John Flanagan, a GU student. His plan doesn’t deviate dramatically from the current map either (other than changing up the numbers unnecessarily).

The most significant difference is that the Flanagan plan puts the two student-only districts behind the gates (i.e. west of 37th St.). He then puts the dorms that are outside of the gates into what is currently SMD 3 (minus several blocks of single family homes). The intent is clear: to use the large population of students in dorms outside the gates (about 1,100) to gain a third student seat.

The Flanagan plan has the benefit of producing more compliant numbers, the largest district is 2,200 exactly and the smallest is 1,964.

GM’s Take:

The central principal guiding the co-chairs’ plan is that no student should be represented by a non-student, and vice-versa. GM recognizes that all things being equal, this is probably a worthy aim. In practice, non-student commissioners have completely ignored their student constituents. GM doubts the students would be any different. And this isn’t just GM’s speculation, studies have shown that all elected officials are like this.

In part it is due to mutual hostility, but it’s mostly due to simply not having a practical way to interact.

But in this country, we have a pretty clear legal principal of one man, one vote. How that principal has been applied is that when drawing representational districts, the districts have to be proportionate with each other. In other words, each member of a particular legislature has to represent roughly the same number as his or her colleagues. In GM’s opinion, the co-chairs’ plan doesn’t comply with that principal. So some commissioners would be representing up to 55% more residents than the others. Yes, the redistricting law allows some deviation for “neighborhood cohesiveness”, but this is taking that exception and making it the rule.

As mentioned above, the co-chairs’ central concern is that no West Village non-student is represented by a student. This is politics, and they’re allowed to hold this goal. But if they care so much about this goal, they should go back to the drawing board and draft up a map that produces that without having such skewed numbers. The obvious way to do that would be go back to the old model of having some dorms broke off into the “non-student” districts. It would mean moving a couple hundred students each into SMDs 2, 3, and 5, which is probably not enough to actually result in students winning those districts.

It would be an ugly map. It would mean some students getting ignored for ten more years. And students wouldn’t like it, but it would be legal.

And the final choice would be between a plan that would result in students getting ignored, or a plan that would result in non-students getting ignored. It’s a crappy choice but it would be an honest one. And it would accurately reflect the fact that on campus students represent approximately 31% of the ANC’s population. And 31% of 8 is 2.5. Do we round that up to 3, or down to 2? That’s the choice.

However, next week at the ANC meeting, only the co-chairs’ plan will be presented for public comment. The ANC doesn’t plan to take any formal action on it, so all it will be is a venting session. In the end, the decision will be up to Tom Birch, who was appointed by Jack Evans to recommend a final plan for all of Ward 2. Jack Evans will take it back to the Council, and more likely than not it will be approved. GM doubts any changes will be made to the co-chairs’ plan between now and then.

17 Comments

Filed under ANC

17 responses to “Competing Redistricting Plans Propose to Carve Up Georgetown

  1. Jacques

    Here’s a fun thought — what if you took the co-chairs plan, but instead of making two student districts out of the on-campus (and 36th Street) residences, you made three?

    The three student SMDs would actually have 1,720 (or 1,721) people each. Which under the co-chairs plan would make them the median size of the SMD’s (smaller than 1, 6, and 7, and larger than 2, 3, and 5).

    So 3 student seats, 6 non-student seats. everybody’s happy, and there are no interesting races or chances for people to have a vigorous expression of civic participation.

  2. Eric P

    Your argument is extremely misleading. The central premise is “no student should be represented by a non-student, and vice-versa [and] GM recognizes … this is probably a worthy aim.”

    31% of the total population base is on campus students which you describe as equivalent to 2.5 seats. This analysis completely neglects off campus students. The total combined undergraduate student body makes up at least 45% of total residents. If you included grad students who disproportionately live off campus but within the boundaries of ANC 2E, I would say the student population can conservatively be estimated at 50% of the total population. This is, at a minimum, 3 out of 8 seats. With GU student registration along the lines of the 1990s it could be 4 out of 8 seats.

    The facts are inconvenient for ANC reps who are used to keeping students disenfranchised. Unfortunately for them, this will probably not end as quietly as GM suspects. Phil Mendelson’s office is on the record opposing the Co-chairs plan. Many students are expected to show up for the meeting Monday, and they have a variety of options to address this problem. Current ANC reps should be aware of this fact.

    PS: Monkey Cage is a fantastic blog. But gerrymandering a significant percentage of the total population into districts where their interests are not represented (ie student represented by non-student or vice versa) is not at all what those studies are saying.

  3. Eric P

    The last part about the Monkey Cage should be clarified. Based on what GM is proposing, a few thousand students would be placed in SMDs where adult residents (by his own logic and the logic of the cited studies) are totally unresponsive to their concerns. So the solution is not to increase gerrymandering and disenfranchisement but to make the distrcts as equitable as possible. This will not be possible unless students receive at least three seats.

  4. Topher

    Eric I’m saying something slightly different. We basically have to choose which principle is more important: one man, one vote or the right not to be “disenfranchised” by having someone represent you who has no reason to listen to you. I would love to satisfy both principles, but with the numbers as they are, that’s not possible here. I personally think one man, one vote is more fundamental and so to comply with it, we’d have to draw the map in such a way that some group is likely to be ignored.

    I do note the irony that this debate has flipped a lot of the respective arguments of the campus plan. In that fight, students frequently emphasized that the campus went beyond the gates, the neighbors argued that it only technically did. And there too, the neighbors argued how there were so many more students in the neighborhood, yet students said they were exaggerating the numbers.

  5. Ken Archer

    When either student or non-student ANC reps demonstrate that they can represent the interests of both students and non-students, they will get alot of credibility in this debate.

    As it stands, student ANC reps have not shown an interest in non-student concerns, such as the historic preservation debates that take up the bulk of each meeting. And non-student ANC reps have not shown an interest in student priorities such as on-campus social life.

    Most non-student ANC reps aren’t very familiar with the campus at all, just like most student ANC reps aren’t very familiar with the issues and laws around historic preservation and zoning.

  6. Dizzy

    We basically have to choose which principle is more important: one man, one vote or the right not to be “disenfranchised” by having someone represent you who has no reason to listen to you. I would love to satisfy both principles, but with the numbers as they are, that’s not possible here.

    Wouldn’t the plan proposed by Jacques satisfy both? Or at least satisfy them more than the co-chair plan does.

    I do note the irony that this debate has flipped a lot of the respective arguments of the campus plan. In that fight, students frequently emphasized that the campus went beyond the gates, the neighbors argued that it only technically did.

    Where do you see students here saying that the campus does not go beyond the gates??

    And there too, the neighbors argued how there were so many more students in the neighborhood, yet students said they were exaggerating the numbers.

    If we’re talking about traditional undergrads, then the numbers are what they are. The disagreement is over whether the university-owned townhouses count as on- or off-campus. But we know how many undergrads there are and how many live on and off campus. I haven’t seen any student challenging this.

    If we start talking about other students, e.g. non-traditional undergrads, medical students, and other graduate students, then the numbers are murkier and subject to greater debate. At that point, however, we’re talking about ‘full-grown’ adults in their mid-20s and beyond and the arguments against them living in the neighborhood really do amount to little more than disdain for renters or those with any sort of University affiliation.

    You’re going to have to provide some specific examples of this reversal of arguments that you’re claiming.

  7. JS

    Hey Ken,
    I totally get where you are coming regarding the differences between student and non-student commissioners. I don’t take what you are saying personally, but I do want to offer something of a response.

    Firstly, ANC 2E handles OGB in a very SMD-centric way. As you know, campus rarely has these items. As a result of this and their inherent one-term limit, I don’t think a student commissioner will ever have the experience and knowledge of, say, a Tom Birch.

    Despite this, I (and I know other student commissioners) have done what they can to understand OGB, HPRB, and BZA policies. Still, participation is made difficult when ANC 2E mandates that student commissioners take minutes and not serve on any ANC sub-committee beyond the town-gown relations one (because a student commissioner could never be invested in transportation issues, right?).

    At any rate, just something to think about. I think students, or at least student commissioners, do have a fairly solid grasp on broader community issues.

  8. Jacques

    I also fail to see the problem with having a SMD that is made up partly of students in campus housing and partly of residents who don’t live in campus housing. If a SMD has 1,000 students in it and 1,000 non-student residents, then isn’t that the very definition of a district in which those with the strongest views (and the best organization) will be able to determine the winner?

    I don’t buy the idea that anyone is disenfranchised in that situation, and a 50-50 split is about as “enfranchised” as a district could be. Everyone will have the opportunity to make their voice heard.

    I am not sold on the Flanagan plan, per se, but I do think of the two options on the table, it provides more of a good faith approach to a paradigm of equitable representation. I think there are also ways to achieve similar results starting with the co-chairs plan, by:
    — Extending SMD-2 up 35th to Wisconsin, and down to P Street. (Incorporating the traditional boundary of Burleith and in the process shrinking SMD-1 by 100 or so).
    — Extending SMD-3 all the way to 36th or 37th (depending on what it takes to get the right numbers).
    — Finding a couple of places to add numbers to SMD-5.

  9. Jacques

    @Ken, I’m not sure which student ANC commissioners you’re referring to, but when I was an undergraduate at Georgetown 10 to 15 years ago, the students who served as ANC reps were among the most educated people I knew (and some still are) when it came to zoning, DPW, DCRA, and other relevant issues. Whether or not they had the same priorities as other ANC commissioners, or whether historic preservation was one of those priorities, I’m not sure, but I also don’t see why everyone should have the same priorities. Given some of your previous writings, I would say that you would make an excellent commissioner in a mixed district, as you have several concerns about on-campus issues, (though I am not sure that any students think of on-campus social life as an issue that should be addressed by the ANC).

    Pretty much every legislative body I’ve ever seen, from ANC up to Congress, is full of elected officials who are driven primarily by their own priorities and concerns raised by constituents, while attempting to be somewhat knowledgeable about the other issues that they face. I agree with you that it would be great to have non-student commissioners be in tune with student issues and vice versa, but rather than being a prerequisite, I think that’s a great argument for creating a mixed SMD , as it would expand a commissioner’s constituent base into a completely different set of concerns and expand their horizons as a result.

  10. Eric P

    Topher: I admit to lacking any formal legal training, but I believe the commission is tasked with redistricting based on the number of residents. Students are unquestionably residents. As a result, I guess I have trouble understanding the relevance of this new “one man, one vote” principle you propose. Even the legal statue you cite refers to “census geography.” The census operates based on the principle that you should be counted at a place if you “stay at the residence more time than any other place [you] might live or stay.” In short, college students are counted at school. (see: http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1525/census-college-students-where-to-count-them)

    You may be “saying something slightly different,” but from a legal standpoint it appears irrelevant to me.

    I’m also a bit puzzled by your second point. The campus unquestionably goes beyond the gates if we refer to Georgetown academic buildings and dorms as “the campus.” The dorm LXR, Henle apartments, and Walsh classrooms are well outside the gates. I don’t think students tried to minimize the fact that many of them live outside the gates. At the risk of getting too deep in the weeds, you’re only guaranteed on campus housing for two years. It’s near impossible get it for all four years. If I’m not mistaken, even the flawed feasibility study cited by neighbors proposes that approximately 80 beds could be added on campus. Therefore, students are going to live off campus for the foreseeable future. It’s almost as if you operate based on the premise that students have no right to live in the neighborhood. I admit to being somewhat disappointed in the behavior of fellow students at times, but we have to return to the fact that anyone in the neighborhood moved next to a University founded in 1789. I never heard anyone claim numbers were exaggerated because structurally students are going to live in the neighborhood.

    Also to reply in part to Ken Archer’s point, one of the biggest issues for students is the predatory landlords operating in the neighborhood. I can speak from experience having lived through bed bugs (everyone’s personal belongings go in bags for 4 months), pantry moths (that means you throw all your food out), an exploding ceiling, awful heating/air calibration, burst pipes, unannounced major renovations (including a stolen laptop by workers carrying out the renovation) and a lingering issue with security deposits (I moved out in May). I lived in that house for only 8 months, and I’m very glad to be gone. My experience was extreme but by no means unusual. If students had more representation on the ANC, issues like this could also be addressed in tandem with historic preservation and other concerns.

  11. Eric P

    Perhaps writing a 450 word comment while simultaneously doing data entry at work was a mistake. By one man, one vote you’re referring to the composition of the district rather than the registration status of residents. My apologies.

    In general though, if 50% of ANC 2E is made up of students it would seem appropriate for them to control 3/8 seats. This would clearly lead to a lesser proportion of residents being “ignored”

  12. Matt

    The GM seems to be troubled with Flanagan’s mixed student/non-student district, even though, as Jacques points out, the mix is about 50/50. And with the historical fact that many students are not registered to vote in DC (for reasons mostly relating to Presidential elections and not any lack of concern with local issues), I imagine any concerted neighbor effort will have a leg up if that’s really a concern.

    But if anything, a competitive district will encourage moderation, simply from the fact that elections will be competitive and candidates will actually have to address pertinent issues. In most ANC districts, there are no challengers or no real challengers to long-term incumbents, meaning that that district’s ANC Commissioner can sail through smoothly to re-election year after year. With an election that is about 50/50 student/non-student, any contender will have to challenge the issues and the other candidate. If Instant Runoff Voting were implemented (where voters rank candidates, and the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and his or her votes redistributed to the second-choice candidate until one receives a majority), candidates would actually have an incentive to reach out to the other side.

    Even if not, though, and one assumes that student voters will only vote for student candidates, and non-students will only vote for non-student candidates (leaving aside the question GU professors, graduate students, former students now living and working in the area, etc.) the prospect of voter turnout would still encourage moderation. Call it the cynical view. As I noted above, student voter registration in DC is a big step, as students forgo the chance to cast their ballots for President in perhaps a decisive swing state like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, etc. If a stridently anti-student ANC Commissioner were running in the race, students would be faced with the very real possibility that their not voting (or voting elsewhere) would wind up letting the anti-student ANC Commissioner get elected. Vice-versa with the neighbors — if a ridiculously pro-student ANC Commissioner ran, neighbors would be much more likely to turn out and vote against him or her. A moderate candidate on both sides would help in easing the fears, and hence the turnout, as well as capturing the up-for-grabs votes (those mentioned above — GU profs, grad students, alum professionals, etc.).

    IRV, of course, would be an ideal solution for moderation, but one which I suspect is out of the running for now.

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  14. SSC

    “ANC 2E mandates that student commissioners take minutes and not serve on any ANC sub-committee beyond the town-gown relations one (because a student commissioner could never be invested in transportation issues, right?).”

    How is relegating the student commissioner to ANC stenographer even legal? Given my experience as a young man with a few members of the Georgetown establishment, this is unsurprising but disturbing nonetheless. The ANC should not be permitted to reduce the powers of an elected member simply because that member is a student, especially since the student is legally an adult and as much a resident of the ANC District as anyone else.

  15. DR

    @ Ken Archer, your statement about student reps and their involvement in non-student issues is inaccurate. Those of us who were involved in the late 1990s, when the SMDs contained a greater mix of students and non-students, remember the great work of reps such as James Fogarty and Rebecca Sinderbrand. Fogarty took the lead on a contentious historic preservation issue and received a great deal of community praise for it. Sinderbrand’s election victory might have been due to a familiarity with issues beyond town-gown relations. In fact, one non-student Burleith homeowner told me that she voted for Sinderbrand because Sinderbrand knew the issues, while her opponent didn’t and even seemed surprised that anyone was interested in anything not related to GU.

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