The Virginia Beach City Council is scheduled to approve a new seven district map for City Council and School Board on August 23. Given what happened at this past Tuesday night's Public Hearing before Council, it's likely to be a map we haven't even seen yet. At this time, I'd like to take a look at issues and events from the process so far.
The first of the meetings was at Green Run High School in June. At that time the City Attorney's Office strongly discouraged any plans other than seven district plans. While other proposals would be accepted, the City wanted to avoid anything that would require a City Charter change. So far we've seen nothing but seven district plans, which might be choking outside of the box thinking.
Another point is the failure to look at alternative voting systems. The debate has pivoted on two questions: how to draw the seven districts, and whether the seven district members should be elected solely within their districts. At the third meeting, I raised the possibility of cumulative voting. It would aid minority representation, while not triggering any of the publicly-stated arguments against a ward system.
Prior to the Chris Felton Plan being submitted on Monday, the source of every plan had been either the Council Liaisons or the NAACP. NAACP1 was the civil rights group's original submission, with NAACP2 drawn to meet objections raised by a quartet of Councilpersons. Those same Councilpersons then drafted another plan, which was sent to the NAACP in search of an endorsement. The "compromise of a compromise" was so watered down from the original intent that no blessing was forthcoming. It has never been officially filed, so it doesn't appear on the Redistricting website.
There is the issue of which should be the minority-majority district, Centerville or Rose Hall? While the Council Liaison plans have been based on Centerville, the NAACP plans are based on Rose Hall. The problem with Centerville is the unstable Asian-American concentrations in the southwest. The stunning difference I saw in first looking at the 2010 Census numbers was the change in the Asian-American concentration map from the 2000 Census. While you could draw Centerville as a minority-majority district today, it is highly questionable as to whether that status could be maintained in subsequent redistrictings. In sharp contrast, the minority numbers in Green Run are sustainable, so Rose Hall should become the minority-majority district in a seven district plan.
The root of many comments during the public meetings so far has been The Northwest Crescent, the Beach's densest minority concentration. It runs roughly from the northwest corner of the Virginia Beach Boulevard/Witchduck Road intersection to the Campus East and Burton Station areas. Along the way it takes in Lake Edward, with decent numbers in the periphery at Cypress Point. From a standpoint of minority representation, that concentration needs to be kept intact on one side of the Bayside - Kempsville line or the other. That forces a curved district line that inevitably will put a neighborhood into a district that a layman would think doesn't make sense. When you also consider the policy implications, it makes more sense to put the concentration in Kempsville District. That gives Vice Mayor Louis Jones the Central Business District. Therefore, you loop the line northward in the west, then dip it southward in the east. That puts parts of historic Kempsville into Bayside District, which has led to some civic league complaints. However, failure to get that line correct would be an obvious red flag when an approved plan is sent to the Justice Department for preclearance.
While I drew 2 of the 7 plans in 2001, I haven't taken a shot this time. The efforts of my good friends in the African-American community leadership were so far ahead that I didn't want to do anything that might undercut them. I've done backseat support for their efforts.
You knew I couldn't resist a chance to attack the extremist Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance (VBTA), didn't you? While the VBTA has always given lip service towards a ward system, the only VBTAer at any of the five public meetings has been previous Chairman John Moss. At the third meeting he endorsed the NAACP's position as an individual. Then, it's probably better for the cause that the village idiots don't invade the Council Chambers.
A largely status quo plan will almost certainly be adopted on August 23. The two baseline needs are keeping The Northwest Crescent intact and drawing Rose Hall District as a minority-majority district.