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Richmond needs your help in drawing up new city council district lines

on October 2, 2021

Richmond will be using the recently released 2020 U.S. census data to redraw the city’s political boundaries and is inviting residents to help. 

Three public workshops already have been held online and two more are scheduled in January and February. But anyone who wants to participate can submit maps and suggestions by email. 

The census triggers a redrawing of political boundaries across the country every 10 years. In Richmond, City Council representation likely will be reconfigured as a result. The exercise comes a year after Richmond switched from at-large council seats, considered biased, to a district system, where each geographic area is guaranteed representation. 

Richmond hired the National Demographics Corp. to facilitate the process.

Map of 2020 Richmond City Council districts

Residents can customize a map, outlining what they think Richmond’s political districts should look like. NDC will present submitted maps to the council, which has the final say on the boundaries.

While the maps must balance the population evenly among districts, even those that don’t conform to the rules will be reviewed, NDC has said. The demographic data residents can use to build their maps can be found on Richmond’s redistricting website.

“One of the most powerful ways to get your voice heard is by submitting a map,” said Shalice Tilton, senior consultant at NDC. “It doesn’t matter how a map has been submitted. You can take a cocktail napkin and draw a map.”

Digital tools for building maps are under the “draw map” tab on the city’s redistricting site. Paper maps to work from are available in the lobby of 450 Civic Center Plaza. Submissions can be made by email to CityClerkDept@ci.richmond.ca.us.

Richmond drew district lines in 2020 in response to a potential lawsuit from a lawyer who argued the at-large system diluted the vote of Latino residents. But that map, which NDC also was involved in creating, is outdated because it was based on 2010 census data.

In terms of outreach, City Clerk Pamela Christian says her office sent information to local media, aired notices on local access TV channel KCRT, and emailed 127 organizations in the hope that they would spread the word about participation. But many residents have said they were not aware of the workshops. 

At the Sept. 14 redistricting session, City Council member Melvin Willis said the city may have relied too heavily on online correspondence, which leaves out people who do not have internet access, including many older residents.

“I just don’t want those populations to fall through the cracks because of the digital divide,” he said.

Even some who are online say outreach efforts have not been effective.

“I consider myself fairly Wi-Fi connected and interested in what happens in the city,” said resident Jacqueline Thalberg during the September meeting. “But I have to say, I know nothing about all this, which is a very important topic.”

To broaden outreach, Willis suggested mailing postcards, sending text messages, and giving flyers to school children. 

Others are concerned that language barriers may prevent certain voices from being heard. The redistricting workshops have been held in English and Spanish, an oversight that City Council member Claudia Jimenez says might leave out substantial populations.

Even if people were aware of the workshops, the online tools may be too complicated or time-consuming for some to use. A lack of in-person training sessions, which were held in years past, is making the process more challenging. 

Tilton says that because of COVID-19, the city will not be holding in-person workshops, but she suggested people watch a video explaining the tools that is on the redistricting website and on YouTube.

When the last map was drawn, in-person meetings were held in various neighborhoods, said Myrtle Braxton, secretary for the West Contra Costa chapter of the League of Women Voters. She urged the city to consider doing that and offering more training to help people formulate maps. 

Parchester Neighborhood Council President Rita Johnson said she did not find the virtual workshops and toolkits helpful. 

“I tried to use that tool and I just got so confused because I’m not really computer savvy,” Johnson said, adding that the workshops “just show you the end result, not how to get to that.”

Richmond Neighborhood Coordinating Council President Jan Mignone plans to organize her own in-person training session at Hilltop Community Church to give people from different neighborhoods an opportunity to discuss which communities belong in each district. 

In addition to the website, people can get  information about the mapping process at the city clerk’s office.

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