JACKSONVILLE REDISTRICTING PLAN SPLITS 47 NEIGHBORHOODS DESPITE ‘COMPACT’ REQUIREMENT
By Andrew Pantazi
Jacksonville City Council’s redistricting proposal will split 47 neighborhoods across multiple districts, worrying those who believe it will continue difficulties receiving adequate representation for their communities.
Ennis Davis, an urban planner and founder of The Jaxson Magazine, said split neighborhoods make it harder for neighbors, planners and builders to work around zoning restrictions or advocate for the needs of specific communities.
City Council has “no understanding of the neighborhood,” he said. “I’d want to see them [re-draw] along neighborhood lines and physical barriers.”
Instead, City Council members prioritized protecting incumbents, making as few changes as possible and adding only Black neighborhoods to the city’s four Black-majority districts.
City law requires all districts to be “as logical and compact a geographical pattern as it is possible to achieve.” It also requires districts “take into consideration other factors, particularly compactness and contiguity, so that the people of the City, and their varied economic, social and ethnic interests and objectives, are adequately represented in the Council.”
Isaiah Rumlin, president of the NAACP Jacksonville branch, has criticized the proposed map for continuing what he says is racial gerrymandering by intentionally packing in Black voters in four districts far beyond what is necessary for those voters to elect the candidates of their choice.
But even beyond the racial packing, he said the proposed lines also hurt Black neighborhoods that get split among the districts.
“I have the same issue when I call down there. ‘Well, that’s not my district. You need to call the person who represents that district,'” he said. “You dilute the power, and the way the districts are drawn now, nobody knows who is responsible for these problems we’re experiencing in our community. We’re going to continue having these problems. That’s the reason why these minority districts end up suffering from lack of attention.”
He contrasted the four districts where Black residents make up between 60 percent and 70 percent of the population with District 1, a compact district that contains Arlington.
“[Councilwoman] Joyce Morgan holds a meeting regularly every month. At the monthly meeting, you go, and they’re going to listen to you,” he said. “If they would draw those lines the right way, we could have more representation in City Hall.”
When redistricting began last fall, Redistricting Committee Chairman Aaron Bowman and Vice-Chairman Danny Becton advocated having individual council members work with representatives from their neighboring districts to determine what configurations made the best sense.
They reasoned that this would allow those who know their communities best to draw the new district lines. “I have no ability to tell other council members how to do their job,” Becton said last fall.
However, another effect of leaving redistricting to member meetings was the exclusion of public comments.
Councilwoman Brenda Priestly Jackson, representing a seahorse-shaped district stretching from near the Clay County border to the Trout River, hosted most redistricting meetings for the Northside and Westside districts. Even though residents attended, she wouldn’t allow public comment at those meetings.
Priestly Jackson, who also leads the Rules Committee, said she won’t comment until after a final public hearing Thursday at Raines High School. She previously told The Tributary she rejected any premise that her district’s shape disadvantaged residents.
“Is that district shape challenging to represent or create any conflicts? To me, it isn’t.”
About 30 neighborhoods fall within District 10, which she represents, far more than any district to the south or east of the St. Johns River. For example, Districts 6 and 11 in the southeastern part of the city hold about 10 neighborhoods each.
“Our elected officials are not calling me or talking to me as a taxpayer,” said Celia Miller of the Myrtle Avenue Neighborhood Improvement Association. She said she couldn’t get council members to come to neighborhood meetings. Her community, the Mid-Westside, is split between Districts 8 and 9. “We’re not getting solid-waste services. I’m not getting responses from the City Council members.”
She’s not alone in representing a split neighborhood.
Sandalwood is split among three districts. Districts 2, 3 and 4 each pick up parts of the neighborhood.
Marietta is divided between Districts 8, 10 and 12.
Districts 9, 10 and 14 each cover parts of Hillcrest.
Dozens more — from East Arlington to Empire Point, from Ribault to Normandy and Herlong — have their communities separated into two or more districts.
Greg Withers of Marietta urged the council to make sure the splitting that happened to his neighborhood “does not happen to other neighborhoods and places around the city.”
Eunice Barnum, president of the Sherwood Forest/Paradise Park Community Association, said she doesn’t believe skinny north-to-south districts that span most of the county serve neighborhoods like hers well.
Sherwood Forest sits right the Trout River on the Northside and is represented by District 10, which stretches down to Collins Road near the Clay County border.
Barnum previously told the Tributary, “Why would I be interested in having somebody way out [near] Orange Park telling me what I need in Sherwood, and they would need MapQuest to get over here? How would I know what they need at Doctor’s Inlet if I don’t even know how to get there?”
“The Murray Hill area that is currently cut out between District 9 and 14 [makes] it harder to advocate for the Murray Hill area,” wrote Junior Lazcano, a resident of the neighborhood, to The Tributary.
Currently, the portion of Murray Hill with more Black residents is carved into District 9, while the part with more white residents is in District 14.
Davis, the urban planner, said he objected to racial demographics taking more prominence than neighborhood boundaries. “I do know that we have very segregated neighborhoods as well, but I would almost prefer that these districts be really considered to cater to the neighborhoods and the contextual environments that they are.”
Even when neighborhoods themselves aren’t split, residents have complained about the far-stretching districts that seem designed to ensure white-majority communities remain in white-majority districts.
Take Argyle, a collection of neighborhoods near the Clay County border. District 14 Councilwoman Randy DeFoor said she wanted to keep the neighborhoods intact in one district. Yet the community will remain divided among four districts, with her district looping around Districts 9 and 10 to pick up the bulk of the community.
DeFoor’s district adds portions of Argyle with a larger white population while leaving the portions with more Black residents in Districts 9 and 10.
That configuration, resident Thomas Martin said at a hearing last month, is “a strange thing.”
Instead of District 14 snaking down from Riverside, he said the city could make a more compact version that keeps the southwestern part of the city in one district.
“I don’t like the way this has been done, but we’re stuck with it,” agreed Argyle resident Bill Lewis at a public hearing. He said the maps look like “garbage” and accused the council of violating their oath to uphold the city’s charter, which requires “logical and compact” districts.
“Nineteen members of the Jacksonville City Council all swore in office they would uphold the city charter, the laws of Florida and the Constitution of the United States. Tonight you have all failed.”
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ACTIVISTS WARN JACKSONVILLE CITY COUNCIL OF ‘LEGAL ACTION’ IF REDISTRICTING PLANS DON’T CHANGE
The Jacksonville City Council redistricting plans faced their most serious threat of a lawsuit yet: Four local activist organizations have called on the Rules Committee to redraw the plans to avoid the “legal problems that would follow.”
The Thursday letter from the ACLU Northeast Florida Chapter, the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville, the Harriet Tubman Freedom Fighters and the Jacksonville NAACP decried what the organizations called an “intentional and unnecessary packing of Black voters.” The letter attached a detailed analysis that found Jacksonville’s Black residents deserve federal protections under the Voting Rights Act.
Such an analysis is often the first step in preparing to file a lawsuit. Some experts have said the city’s redistricting plan might violate the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by packing Black voters.
On The Calendar
The Jacksonville City Council Rules Committee will host its final public hearings Thursday to gather community input about its local redistricting plan at 6 p.m. at Raines High School.
The Florida House Congressional Redistricting Subcommittee is scheduled to meet Friday.
You can stream that or find past meetings on The Florida Channel.
What You Need To Know
The Tributary has put together a primer on redistricting ahead of Thursday’s final public hearing to help residents better understand the issues.
The ACLU of Florida has also put together a public comment toolkit for Jacksonville redistricting.
Some local Democratic-leaning organizations have also put together an extensive guide explaining the background of Jacksonville redistricting and suggested recommendations.
Submit your maps
We want to see what you think Jacksonville’s 14 City Council districts should look like.
Here’s how you can get started drawing your own maps.
- Go to DavesRedistricting.org.
- Create an account.
- Go to DavesRedistricting.org/maps.
- Select New Map.
- Choose Florida as your state.
- Select “Other” as your plan type.
- Restrict to Duval.
- Select 14 districts.
- Click apply and it will take you to a new screen where you can begin drawing districts.
When you’re done, send a link to your map to firstname.lastname@example.org, so we can feature your map in a future newsletter.