Tens of thousands of Mesa voters will have a new City Council member representing their interests next year as the city redraws district boundaries to reflect a shifting population.
Those voters may find themselves in oddly shaped districts with a mish-mash of neighborhood types because of a city rule that current council members can’t be drawn out of their districts.
That will pose a huge challenge for a commission that’s starting to redraw the lines because four of the six council members happen to live on the westernmost end of districts that need to shift eastward.
“It’s going to be fascinating what these west-side districts look like given where current council members live,” Vice Mayor Scott Somers said. “Arguably, that’s the diciest challenge.”
Mesa’s six districts must be redrawn every 10 years to equalize their population based on current Census data. The council members who flank their district’s western boundaries are Alex Finter, Christopher Glover, Dina Higgins and Dave Richins.
East Mesa voters are far from most of their elected officials now. Somers is the only council member who lives east of Greenfield Road, which is roughly Mesa’s east-west midpoint.
Dina Higgins represents northeast Mesa and hopes a third district can encompass eastern parts of the community. Now, only two districts represent Mesa east of Higley Road. Higgins said the council has worked to add services in east Mesa despite budget constraints, but she said having a third advocate would help.
“So far there’s Somers and me on the bandwagon and people have been going along with it. But times are getting tougher and these residents in east Mesa who don’t have services, they lose out,” she said. “There’s not a continuum of services in the city and that’s not right. We all live in Mesa, we all should get the same services.”
Somers’ southeast district changed the most, swelling by 42,000 residents to more than 106,000 people. The district will have to be cut drastically. The four western districts need to grow to absorb that growth but also because they all lost residents since the districts were last drawn a decade ago.
Federal laws require the districts to have roughly equal population, or about 73,000 each, in the city of about 440,000. The downtown District 4 lost the most number of residents and has fewer than 59,000 residents now. Its new boundaries will have to encompass 14,000 more residents. District 4 is 61 percent Hispanic, making it the only district where even one-third of residents are Hispanic.
A five-member, nonpartisan redistricting commission meets Thursday to begin considering new boundaries while weighing city, state and federal laws. One federal provision prevents the city from splitting or concentrating voters by race. The new districts are supposed to be formed based on communities of interest, which involves keeping neighborhoods together. Also, boundaries should follow visible features such as roads or canals.
The commission’s recommendation will go to the City Council, which can send it back to the commission one time to request changes. The commission’s recommendation is final unless the U.S. Department of Justice finds problems during its review.
This is the second redistricting for Mesa, whose voters approved district representation in 1998.
Council members said they may face challenges if the new boundaries suddenly have them representing large areas that weren’t in their districts before. And their re-election bids may be complicated by selling themselves to voting blocs they’ve never represented.
Several council members said they don’t expect many changes in the conservative city’s nonpartisan elections as the boundaries change.
“I see the obvious geographical changes but I don’t think there will be a big political shift,” said Finter, who represents the south central District 2. “Central and southern Mesa has been a pretty conservative group, and I don’t see that changing much in terms of city politics.”
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