Champaign redistricting necessary due to climbing population

The Champaign City Council will attempt to decide among four submitted district maps for the redistricting of the city at Tuesday’s council meeting.

With a climb in Champaign’s population from the 2007 Special Champaign Census, to last year’s update, the council intends to split the population into five districts as evenly as possible for better representation from its council members. Champaign’s population increased by 5,701 people to 81,055 between 2007 to 2010 — requiring redistricting under local and federal rules.

The redrawing of the council district maps coincides with the latest census data release. City statutes and the U.S. Constitution state that the districts must be roughly equal in population as part of the Equal Protection Clause. In Champaign, the five districts would ideally have 16,211 residents each.

The four maps are available to view on the city’s “website”: Champaign Mayor Don Gerard said the four proposals came from the public, city staff and one of the council members. The council suggested the public come up with map changes; proposals were accepted from mid-September through mid-October.

The issues posed by the latest census data are demographic shifts in two key areas, said councilman Michael La Due, District 2. A population increase on the west side of the city and the construction of various high-rise apartment buildings has changed population density throughout the city.

La Due said the construction of such high-rise buildings as those at 309 E. Green St. and 310 E. Springfield Ave. has packed more residents into a smaller area and distorted the distribution of population in Champaign. Under two of the proposed maps, La Due’s district would extend north to Springfield Avenue from a current northern border of his district on Daniel Street.

“We’ve had some questions addressing the number of people living in these buildings and how they will affect the new districts,” La Due said.

Another problem could be how redistricting will address diverse communities, said councilman Will Kyles, District 1. He said diversity is not just important in neighborhoods, but in the council as well. Kyles, who has the largest district in terms of population, is also the only African American council member.

The problem with one proposed map in particular would alter Kyles’ district demographics. Three of the proposed District 1 maps would make less than 50 percent of the population represented white. Kyles said having five districts with such demographics could alter the diversity in future councils, where council members tend to be white.

“There hasn’t been a lot of diversity in the council,” Kyles said. “Five or ten years from now, if we voted on that map, you could very well see less of it on the council.”

Gerard said he hopes everyone will be pleased with the redistricting; however, he said he was disappointed that community input was low. When the city last redistricted in 2008, 12 maps were submitted.

He said he discussed the issue with La Due, the longest tenured council member, and he too agreed. La Due said in his more than two decades on the council, he had never seen weaker community input on redistricting. The changing of mayors this year and the ongoing economic crisis, both locally and nationwide, are two reasons La Due said are possible culprits in the diminished interest of the council maps.

“I’ve discussed it with other council members,” La Due said.

“People just didn’t want to preoccupy themselves with this issue with other major issues occurring recently occupying more attention.”