July 2019

Dividing Orange into districts brings residents together in creative mapping exercises

By Tina Richards

Kicking off the process to divide Orange into voting districts, the city hosted two public workshops in June to present the details, common themes and constraints of the process, and give residents a chance to define possible district boundaries using raw maps and colored markers.

About 40 people attended the June 13 workshop at Grijalva Park. Justin Levitt, the demographer hired by the city to help draw the maps using population data from the 2010 census, told the audience what to look for in defining a district’s boundaries, how to use an on-line tool posted on the city’s website and explained the timeline.

Primarily, he said, you look for “boundaries of interest.” That is, neighborhoods with common concerns and characteristics, or areas with geographic connections. At the same time, districts must consider population diversity and provide equal representation. For example, Levitt explained, you would probably want to keep Old Towne together, but if an area has more than one council member, you might want to divide it.

Counting the ways
Each district must also have roughly the same number of residents. If planning four districts, divide the population by four; if six districts, divide by six. There cannot be a difference of more than 1,705 people between the largest and smallest district.  

The numbers provided on the workshop materials, however, did not add up. The total population of Orange was said to be 139,367. On the city’s website, the “About Orange” page says it’s 138,640; its “demographics” page says 140,094. The worksheet advised that dividing 139,376 by four gave you 34,105, the goal for each district. But that math is wrong. Likewise, the material gave the six-district number as 22,737. Also incorrect.

The workshop maps divided the city into rough squares and indicated the head count in each of them. Those numbers were intended to help participants create districts with nearly equal populations. Those numbers, however, did not add to 139,367.  

“How can we trust the demographics if the math is wrong,” one amateur mapmaker asked.

It matters how you slice it
Despite the dicey numbers, workshop attendees gamely divided into groups to discuss the parameters of potential districts and draw samples of their own. One group devised a simple north, south, east, west division; another looked to honor “natural communities” and geography, that is Old Towne, East Orange, West Orange. 

Many of the participants held that six districts would work better than four. “Representation would be better with smaller districts,” one attendee said. “Six offers more diversity on the council,” said another. One group spelled out six: the Tustin corridor, east, west, north, central and Old Towne.

Instead of having four or six districts plus a separately elected mayor, several people suggested five districts, with council members appointing a mayor among themselves, on a revolving basis.

Everyone agreed that equal representation in all districts is the goal. Because Orange is embracing districts to settle a lawsuit claiming Hispanics do not have a voice in city politics, those in the room (Latinos and non-Latinos alike) were mindful of the need to honor those communities, without segregating them into a bloc. “We’re concerned about satisfying the lawsuit, but we’re looking for equal diversity in all districts,” one resident emphasized.

Council will call it
Levitt plans to present the workshop findings to the city council July 9 and have draft maps for public review Aug. 1. Public hearings on the draft maps will be held Aug. 27 and Sept. 10; and the final configuration adopted Oct. 8. The demographer stressed that he is just an advisor, that the workshops are merely instructive and that the final result – whether four, five or six districts – will be determined by the city council.

The November special election to fill the vacant council seat is going ahead as planned. Existing council members will serve out their terms. In 2020, two council seats will be open. The council will decide which two districts will vote on those seats. Candidates must be registered to vote in the district they run in. In 2022, two more seats will be open, and the other two districts will elect those representatives. If the number of districts ends up being other than four, the council will decide which seats to fill and when.

The City of Orange website features a link to a district mapping tool (cityoforange.org) that allows residents to create their own boundaries. The mapping tool, however, does not allow for anything other than four districts. The city invites residents to submit their boundary ideas to city hall for consideration.