The recent Op-Ed on Seattle’s Redistricting Commission’s proposed redistricting map noted the Redistricting Justice for Seattle coalition’s efforts to support voter equity in historically marginalized communities [“Redrawing of Seattle’s council districts shows equity is possible,” Aug. 9, Opinion]. The Op-Ed challenged the motives of the Magnolia Chamber of Commerce after it had encouraged members to provide public comment on the commission’s redistricting proposal. We want to clarify our position and explain why the chamber is asking Magnolia residents to engage in the city council redistricting process.
First, we understand that decennial redistricting is one of the essential public processes in our democracy. Second, we firmly believe that Seattle’s redistricting process must be accountable to voters in the city of Seattle. As such, the process for council redistricting must be open and transparent, allowing for meaningful public engagement and time for the public to provide feedback on the proposed redistricting plan, and the five-member commission to act appropriately based on input.
The sentiments shared in the recent Op-Ed stated that the Magnolia Chamber was organizing to resist progress in representation for marginalized communities; this is not true. As the commission develops and finalizes the new district maps, all Seattle neighborhoods, organizations and coalitions should engage with the redistricting commission to ensure every neighborhood is considered and accounted for. Public input is the only way communities of interest, including those represented by the Redistricting Justice for Seattle (RJS) or the Magnolia Chamber, can be heard.
The Magnolia Chamber is neither against the organizing efforts of the RJS nor are we trying to steamroll the public comment phase, which began on Aug. 9. We are for Magnolia and its residents to be retained as a single council distinct, and not divided. Magnolia is a geographically defined neighborhood, bound by waterways, and should not be split almost down the middle, with one-half of the community being placed in council district 6 and one-half in district 7. The commission should hear from communities that are being impacted by the proposal. Magnolia’s council representation will change significantly if the redistricting proposal is not adjusted and improved based on respectful, thoughtful and open public comment and engagement. It’s worth noting former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, chair of the redistricting commission, submitted his own district map as did the other members as part of the preliminary process, and he kept Magnolia largely intact.
Why does this matter? Council districts should promote direct lines of communication between Seattle residents and the governments that serve them: In this instance, the city council. The city council is a crucial policymaking body with taxing authority and oversight over land-use decisions, transportation, public utility needs and guiding the city’s and its neighborhoods’ growth.
Suppose the current proposed map stays in effect. In that case, the Magnolia neighborhood will be compelled to work with multiple staff from two different elected council members who may or may not agree among themselves on important public policies, city budgets, establishing tax rates, critical infrastructure improvements and addressing constituency concerns. The proposed redistricting and splitting of Magnolia, including portions of Magnolia Village, into two separate council districts will disrupt our neighborhood’s long-established “boundaries” and threatens to disassemble decades of community unity, collaboration, organization and identity.
The council redistricting process provides an excellent opportunity for neighborhoods to offer input, work together, listen, understand concerns and find common ground where we can. The Magnolia Chamber looks forward to engaging in the public process — we represent small businesses, local services, and merchants who work daily under similar circumstances and challenges as other neighborhoods. We call on all voters in the city to engage in the redistricting process and look forward to continuing to offer thoughtful public comments to the commission in the months ahead.