Six Belle Chasse districts?Dec 25th, 2012 | By Jessica Gonzalez | Category: top story
It’s a new Plaquemines Parish since Hurricane Katrina. Populations have moved upriver, and now the 2010 census data requires the parish governing bodies to have their districts reflect this.
The Plaquemines Parish School Board approved a new redistricting map at a December 17 special meeting, altering the current district lines due to population
shifts and reductions recorded by the 2010 census.
On December 27, the Plaquemines Parish Council will hold a special meeting
and decide whether or not to adopt the School Board map as is or make changes of their own. State law requires both governing bodies to adopt redistricting maps by December 31. From then on, they have 120 days to submit those plans, and any
corresponding language, to the Department of Justice who reviews the plans for any potential problems.
The DOJ does not approve any district plans, but simply points out errors to the
governing bodies to address.
2010 Census numbers
According to the 2010 Census numbers, several districts in the parish’s southern end are smaller, while those in the northern end grew since the year 2000. District 1 lost 1,082 people; District 2 gained 867; District 3 gained 95; District 4 (which houses
the Naval base) gained 1,730; District 5 gained 765; District 6 lost 1,195; District 7 lost 1,505; District 8 lost 1,901; District 9 lost 1,489.
The parish as a whole lost 3,715 residents since the year 2000.
These numbers are important to keep in mind when looking at new redistricting maps. The southern end of the parish, once represented by four districts, is now represented by two. There are now six districts in Belle Chasse, as District lines, along with parish residents, have shifted north.
When building districts, council and school board members start with census blocks, and work to distribute population numbers and demographics among each district. But since Plaquemines Parish is long and narrow, with pockets of population in certain areas and no population for miles—as opposed to more evenly distributed parishes like Orleans or Jefferson— it makes it incredibly difficult for the officials to achieve that balance.
In terms of the census numbers for the south end of the parish, Councilchair Byron Marinovich says he still would like to contest the numbers as he believes the number
of occupiable dwellings were not counted correctly.
“I’m not sure how successful we’ll be but we need to at least try to challenge them; we have until June 1, 2013,” said Marinovich.
School Board’s map
The School Board-approved redistricting map keeps the Eastbank as its own autonomous district despite the fact that it has a 24 percent population deviation from the population averages of the other districts in the parish.
But the geographical divide of the river, the population loss because of Hurricane Katrina, as well as the Eastbank’s historical background of always been its own district, and the sheer mathematical challenge of balancing the numbers in nine districts with heavy population in the north may give the parish a strong case in the eyes of the Department of Justice.
“It is a large population deviation but after speaking to our District 1 Council representative, we all agreed that keeping the Eastbank its own autonomous district made sense because of the geographical boundaries of the river,” explained School Board President William Mertz.
Mertz explained that there is an alternative plan in place should the Justice Department have an objection. State law requires districts to be contiguous and connected by non-divisible census blocks. Incidentally, there is a census block that stretches from the entrance of the base at Russell Ave. across the river and onto the Eastbank.
That means that population from the base can be used to balance out the underpopulated District 1. However, that would require the rest of the districts to be rebalanced, and may disturb the racial makeup of the district.
Per state law, the parish must maintain two minority districts, which currently are Districts 1 and 6. Officials say that using population from the NAS to balance out
District 1 would not necessarily dilute the minority population because it is a largely non-voting district, as most military are temporary resident of Plaquemines Parish
and are not registered to vote. District 4 Councilman Stuart Guey, whose jurisdiction
currently includes the base, says that the map approved by the School Board is “a mirror image of a plan drafted with the input of all nine council members roughly one
year ago.” Guey believes that the geographical argument in terms of the Eastbank makes a strong case for the DOJ.
However, not everyone on the council approves of the School Board’s approved map.
District 6 Councilman Burghart Turner disagrees with the School Board plan entirely,
mainly speaking to the reduction of districts in the southern end of the parish. Turner feels that putting more districts in Belle Chasse, despite the population growth, will
give constituents in those areas more weight in future elections.
“We need to present a plan that protects the present boundaries and balances power as much as possible,” said Turner. “Because they’re moving the districts too far north, the School Board’s plan lowers the African- American population [in the second minority district] down to 49 percent; moving the boundaries further south or pulling some
population from the Navy base could be the solution.”
Turner says he has three alternative plans he will present to the Council at the December 27 meeting. District 8 School Board representative Chuck Solieau said he is comfortable with the Board-approved map because the constituents in Districts 7, 8, and 9 are similar demographically, so making the three districts, would not
pose a problem.
“The southern end on average lost around 63 percent [after Katrina]; the new maps have one district from Empire to Venice,” Solieau explained. “Being that the constituents in those areas are similar demographically and lead similar lifestyles—big in the fishing and oil industries— I’m comfortable with those new lines because you
can retain the allowed population numbers and have a group that isn’t so diverse.”
But Councilchair Marinovich, who also represents District 8 slightly echoes Turner’s sentiments in that the council should try to keep the boundaries as far south as possible.
He says that if the effort to keep district lines from moving north is not successful, then he hopes the Belle Chasse councilmen will handle south end issues with with equal fervor as those in the north.
“The south end is holding the majority [of districts] now and I think we’ve done a good job of trying to work with councilmen from that end and split things evenly,” Marinovich said. “I hope they’ll do the same for us.”
Once the redistricting is completed and approved, each governing body has 120 days to submit it to the Justice Department. The Board is working with the Council to ensure that the PPC reapportionment is agreeable, and no significant differences in districts and precincts occur.
It is important that the two governing bodies have consistent districts. The council meeting is December 27 at 10 a.m. in the Port Sulphur Government Building.