Mike Kueber's Blog

April 6, 2011

Redistricting the city-council districts in San Antonio

Several months ago, I wrote in my blog about a redistricting problem in San Antonio – i.e., voters who lived on the booming, Anglo-dominated Northside were being denied equal representation on the City Council.  Since then, the 2010 census has confirmed that the voters who live in the north and northwest predominantly Anglo districts 6-10 have no semblance of one-person, one-vote:

District            2000 population         2010 population

1                      97,161                         112,465

2                      94,737                         123,533

3                      97,630                         118,883

4                      119,713                       123,165

5                      85,600                         106,589

6                      112,066                       152,533

7                      110,888                       137,533

8                      164,391                       159,568

9                      137,201                       159,514

10                    123,190                       133,045

If the south and east Hispanic-dominated districts 1-5 were treated like that, I suspect there would be a federal lawsuit under the Voting Rights Act.  The Texas City Attorneys has made available a fascinating primer on redistricting issues in Texas, but it doesn’t indicate whether the Act might provide any protection to Anglos in a city where they are a minority, as they are in San Antonio.  The primer does note that a population deviation of up to 10% between the least populated district to the most populated district is probably OK.  It also notes that, although the numbers of illegal immigrants are considered in the population of a district, they are not considered in determining whether there are enough minority voters in a district to control the outcome of an election.  (FYI – according to 2000 census, only 12% of adult Hispanics in SA are illegal; whereas in Austin it is 35%, Houston 52%, and Dallas 60%.) 

Several weeks ago, my representative on the San Antonio City Council – Reed Williams – opined in the Express-News that, because of the booming population in the Northside, the 2012 census-driven redistricting of the council districts would have to move all ten districts toward the north.  Shortly after that, a reader of my blog – Bob Martin from the Homeowner Taxpayer Association of Bexar County – called me to suggest that instead of moving districts to the north as suggested by Reed Williams, the Council should create several new districts to represent the booming Northside. 

Martin had obviously given this idea some thought.  He pointed out that San Antonio has had ten single-member districts since 1977, at which time its official population was 654,153.  Thus, each member at that time had 65,415 constituents.  By contrast, San Antonio’s current population is more than double that at 1,327,407, and each member has 132,740 constituents. 

Members of the Council often complain about the excessive demand for constituent services from a position that is technically supposed to be a part-time job.  Well, creating additional council districts would reduce the demand for constituent services.

Fiscally conservative voters might object to the cost of these additional districts, but because of the way the Council is organized and paid, the districts could be added without a huge increase in expenses. 

San Antonio voters might be pleasantly surprised to learn that their Council is relatively cost-efficient.  A recent survey by Pew Research of 14 of the largest cities in America revealed that the budget-cost per council seat in San Antonio is $421,496 or $3.38 per resident or .52% of the city’s budget, and there are 88 council employees or one for every 15,610 city residents.  Relatively speaking:

  • San Antonio’s cost per council seat – $421,496 – is one of the lowest in the country, but not as low as Dallas ($244,837) or Houston ($390,965).
  • San Antonio’s number of council employees – 88 – is one of the highest in the country – more than Houston (83) and Dallas (36).
  • San Antonio’s number of residents per council-person – 137,367 – is one of the highest in the country – more than Boston (71k), Chicago (57k), Dallas (92k), and Washington, D.C. (74k).
  • San Antonio’s number of council districts – 10 – is one of the fewest in the country.  Houston has 14, Dallas has 15, and Chicago has 50.

According to the Express News article, “Despite San Antonio’s growth, there appears to be little appetite to add council districts — a hot, and ultimately futile, topic of discussion when the 2000 Census numbers were released. The process gets overrun by politics, Williams said.  ‘When you start adding districts, you raise too much political controversy as to where the districts are added and how they’re added,’ he said. ‘You don’t have people thinking clearly about how good, tight, clear districts should be drawn.’”

That sounds like a political gobbledygook.  I agree with Bob Martin’s suggestion that San Antonio voters would be better served if the city were to increase the number of districts to 14 because this would facilitate the tradition of part-time citizen representatives instead of full-time politicians representing special interests.