The city of Auburn has started its redistricting process, redrawing wards to account for the massive increase in population and shifting population density over the past 10 years.
The city redraws its ward boundaries every 10 years based on Census results. The latest Census, which captured the city's population as of April 1, 2020, showed that Auburn's population increased 43 percent over the last decade, growing to 76,143.
The city redrew the boundaries using Census blocks as a guide to reach a target population per ward of approximately 9,500 residents. The districts also had to be redrawn to meet criteria considered race-neutral by federal courts, according to a memo from City Manager Megan McGowen Crouch to the Council. Those criteria include that the districts be reasonably compact; not put more than one incumbent in a district; preserve the cores of existing districts; and preserve communities of interest.
The city considered multiple scenarios in redrawing boundaries, including a no-change scenario that would keep districts as close as possible to current boundaries. That scenario is problematic because it does not meet the target deviation of less than 10 percent and would not maintain the minority-majority district in Ward 1, among other problems. The other scenarios considered would create districts that are more representative of the character of the area (inner/outer loop, urban-suburban-rural).
"This scenario does achieve our goals and is kind of the Cadillac of the plans we looked at," said Principal Planner Logan Kipp during last Wednesday's City Council work session.
The proposed ward boundaries retain the majority-minority district in Ward 1 and have an overall deviation of 7.27 percent, well below the deviation of more than 51 percent in the no-change scenario.
The population in all wards increased over the last 10 years, no more so than in Ward 2, which grew by nearly 140 percent from 5,919 to 13,788 residents. That growth prompted a major revision in the proposed boundaries of Wards 2 and 3.
"The elephant in the room is really what's happening in Ward 2," said Kipp, who helped spearhead the redistricting effort. "It essentially doubled in size, in population."
For the past 10 years, Ward 2 has largely occupied the area west of North College Street and north of Martin Luther King Drive, including the high-growth areas north of Shug Jordan Parkway. Ward 3 typically consisted of the area east of North College Street and north of Opelika Road.
In the proposed plan, Ward 2 would generally span the area south of Shug Jordan Parkway east of North Donahue Drive to North Dean Road. Its southern boundary would generally run along West Drake Avenue and then drop to the railroad track at North College. Ward 3 would shift north of Shug Jordan Parkway.
Ward 1 would maintain its minority-majority status, but also pick up some of the Auburn University campus west of Donahue Drive and north of Samford Avenue, including the Village student dormitories.
Under the proposed plan, Ward 4 sees its southern boundary expand generally from Glenn Avenue to I-85 east of University Drive. Ward 5 sees its geographic footprint shrink substantially, with all of the area south of I-85 being split into other wards.
"Most of Ward 5 actually shrinks back to more of the traditional downtown area and established neighborhoods. It's bounded to the south by I-85," said Kipp.
Ward 6 would see a small shift in its boundaries, while Wards 7 would shift entirely south of I-85 to include the area south of Sandhill Road and east of Moores Mill Road. Ward 8 would generally shift westward and northward to include the area north of MLK Drive and east of Richland Road.
City Attorney Rick Davidson cautioned Council members that making any changes to the proposed plan, which has been reviewed by a consultant and meets state and federal requirements, would make the process start all over.
"When you move one street or one mile or one block, we start over," he said. "I would encourage you to digest this, learn it, understand everything about it, but be very, very careful (in suggesting a change) because it's not insignificant."
The 2020 Census also showed that the city of Auburn is becoming more diverse. From 2010 to 2020, the Asian population in the city grew from 5.7 to 10.6 percent of the population, while the black population grew from 16.8 to 18.9 percent. The city's white population fell from 73.5 percent to 63.2 percent of the population.
The public will have the opportunity to provide input on the proposed changes to the wards at two open houses. The first open house will be held Thursday, Nov.18, from 4 to 7 p.m. in the Buston Education and Meeting Center at 161 N. Ross St. The center is located on the backside of the old Public Safety building. The second open house will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. on Dec. 6 at the Boykin Community Center Auditorium, located at 400 Boykin Street.
The proposed redistricting plan is expected to come before the City Council for consideration at its Dec. 21 meeting, although the timeline could shift.
For more information, go to https://2021-redistricting-plan-coa.hub.arcgis.com.