The Brookhaven City Council saw the first drafts for five possible new City Council district maps during its April 13 work session.
Because of the city’s upcoming November election and numerous recent annexations, Brookhaven has decided to proceed with redistricting without U.S. Census Data. Redistricting takes place every 10 years, and Census data is fundamental to that process. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the release of 2020’s data has been pushed back to September. Candidate qualifying dates for the election are in August.
In light of that predicament, the city approved a $33,670 contract with the consulting firm FLO Analytics. During the April 13 work session, representatives from FLO Analytics presented five preliminary options to the council.
FLO Analytics Senior Analyst John McKenzie said these five options are just first drafts and will likely change after the public input process.
“We will end up making some revisions to these scenarios,” McKenzie said. “So none of these scenarios are really intended to be a final map.”
McKenzie said in order to come up with these maps, FLO Analytics used 2010 and 2020 census blocks. Census blocks are the smallest geographic census unit and can be created by visible boundaries like roads, or invisible ones like school district lines. While census population data has not yet been released, census blocks for 2020 are available. A census block has to be contained in one district, said McKenzie.
To make demographic estimates, FLO Analytics took data from the American Community Survey, which is a demographics survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau; the ESRI Demographics Program, which is a geographic information system firm; and Brookhaven’s own address data.
For each scenario, FLO Analytics came up with a total estimated city population number and calculated the “ideal district population,” which is the total population divided by the number of districts. Each scenario was then given a deviation percentage number which shows how much that specific map deviates from that ideal population.
Scenario One had the least number of changes from the existing district map and the highest deviation from the ideal district population at 3.4%. In this scenario, parts of District 1 extend slightly farther south, District 3 absorbs some of District 4, and District 2 absorbs some of District 3. The Lakes District and the Brookhaven Heights/Brookhaven Fields areas would each be contained in one district.
Scenario Two had a lower deviation from the ideal at 1.1%. The western portion of District 1 extends farther south in this scenario, while District 2 extends farther west. McKenzie said with the exception of the Historic Brookhaven neighborhood, this scenario follows many of the neighborhood boundary lines, so many homeowners associations would be contained in one district. The Briarwood Park area is contained in one district in this scenario as well.
Scenario Three had the lowest deviation from the ideal population at 1%. In this scenario, District 4 would extend farther north and District 3 would extend farther east. The Buford Highway corridor would be split between districts two and four in this option. McKenzie said FLO Analytics will try to come up with more scenarios that keep Buford Highway — which has a large Hispanic population — in one district, but census blocks make that difficult.
“We have been working and are going to continue to work to see if we can come up with a scenario where the Buford Highway Corridor is not split. But there are a lot of densely populated blocks along that corridor,” he said. “So it’s difficult to come up with a scenario that does that. It doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but we have yet to identify it.”
Scenario Four had a deviation from the ideal of 1.6%. In this scenario, each district would extend fully across the city, appearing to be stacked on top of each other from a map perspective. This option would split the Buford Highway corridor between Districts 3 and 4. The Briarwood Park and Brookhaven Heights/Brookhaven Fields areas would not be split in this scenario, but Ashford Park and Drew Valley would be.
Scenario Five had a deviation from the ideal of 1.5%. In this option, the western portion of District 1 would extend farther south. The Buford Highway corridor is also split in this scenario. Many other neighborhoods and areas would be contained within one district.
During the regular council meeting after the work session, the City Council approved an ordinance establishing criteria that should be applied to the redistricting process. According to City Attorney Chris Balch, there are four legal requirements for redistricting and two discretionary requirements.
According to the ordinance, all districts are required to be in population balance with each other, meaning the sum of the percentage difference between populations must be less than or equal to 10%. All districts must be contiguous, and must be redrawn in compliance with the federal Voting Rights Act. New districts should also preserve the use of existing natural boundaries.
The last two requirements should be done “to the greatest extent possible without violating conditions 1-4,” according to the ordinance. Those state that all districts should be as compact as possible and all districts should preserve communities of mutual interest.