As a blanket of snow obscured the borders of nearly everything around Denver earlier this week, more than 60 people joined talks focused on proposed new City Council district boundaries that could shape the city for a generation.
It was the first of six meetings this month during which members of the public are invited to offer feedback on proposed council maps as part of the city’s 10-year redistricting process. Colorado adopted new Congressional and statehouse maps based on the 2020 Census late last year. It’s Denver’s turn.
Councilwoman Amanda Sandoval, who represents District 1 in the city’s northwest corner, is the chair of the redistricting committee. The boundaries created through this process will be in place for three election cycles starting with the April 2023 race in which voters in all 11 council districts will be picking their representatives.
“I really believe in creating a map for the next generation of Denver leaders and creating those opportunities for them to run and represent their neighborhoods,” Sandoval said.
The next redistricting meeting will be held via Zoom starting at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. Four in-person events will follow this month at locations scattered across the city. The City Council will also be holding weekly meetings to review the input.
After months of research and community outreach including encouraging members of the public to submit their own maps last month, council members this week put forth six proposed sets of new boundaries for public scrutiny.
Guidelines for map creation included trying to balance the city’s population — roughly 65,000 people per district — keeping districts contiguous and as compact as possible and keeping the 301 new election precincts, finalized by Denver Clerk and Recorder Paul Lopez and his staff in December, whole in whichever district they are placed.
Mapmakers were also encouraged to keep communities of interest, that is pockets of the city identified as having a strong shared social identity, in the same district where possible. The redistricting committee identified 154 communities of interest in the city as part of its process, officials said during this week’s Zoom call.
Here are the six council-sponsored maps:
Map A, sponsored by Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca, seeks to offset huge population growth along Denver’s northern Interstate 70 corridor over the last decade by expanding the boundaries of the much slower-growing southern districts, according to a plan narrative available on the city’s redistricting site.
This is the only map that would change the districts of some sitting council members, city legislative policy analyst Emily Lapel said at this week’s meeting.
Map B, sponsored by Councilwoman Jamie Torres, focuses on keeping communities of interest in west Denver together in one district, she wrote in her narrative. It also would divide the downtown area between districts 10 and 9, potentially giving the core of the city more representation on the council.
Map C, sponsored by District 2 Councilman Kevin Flynn, is focused on communities of interest, compactness and intentionally minimizing the amount of space that would change districts from the council’s current map, he wrote in his narrative.
The only map being sponsored by multiple council members, Map D was the most popular among attendees of this week’s Zoom meeting, according to a poll.
Notable changes for current boundaries include moving the East Colfax neighborhood entirely into District 8 rather than splitting it between 8 and 9 and combining Union Station and the Central Business District with other downtown-adjacent neighborhoods in a new District 10. District 5 would expand westward to take on the Country Club and Cherry Creek neighborhoods.
“The sponsors of this map believe it represents the best scenario for creating district maps that are compact, contiguous and abide by the allowed standard deviation while giving a strong voice to each resident, neighborhood, and community of interest,” the sponsors write in their plan narrative.
Downtown Denver resident Chris Nicholson was among the members of the public that submitted their own maps online last month. While council members ultimately nominated their own ideas, Nicholson is hopeful that public input and comment were taken into consideration. He feels Map D folds in many of the best ideas from other council and public submissions.
“The districts are compact and the neighborhoods that are kept together make sense,” Nicholson said. “Redistricting shouldn’t be contentious. Map D does a good job finding consensus.”
There were some concerns about the map on this week’s Zoom call, specifically that a southern portion of the Capitol Hill neighborhood would be carved off into District 7.
“I’m afraid that having it split means maybe those blocks not getting the attention they deserve on (a) particular issue,” Capitol Hill resident Katie Blakey said during the meeting.
Map E, sponsored by Sandoval, shifts existing boundaries around less than Map D. It’s got a lower deviation between the population size of the largest and smallest districts in the city, 6% compared to 8.3%.
“This map attempts to respect natural boundaries honor communities of interest and keep statistical neighborhoods intact to the extent possible,” Sandoval wrote in her narrative.
Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer’s Map F shifts some existing boundaries significantly including for her own District 5. The district would shed the portion of the East Colfax neighborhood it has today and grow to absorb Cherry Creek and South Park Hill.
“This is the map created by City Council District 5 Office based upon the community feedback we have heard,” Sawyer wrote in her plan narrative.
On this week’s Zoom call, council members assured people that nothing is finalized yet. Following this month’s public meeting, a legislative process will begin that will lead to a final vote at a council meeting on Tuesday, March 29.
“While I did put my name on one map …I’m not married to that map,” Councilman Chris Hinds said. “Really, the idea here was to get the community something that was worthy of community input and then get that input.”
People who cannot attend meetings are encouraged to provide comments by emailing [email protected] or by calling the City Council offices at 720-337-2000.
More information and resources including interactive maps can be found at denvergov.org/redistricting.