By Erica C. Barnett
In a dramatic turnaround and victory for organizers with Redistricting Justice for Seattle, the Seattle Redistricting Commission voted 4-1 this week to adopt a map that keeps most of the city’s neighborhoods in cohesive council districts. The new map maintains the existing boundaries between Districts 4 and 6 rather than dividing Fremont among three districts. It also splits Magnolia between Districts 6 and 7 at the ridge that divides west-facing view houses from the city-facing half of the peninsula. The approved map was proposed by commissioner Patience Malaba, executive director of the Housing Development Consortium.
For months, a vocal group of Magnolia residents have argued that “splitting the neighborhood” would dilute their voice in City Hall, particularly on the issue of transportation; the peninsula is connected to the rest of Seattle by three main roads, including the Magnolia Bridge, which is 90 years old and in poor condition. (Note: The preceding sentence has been corrected to say that the bridge is in “poor condition” rather than “structurally unsound.”) Some public commenters who wanted to keep Magnolia in a single district based primarily on this single issue also argued, without apparent irony, that advocates for the more equitable RJS map represented “special interests” or were “prejudiced” against white homeowners like themselves.
“We cannot say ‘pass’ when the shared responsibility of living in a community comes to our neighborhood.”—Redistricting Commissioner EJ Juárez
“If we’re truly in this all together, and we have to be in this together, no neighborhood can be exempt from the realities of governance and democracy,” EJ Juárez, a commissioner who offered his own version of the RJS map that included significant changes in north Seattle’s Districts 4 and 5, said Tuesday. “We cannot say ‘pass’ when the shared responsibility of living in a community comes to our neighborhood.”
Only commissioner Greg Nickels, the former mayor, voted against the new map. Addressing Commissioner Rory O’Sullivan, who proposed a map that would have kept Magnolia in one district while combining part of Fremont into District 7 with neighborhoods south of the Ship Canal, Nickels said he disagreed that there was no other option than to divide Magnolia in two. “That simply, to me, is not acceptable,” Nickels said. “I just don’t see a very good rationale for for the splitting of a community that everyone acknowledges is both historic and a community of interest.”
As we’ve noted, the real dividing line in Magnolia is along the ridge defined roughly by 28th Avenue W, with the business district and wealthy homeowners to the west, and more modest houses, along with some of the city’s densest rental housing, to the east. The western half of the neighborhood consistently votes more conservatively than their neighbors to the east—one reason “keeping Magnolia together” really meant diluting progressive and renter voices by moving them out of District 7, which includes downtown Seattle and Queen Anne.
The commissioners will meet at least two more times, including next Tuesday, October 25, at noon. Among other outstanding issues, they plan to consider alternative dividing lines between District 6 and District 7 through Magnolia. District 6 is currently represented by Councilmember Dan Strauss; District 7, by Councilmember Andrew Lewis. All seven districted council seats will be on the ballot next year.