This guest post is by ANC 6B Commissioner Brian Flahaven. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the writers of The Hill Is Home. We welcome constructive discussion about the issue in the comments.
In the next few weeks, the DC Council’s Subcommittee on Redistricting will propose and vote on a new ward boundary map for DC. One of the scenarios being floated would place a portion of Hill East, including the Hill East waterfront, in Ward 7. As I said in my April 27 testimony before the subcommittee, placing a portion of Hill East in Ward 7 or any other ward is a bad idea with potentially negative consequences for our neighborhood.
Why is Hill East in the conversation? The 2010 Census showed that DC’s population increased from around 570,000 in 2000 to 601,000 in 2010. With this new data in hand, members of the redistricting subcommittee are tasked with redrawing ward boundary lines so that the city’s eight wards are within 5 percent of 75,215, the number you get when dividing the city’s total population by 8.
While Ward 6 is within the threshold, three wards need to gain or lose population. Wards 7 and 8 have populations below the 5 percent threshold and must gain population while Ward 2 is above the threshold and must shrink. Since Ward 2 is not contiguous to Wards 7 and 8, the only way for 7 and 8 to gain population is for their boundaries to expand west of the Anacostia River.
One of the scenarios being discussed (see Greater Greater Washington) would place the Hill East waterfront, also known as Reservation 13, in Ward 7, effectively cutting off Hill East residents from the Anacostia River. There has also been some talk of including additional Hill East residential blocks in Ward 7.
While this idea makes the numbers work, dividing Hill East does not make sense from a policy or representation perspective. Hill East is a part of Capitol Hill. When we shop, we go to Eastern Market. When we dine, we go to Barracks Row. For recreation, we visit the Anacostia River waterfront, attend DC United games and walk through historic Congressional Cemetery. Our educational, religious and business organizations are all tied to Capitol Hill.
By redistricting portions of Hill East into another ward, the subcommittee would effectively divide our neighborhood and hurt our collective representation. Why would the interests of Hill East be a priority for a Councilmember where 98 percent of his or her voting residents live on the eastern side of the river? Hill East residents placed in another ward would also lose their ability to weigh in on issues affecting Capitol Hill and their freedom and flexibility to park in the neighborhood.
This has already happened to one neighborhood in northern Hill East – Kingman Park. Ten years ago, the DC Council drew a portion of Kingman Park (north of RFK Stadium) into Ward 7. At last week’s redistricting subcommittee hearing, Kingman Park residents talked about their frustrations of being split from surrounding neighbors in Ward 6 and the negative impact it has had on community groups and coalitions. Kingman Park is now fighting to be reunited in Ward 6.
My Hill East colleagues and I on ANC 6B are particularly concerned about the future of the Hill East Waterfront Development if the waterfront is drawn into another ward. For more than a decade, many residents of Hill East have worked tirelessly to see this development become a reality. We have been promised by the city and by many administrations that development will happen, that it will finally connect our neighborhood to the Anacostia River waterfront.
Unfortunately, despite promises by the city, development on the Hill East waterfront remains stalled. Instead, the site consists of crumbling infrastructure and dilapidated buildings and has become a social services hub for the entire District of Columbia. Our neighborhood has had to deal with the increased crime and consequences that come with concentrating so many services and people in such a small area.
By placing the Hill East waterfront in Ward 7, the DC Council would divide the representation of residents most affected by the proposed development – or lack thereof – from the site. When development begins, the trucks and construction materials will travel through our neighborhood streets to get to the waterfront. And when the project is complete, new residents and businesses at the site are going to have more of a connection to Capitol Hill and Hill East then the eastern side of the Anacostia River. I am very concerned that the project and surrounding residents would receive little attention from a Councilmember focused on issues facing the overwhelming majority of his or her constituents.
Dividing Hill East is not the redistricting subcommittee’s only option. Ward 5 in northeast DC shares a border with both Ward 7, which needs to gain population, and Ward 2, which needs to lose population. Shifting the lines between those three wards would allow the subcommittee to draw ward boundaries that avoid dividing Hill East or any other neighborhoods in Ward 6.
This Thursday, May 5, Councilmembers Michael Brown, Jack Evans and Phil Mendelson, the three members on the Subcommittee on Redistricting, have been invited to participate in a public forum on redistricting sponsored by the Ward 6 Democrats, 7:00 – 8:30 pm at Friendship Charter School (1345 Potomac Avenue SE – across from Harris Teeter). I encourage you to attend and share your comments and concerns. You can also weigh in by signing an e-petition opposing efforts to divide Hill East.
Please join me in urging the subcommittee and the DC Council to keep Hill East united with the rest of Capitol Hill in Ward 6.
Brian Flahaven is the commissioner for ANC 6B09. His single member district includes Barney Circle, the Congressional Cemetery and the Eastern Branch Boys & Girls Club building.