2021 | Politics

County Council begins reviewing proposed new council districts map

First public hearing scheduled for Nov. 16

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Montgomery County Council members have started reviewing a proposed map of new County Council districts, suggesting they would likely make only minor changes.

A county redistricting commission worked on the draft and finalized its map last month

The County Council will hold at least two public hearings on the proposed map. The first is scheduled for Nov. 16 at 1:30 p.m. 

Redistricting commission chair Mariana Cordier and commission member David Stein said there were multiple challenges to drawing a new map. They called the final product a “compromise map” among the redistricting commission’s 11 members.

Stein said one main challenge is that even if a minor change is made to the edge of one district, it affects the entire map.

“As one of my fellow commissioners, Laura Ard, said … the challenge is in the push and the pull of the entire map,” Stein said. 

Last November, county voters approved a ballot question that increases the number of County Council districts from five to seven. The four at-large seats — positions that represent the entire county — will remain, so the council will expand from nine to 11 members.

When drawing the maps, the commissioners needed to consider:

  • Compactness
  • Contiguity 
  • Equal population
  • Minority representation
  • Preservation of political subdivisions
  • Preservation of community landmarks/areas

The redistricting commission’s proposal creates six out of seven districts where the majority of the population are minorities. Geographically, the layout of the districts is:

  • One that covers Gaithersburg and Rockville. Commissioners voted to include those cities in one district before drafting and revealing any final proposals
  • One that covers the southwestern part of the county, including Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Potomac and part of Travilah. It’s the only district where minorities aren’t the majority of the population
  • One that covers the northwestern part of the county, including North Potomac, Germantown and Clarksburg
  • One that covers the east county, starting around the Four Corners neighborhood of Silver Spring and goes to Burtonsville to the northeast and Colesville to the northwest, and includes White Oak
  • One that covers Takoma Park, most of Silver Spring and goes northwest into North Bethesda
  • One that covers Forest Glen, Wheaton, Glenmont, Aspen Hill and Derwood
  • One that covers the northeastern part of the county, spanning from Damascus down to Montgomery Village and Olney to the southeast
The proposed County Council district map, approved by the county’s commission on redistricting.

Stein and Cordier told council members that the map isn’t perfect. But Stein cautioned that any chance to reunite communities of interest in one area could be detrimental elsewhere on the map.

Council members said they have heard concerns from some communities about what districts they were drawn into. One area included people in North Bethesda, who felt the decision to be included in a district with Silver Spring and Takoma Park did not make much sense, council members said.

Stein said that district does “look a little weird,” but added that a majority of commission members felt that following a line from Takoma Park and Silver Spring, through Kensington and Garrett Park to North Bethesda, made sense.

The areas contain census tracts with some of the youngest populations and some of the highest concentration of renters countywide, Stein said. It also loosely follows train tracks used by MARC and CSX, he said. 

“I’ve talked to a lot of people from Silver Spring and North Bethesda about this map,” Stein said.  “And I think when people put their minds to really thinking about it, I think if you drive from Takoma Park, up through to Kensington, I don’t think it would be that weird for you to think that this is all one district.”

Council members also asked about the challenges of representation upcounty, where some community members have worried about the historical lack of representation.

Cordier said it was hard to satisfy every request. For instance, combining Germantown and Montgomery Village was difficult, she said, because of the large populations in both areas.

Stein added that the upcounty issue “remains a point of contention” within the commission, but a majority felt the northwestern and northeastern districts do an adequate job of representing residents in the region.

Council Member Andrew Friedson asked why the public wasn’t able to see more of the raw population and precinct-level data during the map-drawing process.

Pamela Dunn, a County Council staff member who worked with the redistricting commission, said the county’s Planning Department created the tool and software for drawing the maps.

Stein was reluctant to criticize the planning department’s work, but said a more open process would be better. 

In response, Friedson said he didn’t want to be overly critical, but it’s something to improve in future redistricting processes. 

“Any situation where community members can’t directly engage, [and] don’t have all the tools and powers to weigh in, as commissioners do, I don’t think is acceptable,” Friedson said. “And so we need to fix that for moving forward.”

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com