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More Council redistricting drama

Greg liveblogs today’s special City Council meeting on the Census population report and Council redistricting. Read it for a blow-by-blow account of where individual Council members are standing, or which way they’re leaning, on the question. This could be a very close vote.

The Chron summarizes the issues in an editorial.

Now, a group of mostly Anglo and conservative district council members is attempting to undermine those multiple agreements by fighting the expansion on demographic, financial and partisan grounds. Their reasoning is untenable and would lead the city into an expensive legal cul-de-sac.

First the demographics. The recently announced U.S. Census results listed the city’s population in April 2010 as 2,099,451, or 549 people short of 2.1 million. Opponents of expansion have seized on that number to claim expansion is not legally justified. However, in a report to City Council, consultant Jerry Wood identified ample errors in the census enumeration. He concluded that just by adding neighborhoods mistakenly put outside the city limits, Houston’s population would be over the magic figure. The city has filed an appeal challenging the census totals.

The other issues raised by opponents — the costs of two new council offices and supposed political manipulation to put more liberals on the non-partisan council — do not touch the essence of the matter. The city is legally bound to carry out redistricting and expansion.

Mayor Annise Parker notes that whichever route council takes, the city likely will be sued by one faction or another. But with the extensive legal commitments in the past for expansion, she says she’d “rather be on the side of history.”

Yes. That. We had a deal, we need to live up to it. I’ve yet to see a convincing argument against that.

Dr. Murray adds on.

Let us suppose a majority of council refuses to follow through on the nine-to-eleven expansion of districts. That refusal will absolutely assure the City is sued. A trial, at great expense, will follow sometime down the road As an expert witness in redistricting litigation since 1971, I do not think the defenders of no action can find a credible expert to testify that, as of whatever day in 2011 or 2012 or 2013, when the expert is in the witness box, that there are fewer than 2.1 million in the city. That means the city almost certainly loses the case, and then must compensate the attorneys who brought the action, as well as cover their own litigation expenses.

Murray points out that Houston grew by an average of almost 15,000 residents per year last decade. Even if you agree that the Census counted every last person in Houston as of last April, do we really think we’re still 500-some people short of 2.1 million today?

Mary Benton notes that the Texas Asian American Redistricting Initiative (TAARI), a project of the Washington, D.C.-based Asian American Justice Center, has announced its support of proceeding with the two extra Council districts. I think we’re going to need to hear from more groups like this.

Campos and Stace discuss redistricting and Kingwood. Let’s just say that some parts of the city dislike the idea of two more Council seats than some others do.

Finally, here’s a letter from the Montie Beach Civic Club, advocating for it and the Brooke Smith subdivision to be kept with the rest of the Heights in a single City Council district. This is in conjunction with the One Heights, One District movement, about which you can lean more here or send email to [email protected] for more information.

UPDATE: Here’s a further update from Greg.

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