Fairfax County residents debate how redistricting plan can best represent community

Fairfax County should minimize disruption as much as possible when adopting new electoral district maps, the chair of the county’s Redistricting Advisory Committee (RAC) said at a public hearing yesterday (Tuesday).

Paul Berry urged the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to make the least-disruptive changes possible, keeping each supervisor’s district — and who they represent — close to the same, while taking into account factors like population growth and equity.

“We strongly encourage the board to consider the concept of minimal disruption,” he said. “Minimal disruption is the idea that residents of a political geography have as much stability in their civic life as possible.”

With a condensed timeline due to the delayed release of 2020 Census data, the board-appointed RAC met 13 times between July 27 and Oct. 12 to develop recommendations for redrawing the boundaries that will determine local supervisor and school board districts for the next decade.

The committee ultimately released a report on Nov. 1 with 64 proposed reapportionment maps: 32 that maintain the county’s current nine-district setup, 25 with 10 districts, and seven with 11 districts.

Berry recommended keeping a 10-member county board with nine district seats and an at-large chair, the most common plan from both the public and RAC members.

The board agreed to adopt a redistricting plan on Dec. 7. The public hearing record has been left open, allowing written comments to be accepted until the vote.

Local Process Differs from State

Redistricting is legally required every 10 years in conjunction with each new Census to ensure electoral districts have proportional representation.

According to the 2020 Census, Fairfax County’s population grew 6%, from less than 1.082 million in 2010 to over 1.15 million in 2020, and it is now a minority-majority locality, with notable growth in its Asian and Hispanic populations.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay contrasted the county’s redistricting process with the one currently underway at the state level, where the new Virginia Redistricting Commission succumbed to the partisan gridlock it was intended to prevent.

The Commonwealth’s new General Assembly and congressional districts will now be drawn by the Virginia Supreme Court instead.

This is a very different process than used in Richmond for redistricting,” McKay said. “I, in past lives, have served on a redistricting committee myself, as has [Hunter Mill District] Supervisor [Walter] Alcorn, and I can attest how open and transparent our process is and a model for how you do redistricting.”

Berry, a substitute teacher for Fairfax County Public Schools, said the effort was 100% citizen-led, drawing more proposals than any previous redistricting effort in the county. RAC members came up with 24 maps, and the public submitted 40, an increase from three in 2011.

Equity, Development Among Concerns

The residents and leaders of public-interest groups who spoke at yesterday’s public hearing were split on whether Fairfax County needs change or stability.

Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax Rev. David Miller urged supervisors to consider how the county could promote equity and inclusion.

He argued that Black and Latinx communities’ political power shouldn’t be diluted by breaking them apart, citing the country’s history of discriminatory practices like redlining, where financial services are denied to certain neighborhoods — usually ones that are predominately Black.

Several speakers called for a South County district to be formed, citing the changing character of the region.

“It might have worked okay for decades, but not now,” said Dale Rumberger, president of the South County Federation, an organization that represents residents and civic associations in southeastern Fairfax County.

He cited the increase in homes, shopping plazas, and schools. Looking back at his 31 years in the district, he said he couldn’t count how many new housing developments have emerged and continue to be built.

Meanwhile, others called for continuity:

Resident Cathy Hosek said if any precinct is moved, homes with Springfield addresses should be considered first, noting that it can be confusing for residents who have that mailing address but aren’t in the Springfield District.

She also said supervisors should consider what equitable representation would look like. The RAC report noted that if all nine supervisor districts were equal in population size, each would have 127,874 residents.

After the Board of Supervisors votes on a new electoral district map, the plan will need to be certified by Virginia’s attorney general, which is expected to happen on Feb. 22, 2022.

Earlier in the day, the board agreed to reappoint the redistricting committee on Dec. 7 so it can examine the names of the county’s districts. Conversations about renaming Lee District are already underway, but Supervisor Rodney Lusk said no decision will be made until after the committee makes its recommendations.

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