In redistricting, shape of Ward 1 hangs in balance

Because of redistricting, state representative district lines now cut through Ward 1, home to Old Campus and eight residential colleges. The “Yale Ward” may split as a result as aldermen redraw the map.
Because of redistricting, state representative district lines now cut through Ward 1, home to Old Campus and eight residential colleges. The “Yale Ward” may split as a result as aldermen redraw the map. Photo by Nick Defiesta.

New Haven’s political map will likely look different in two months.

The Board of Aldermen’s special committee on ward redistricting held its second meeting at City Hall Tuesday night to hear residents’ concerns over the redistricting process currently underway. As the committee redraws the boundaries between the city’s 30 wards, it could potentially split Ward 1 — historically known as the “Yale ward” — into three pieces.

According to the city’s charter, the Board must redraw ward boundaries every 10 years after the state legislature changes the state representative districts, which happened last November. Aldermen have six months after the state district changes to approve a new ward map, setting the deadline for a final map for the end of May.

Of primary concern for the committee, chaired by Ward 6 Alderwoman Dolores Colón, is the population of each ward. With a city population of 129,779 residents according to the census, each of the 30 wards should have around 4,326 people, plus or minus about 200 people.

Due to uneven city population growth over the past decade, some wards are above or below the target population range. Fair Haven’s Ward 14, with 5,350 residents, is almost 1,000 people above where it should be, while West Rock’s Ward 30’s population of only 2,690 is more than a third below its target population.

But according to federal standards, the committee must also do its best to balance other considerations, including nondilution of minority voting, equalizing the voting-age population within each ward, ensuring that each ward has an accessible polling location, and natural boundaries such as interstate highways. The city has hired an independent consultant to guide the board through the process.

The committee received advice on Tuesday from Nancy Ahern, a former alderwoman who served through two redistricting processes. She pleaded with the board to avoid splitting wards between multiple state representative districts, explaining that such a move would cost the city $30,000 over the next decade in operating costs for an additional polling place.

Ward 3 Alderwoman Jackie James, whose ward, following the state’s redistricting process, now straddles the districts of three different state representatives, asked what Ahern recommended as a solution. The former alderwoman told James to choose one of the state representative’s districts as a “base” for her new district, and then to discuss expanding her ward with nearby aldermen.

The fate of Ward 1, which currently houses Old Campus and eight of Yale’s residential colleges, was similar to James’ ward. The new state representative district map cuts Ward 1 into three parts, with Pierson and Davenport Colleges in District 93; Trumbull, Berkeley and Calhoun Colleges in district 94; and Old Campus and Jonathan Edwards, Branford and Saybrook Colleges in district 96. If Ahern’s advice is heeded, Ward 1, which now has three different representatives in the state House of Representatives, may split in three.

Lisa Siedlarz, who lives in what she described an “elbow” of Ward 8 that juts into Ward 9, complained that it was often difficult to get basic constituent services taken care of when her house is located away from the core of her ward.

The committee also heard from several of Ward 9’s East Rock residents, who urged the board to keep their neighborhood cohesive. Several of them said they feared they would be displaced into neighboring wards in order to accommodate the redistricting process.

“I would hate to lose the sense of community we have built up over the years in Ward 9,” East Rock resident Ellen Pendergast said in an email, which Ward 9 Alderwoman Jessica Holmes read aloud to the committee.

Colón closed the meeting by telling committee members that the redistricting process is still in the “discussion stage,” and asked each of them to talk to aldermen whose wards neighbor theirs. She urged them to keep an open mind during the process.

The committee will hold another workshop before putting together a proposal for a revised ward map, which will be presented at a public committee meeting on April 4.

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