The City Council this week gave initial approval to new boundaries for the city's five council districts.
The new boundaries, aimed at balancing the districts' populations based on 1990 census data as required by law, were approved by a 3-2 vote and are scheduled for a final vote at the council's next meeting. The proposed changes have generated disputes among council members.
The most controversial change moves a two-block chunk in the Old Town area, between 4th and 6th streets, from one district to another.
"It's a bitter, bitter pill for me to swallow," said Councilwoman Marilyn Bruce Hastings, who has represented that area. "I dislike being kicked out of my district."
Hastings voted against that change, along with Mayor Frank Laszlo. They said the new boundary unnecessarily breaks up Old Town.
But Councilwoman Gwen Forsythe, whose district will now include that area, said the change is necessary to even out the number of residents and avoid a challenge in court.
According to Assistant City Atty. Michael G. Colantuono, court cases indicate that districts should be drawn with "as nearly equivalent populations as possible" so as not to violate the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. He recommended to council members that the districts maintain not more than a 10% deviation in population.
Changes to Districts 2, 4 and 5 were based on the unanimous recommendations of a council-appointed committee. Those changes left a population difference of several hundred people between Hastings' District 1 and Forsythe's District 3.
The council considered at least 10 options for boundary changes between the remaining districts two weeks ago. In the absence of Councilwoman Edna Wilson, it deadlocked on a proposal favored by Hastings.
That proposal, which would have included all of Old Town in one district, would have meant population size deviation of more than 20% between the largest and smallest districts.
Another plan Hastings said she favored would have placed Surfside in Forsythe's district. That was opposed by residents of the neighborhood in previous discussions.
Hoping to defeat the plan favored by the council majority, Laszlo offered an alternative in which only one block of property was shifted, but the proposal was voted down.
"I would love to compromise, but I don't want to do something this city is going to be challenged on," Forsythe said.
The plan as approved leaves a 4.92% difference between the smallest, District 2, and the largest, District 1.