The New Orleans City Council has released a second round of proposed changes to its map of council districts, and with a final vote just days away, most of the new maps add a major change to district borders that didn’t appear in any earlier proposals.
The Lower 9th Ward is shifted out of District E and into District C in three of the four newly drawn maps, which all aim to redistribute the city’s residents among the five council districts based on new population data from the 2020 census.
The move, if approved, would represent a significant shift to the Lower 9th Ward’s representation in city politics. The Lower 9th, including the Holy Cross neighborhood, has historically been grouped with New Orleans East in District E, which covers almost every part of the city’s area east of the Industrial Canal.
The proposed change, made public Monday, did not go over well with District E Council member Oliver Thomas, who grew up in the Lower 9th Ward and said he was surprised to see the shift in the newly issued draft maps.
“I don’t know where this is coming from,” Thomas said, adding that he is “vehemently” opposed to it.
Four earlier maps created by the City Council’s consultant, FLO Analytics, and released last month focused primarily on shifting the border between District C and District D.
Those two council districts have flip-flopped in the population rankings among the five council districts over the last decade. District C, which currently includes Algiers, the French Quarter and downriver neighborhoods, had the largest population in 2010 and now has the smallest. District D, which covers all of Gentilly and parts of several adjacent neighborhoods, was the smallest in 2010 and is now the largest, based on the 2020 Census.
Claiborne Avenue generally serves as the border between District C and District D, splitting up historic neighborhoods like Treme, St. Roch, the 7th Ward and St. Claude along the way.
The Claiborne Avenue-St. Claude Avenue corridor threading those neighborhoods extends across the Industrial Canal to the Lower 9th Ward, so there is a geographic connection on paper.
But Thomas said that the proposals ignore social and familial ties that bind The Lower 9th Ward more closely to New Orleans East than to neighborhoods on the other side of the canal.
“Most of the people, especially in terms of my lineage and my family, people I know from the Lower 9, they live in New Orleans East. So there’s historical relationships there,” Thomas said. “What it tells me is that the people who would make that recommendation don’t understand the natural history and the relationship.”
District C Council member Freddie King III did not respond to requests for comment.
The council’s redistricting consultant completed the revised maps over the weekend, following a series of online forums last week aimed at garnering public input on the first drafts. Council staff received 95 comments, though only a handful came in the online forums.
An open-house and two “listening sessions” on Monday in council chambers were the only chance for the public to provide in-person feedback before the council votes on a final map on Wednesday, which is the deadline for council members to adopt a new map under the city charter.
If they fail to do so, council members forfeit their salaries until a commission of university presidents completes the job for them.
Calvin Alexander, president of the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association, said he does not know anyone who supports shifting his neighborhood to a new council district.
“It hasn’t been widely accepted by anyone that I’m aware of,” Alexander said. “With us being cut off from the rest of the city by the canal, it just kind of lumps us together anyway, naturally.”
An alternative map
Pushing the District C boundary further toward Lake Pontchartrain in areas now in District D could balance the districts while still hewing to traditional neighborhood boundaries.
All four of the draft maps from last month made that shift in some fashion, but only one of the final drafts — the one that doesn’t affect the Lower 9th Ward — incorporated that change.
The other three final draft maps either keep the District C-District D boundary where it is, or push the boundary in the opposite direction, toward St. Claude Avenue.
All of the maps that move the Lower 9th Ward to District C also move a sliver of New Orleans East along the Downman Road corridor from District D to District E.
One of the maps puts the Central Business District in District C, Lakeshore and Lake Vista subdivisions in District A and a small part of Mid-City around Carrollton Avenue and Canal Street in District B.
Six people spoke in the first listening session Monday, the majority of whom said council members had not allowed enough time for an inclusive process.
At-large Council member JP Morrell said he would author a charter amendment to ensure future redistricting processes start earlier and also allow the council to expand, which would allow for smaller districts and potentially easier groupings. Those proposals would need voter approval to become effective.
“There is certainly a very good argument that even growing the council by two council seats could potentially alleviate some of these issues, as far as groups having similar interests,” Morrell said.