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New council districts slowly taking shape

Ever try to share a too-small blanket on a chilly night?

Yanking on one side to cover one person leaves the other cold. Trying to drag nine County Council districts over the breadth and width of Hawaii Island is like that.

Members of the county Redistricting Commission, battling against a tight timeframe to have a proposed map ready for public hearings next month, on Friday spent almost four hours, tugging a little here, adding a little there, before settling on two working drafts that they’ll continue fine-tuning Nov. 23.

The commission doesn’t have long to do its work because the U.S. Census Bureau was late providing data due to challenges related to the coronavirus pandemic. Maps are due by Dec. 31, according to the county charter. The new districts will be used by candidates who can start qualifying for election starting March 1.

The same issues remain sticking points.

Puna Council District 5, with 2,494 more people than ideal, and North Kona Council District 8, with 2,002 over the ideal, will likely shrink geographically. Kona Council District 7, with 1,814 fewer people than the ideal, and South Kona/Ka‘u Council District 6, with 1,484 fewer than ideal, will likely have to expand their boundaries.

But how to do that without splitting Hawaiian Paradise Park between Puna Districts 4 and 5, splitting Waimea between Districts 1 and 9, stretching Hamakua District 1 too far into Hilo and moving Volcano back to East Hawaii instead of in the sprawling District 6 is creating a sticky problem for commissioners.

“I’m not sure how much change people are ready for,” noted Commissioner Meizhu Lui, representing District 1.

Splitting the South Kona/Ka‘u District 6, which at more than 100 miles across and a challenge for council representation, shouldn’t be a big priority, said Commissioner Aina Akamu, representing that district on the nine-member commission.

“Regardless of how the lines are drawn, it’s not going to change the feelings of the people about their place.,” Akamu said. “Essentially, the community of the south would like to stay together as the community of the south.”

Akamu said the two plantation towns of Pahala and Naalehu especially wanted to be in the same district.

Hilo doesn’t want to be further split either, said Commissioner Dwayne Yoshina, representing Hilo Council District 2.

“District 2 is not up for grabs. It has a large population and historically and traditionally it is a community,” Yoshina said. “You should consider all that as we start to subdivide it.”

The commission’s two working draft maps represent slight adjustments, but don’t meet all those citizen preferences. Instead, they satisfy requirements for population equity as a way to protect equal representation.

The commissions is working to make each of the nine council districts as close to the ideal 22,232 people per district as possible.

Districts shouldn’t deviate more than 10% above or below that ideal, nor should the difference between the most populated and least populated. Currently, the difference between most and least populated stands at 19.38%.

Ideal districts follow permanent and easily recognized features like rivers and roads, are compact and contiguous and don’t split neighborhoods of similar interest.

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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