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Re-districting 101: Lee looks at boundary lines

By Staff | Oct 1, 2011

In the coming weeks, the Lee County Board of County Commissioners will vote on a proposed plan to redefine the boundaries of the five districts.

After each U.S. Census, Florida law and Lee County’s charter require that the county be divided into districts as nearly equal in proportion to population as possible. The 2010 census found populations in the districts ranging from 171,064 – 38 percent over the split – to 94,635 – 23 percent under it.

“It shows how the population concentrations have shifted since the last census,” Rick Burris, a principal planner for Lee County, said Friday.

In 2000, the target number was 88,176 per district. The actual populations ranged from 86,904 to 89,975 – no more than a 2 percent difference.

“The largest growth occurred in District 5,” Burris said, adding that District 2 experienced the smallest amount of growth over the last decade.

“However, it grew too,” he said.

Based on the 2010 figures, the target population per district is 123,751.

“None of them have that target number,” Burris said.

The closest to that target figure are District 3, with 120,976 people, and District 4, with 120,663 residents. The population in District 1 is 111,416.

According to the 2010 census, Lee County’s population is 618,754.

Burris explained that using census block data, county staffers reworked district lines in an attempt to get as close as possible to the target number in each area, while also using more understandable geographic boundaries.

“To make sure that we had the equal population and to make sure we used geography that made sense for people,” he said.

Staffers worked through several proposals before coming up with the current tentative one, Alternative 6, on which the commission will vote.

“The other alternatives, all of them met the state statutes, the general practices,” he said. “It was just more of a preference by the community.”

Two proposed redistricting maps were eliminated at a management and planning meeting, and the other three were scratched at a public hearing.

According to Burris, the island communities would have been split between districts in some of those proposals, and they wanted to stay together. The Estero community also voiced opposition to being divided between districts.

“We also were trying to maintain communities that had a sort of cohesiveness about them,” he said. “Alternative 6 was taking the best of each of the other five (plans).”

Under the current proposal, Districts 1 and 3 would stay the most the same out of all of the five districts. District 3 is made up of South Lee County, and District 1 consists of Sanibel, Captiva and Pine Island, and south Cape Coral.

New on the map would be shifting the area where the Shell Point Retirement Community is from District 1 into District 3, as well as moving the area east of Santa Barbara Boulevard and north of Veterans Parkway into District 1.

Burris explained that the move focuses the District 1 seat on the island communities and the Cape. The seat is held by Commissioner John Manning, a Cape resident.

“That way he could include more of Cape Coral in his district,” he said.

Under the proposal, District 4 loses a portion of the Cape to District 1. It also loses the area east of Interstate 75 and west of state Route 31, but it gains a portion of the downtown Fort Myers area that includes Dunbar Park.

District 4, which currently covers north Cape Coral and a portion of North Fort Myers, would include the area west of I-75 and north of MLK Boulevard.

Commissioner Tammy Hall holds the District 4 seat.

The boundaries of District 2, the least populated one, were redrawn on the proposed plan to spread down, taking in San Carlos Park, and extending south to Gladiolus Drive, Burris said. The sections currently fall within District 5.

“District 5, obviously, needed to lose a lot of the population growth,” he said.

Alternative 6 would get the districts within about a 1 percent difference of the target population of 123,751. Populations per district would range from 124,294 in District 1 at the highest to 122,485 in District 4 at the lowest.

Manning called the routine redistricting an issue of fairness.

“I don’t think you want to have one district with a super-inflated population and one that is not,” he said.

Hall agreed.

“It’s really a balancing of population by district, no matter what level of political boundaries you’re working with,” she said.

According to Hall, the proposed moves for her district and for Manning’s district would compact the Cape and maintain the islands as one unit. Taking on a portion of downtown Fort Myers combines areas with similar issues.

“To have a district that’s more reflective,” she said.

Manning said county staffers tried to keep the districts’ boundaries as close to the current ones as possible, while keeping local communities in mind.

“Alternative 6, basically, keeps all five county commissioners, basically, with the same boundaries and the same territories they had before,” he said.

Both Hall and Burris noted that Lee County Commissioners are elected at large, however, and commissioners represent all of those living in Lee.

“They’re (residents) open to call anybody and talk to whoever,” he said.

“We don’t work as districts, we work as a county as a whole,” she said.

The commission will vote on the proposed redistricting on Oct. 11. Changes can still be made to the draft. A new plan must be adopted by year’s end.