CLAYTON — A handful of St. Louis County Republicans and Democrats will meet over the weekend to try to work out a bipartisan proposal for redrawing County Council district lines.
If they’re successful, and nine out of 14 members of the Bipartisan Reapportionment Commission vote to approve the map Monday night, they’ll make history as the first successful county redistricting commission in 50 years. Because the commission is split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, at least two commissioners would need to vote with members of the other party to reach an agreement.
“I want to remain optimistic, but cautiously optimistic,” said John Bowman, Democratic chair.
Redistricting is required every 10 years to try to ensure the seven County Council districts are as equal in population as possible. Voters in each district elect one representative to the council, the county’s legislative body.
The last time the commission drew the County Council lines was in 1971. The last four iterations of the commission failed to reach agreement and kicked the issue to federal court judges, who have drawn County Council lines over the last five decades.
Earlier this week, the two political parties presented second drafts that were so close to one another they had identical boundary lines for the council’s 6th District.
Both maps were drawn close to current boundary lines. It’s unlikely the final map would significantly alter the partisan makeup of the County Council. Other than a brief period in 2019 when there were two vacancies, Democrats have held the majority since 2006.
But the redistricting commission will have to sort out different proposed borders between two pairs of districts — the 1st and 5th, and 2nd and 3rd — that could affect council representation for parts of Olivette, Creve Coeur, Overland, Ladue, Frontenac and University City.
Bowman, Republican chair Becky Arps and a handful of other redistricting commissioners will sit down Sunday to talk it out.
“I think mostly people are excited that in this incredibly rancorous environment we can actually act in a bipartisan way,” Arps said Friday.
Under the Republicans’ map, the new border between the 1st and 5th districts, in University City, would be Delmar Boulevard, shifting south several blocks from its current southernmost point at Vernon Avenue.
Democrats’ map would shift the border up north to Olive Boulevard. In exchange, the west border of the 1st District would shift westward to Ashby Road, to incorporate all of Overland and a north half of Olivette.
The Republicans proposed keeping the border between the 2nd and 3rd districts along Ladue Road. But the Democrats suggested shifting the border south to Highway 40 (Interstate 64), to incorporate nearly all of Creve Coeur, all of Westwood, parts of Frontenac and Ladue.
And Democrats wanted to shift the border between the 3rd and 5th districts, currently along Woodlawn Avenue in Kirkwood, east to Holmes Avenue. That would cede all of Kirkwood into the 3rd District.
Republicans would have moved the border west to Kirkwood Road, putting more of the city into the 5th District.
Bowman said county residents have asked the commission to try to keep municipalities within one council district, instead of giving parts of the same town separate council representatives.
The Democrats first proposal two weeks ago kept almost all of 88 municipalities intact, but came under heavy criticism for making substantial changes to council district lines that would have upended a Black-majority in the 1st District.
Residents in University City in particular have asked the commission to try to keep the city within one district, Bowman said. It’s unlikely, because a small change in one part of the map would have ripple effects elsewhere.
“There’s a domino effect, you know when we move these areas around,” he said. “We’re pretty close right now, so trying to to create a solution for every individual municipality could throw us back out of the range of population deviation we need to reach.”
The county’s population grew by half a percent — roughly 5,700 people — over 2010. But the majority-Black, majority-Democratic 1st and 4th districts in north St. Louis County were the only two districts to lose population.
The 1st District experienced the greatest change, counting 14,955 fewer residents than in 2020; it is now the least-populated district at 128,072 residents. The 4th District has 138,188 residents.
The other five districts each have at least 140,000 residents. The most populated, the Republican-held 3rd District in west St. Louis County, has 149,509 residents.
By law, the commissioners are required to get as close to the target number — one-seventh of the county’s population — of 143,446 residents in each district.
Originally posted at 4:51 p.m. Friday, Nov. 19, 2021