The Anchorage Assembly has finished its monthslong process to set new boundaries for its election districts and set a special election to add a 12th Assembly member on June 21.
Reapportionment redraws the Assembly’s district boundaries, usually every 10 years after the U.S. census is complete, to help equalize representation of Anchorage residents on the Assembly as the population changes. In 2020, voters also approved giving District 1, downtown, a second elected seat.
In a 9-2 vote on Tuesday night, Assembly members approved a new redistricting map, one of more than a dozen proposed throughout the reapportionment process. Midtown Assembly members Felix Rivera and Meg Zaletel voted against the final map.
Assembly members also set a special election for the new District 1 seat in a unanimous vote. Only voters living in that district can vote in that election.
Because the upcoming April regular election was underway before reapportionment was complete, the new map won’t affect the 2022 municipal election.
District 1 was once about half the size of the other districts but has been expanded east and south while other districts shrank, in order to add a second representative to the district.
District 1 was also renamed Tuesday evening as the city’s North Anchorage district, one of many changes members made to the Assembly’s political map. District 4 was also officially renamed from Central Anchorage to Midtown in city code, although it has long been referred to as Midtown. District 2, formerly Chugiak/Eagle River, was renamed District 2, Chugiak, Eagle River, JBER. And District 6, South Anchorage, was renamed District 6, South Anchorage, Girdwood, and Turnagain Arm.
Under the new map, some neighborhoods, previously in one district, are now incorporated into a different district — so some Anchorage residents living near the edge of a district will now be voting in a different district.
That also means that until future municipal elections, those residents will live in a district represented by Assembly members they didn’t vote for or against.
It also means that any sitting Assembly members who were living near the boundary of their district may now be living in a different district, although it is not yet clear whether that is the case for any of the current members.
Even if that is the case, a member in that situation would be grandfathered in to serve out their term representing their original district, city lawyers said at Tuesday’s meeting. After the member’s current term is finished, that member would have to run to represent their new district.
The map adopted was drafted by Assembly member John Weddleton and Denny Wells. The final map included some changes proposed by Assembly Vice Chair Chris Constant that incorporated feedback from community councils and residents.
Many residents had expressed concern that the Weddleton-Wells draft had cut West Anchorage High School and Bettye Davis East Anchorage High School from their namesake districts. Constant’s changes put those areas back into their original districts.
“This map works really hard to maintain integrity of neighborhoods as best as possible, to maintain the schools in their namesake districts, to expand my district enough so that we can take the next step which is to move a special election to add the 12th member,” Constant said.
The map expands District 1 south and east, into the former boundaries of Midtown, West Anchorage and East Anchorage. The district is bordered by East 36th Avenue between Minnesota Drive and C Street at its most southwest portion, taking a portion of the Spenard neighborhood. The North Anchorage district’s southern boundary cuts along Northern Lights Boulevard to Seward Highway, then follows the zigzag of Chester Creek eastward to Lake Otis Parkway. Its northeast portion incorporates Merrill Field and Mountain View, running east along DeBarr Road to Turpin Street.
Though District 5, East Anchorage, lost a large chunk of its western portion to District 1, a northern section of the Muldoon Road area that had been grouped with Eagle River in District 2 is now returned to District 5. East Anchorage also expanded west to include parts of the city that were previously in Midtown: Alaska Pacific University and Goose Lake Park.
Providence Alaska Medical Center and the UAA campus are now split between two districts by the Midtown and East Anchorage boundary, with the boundary running from Tudor north on Piper Street and UAA Drive to near East Northern Lights Boulevard.
West Anchorage has moved south into the Bayshore/Klatt Community Council area, to West Klatt Road and C Street, with boundaries at Arctic Boulevard and East Dimond Boulevard. South Anchorage has expanded slightly north to East Dimond Boulevard, in the area directly east of C Street, its boundary following the curve of Abbot Road east of the highway. Girdwood remains a part of District 6, South Anchorage.
“The map that resulted wasn’t a win. It was a sacrifice for everybody. And it was hard because we all have ideas of what we’d like our neighborhoods to be. And everybody had to give and I had to take a lot,” Constant, who represents the expanded District 1, said.
During the meeting, Midtown Assembly members Rivera and Zaletel urged Assembly members to keep parts of the U-Med district intact and in Midtown, rather than splitting the hospital and university campuses between two districts. But two proposals aimed at fixing that issue failed.
The reapportionment process began last fall, and Assembly members tackled difficult questions about how best to keep neighborhoods and community councils intact while balancing that with the city charter’s requirements that districts be “compact and contiguous” and must contain “as nearly as practicable a relatively integrated socioeconomic area.”
Adding the 12th seat further complicated the process, said Assembly member Pete Petersen.
At Tuesday’s meeting, many members said that the finalization of reapportionment is a triumph and a successful compromise. Several members lauded the process, saying it was heavily public, with numerous meetings and that saw participation from residents and several proposals submitted from private groups and community members — including the proposal that was ultimately amended and adopted.
“I think we can call this a success for democracy,” Rivera said.
Many members and residents had said that the Weddleton-Wells proposal offered the fairest approach in terms of compromise. Wells, a local photographer and resident of Sand Lake, became involved after the first few drafts proposed by the city split off his neighborhood from West Anchorage into South Anchorage.
So he drafted maps, incorporating public feedback, and worked with Weddleton to submit the map that eventually gained the most support.
The new district map has the potential to somewhat shift the city’s political dynamics, affecting who gets elected to the six Assembly districts. As some neighborhoods are now in different districts, the political leanings of those voters will influence the outcome of elections in those districts.
The addition of a 12th seat to District 1, a heavily left-leaning district, could also enhance the Assembly’s veto power over Anchorage’s conservative mayor.
[Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described District 1′s border on East 36th Avenue, between Minnesota Drive and C Street, as its southeast boundary. That roadway delineates the district’s southwest boundary.]