Oakland Coliseum
The Oakland Coliseum Credit: Amir Aziz

After months of debate, the Oakland Redistricting Commission has decided on a map that sets new boundaries for City Council and school board districts for the next decade. But they’ll need to give final approval at a hearing next month.

The complex process of drawing district maps based on new decennial census data happens every 10 years. It’s meant to ensure each district has roughly the same number of people within its border, while—at least in theory—avoiding splitting apart existing “communities of interest,” such as racial and ethnic groups, people who speak the same language, people with similar income levels, or established neighborhoods. 

The resulting distribution of political power is a crucial factor determining whether or not a particular community is fairly represented on city governing boards. 

Since October, the Redistricting Commission has held more than two dozen meetings weighing the pros and cons of several maps, some proposing drastic changes, and others more subtle ones. This was the first time an independent commission was in charge of this process in Oakland. In 2014, voters approved a ballot measure establishing the commission, stripping the power to redraw boundaries away from the City Council. 

Commissioners were tasked with considering diversity and avoiding the division of established neighborhoods and communities of interest wherever possible. Commissioners received more than 1,000 pages of comments from residents and community groups, and anyone, including members of the commission, had the opportunity to draw and submit their own maps for consideration.

The final map determining new council and school board representation followed a nine-hour meeting that lasted until 1:30 a.m. Thursday during which commissioners tweaked district lines to achieve the 9-3 supermajority vote needed. Some of the late-night changes stirred controversy, particularly a decision to move the Coliseum Complex and Coliseum BART station into another district. 

Having blown past its original Dec. 31 deadline, the Redistricting Commission, which is made of 12 Oakland residents who haven’t previously held appointive office or worked as staff or a consultant for the city or school district, faced the possibility of a state judge intervening to set the new boundaries if it did not settle on a new map by February.

The map selected on Thursday increases the population of Black residents in each district, even though over the past decade the number of Black residents in Oakland dropped more than any other racial group. The commission also focused on keeping arts communities intact and not diluting the strength of Asian and Latino communities in Districts 2 and 5 respectively. 

The Oakland hills are spread over four districts, in contrast to another map that would have created a district made up mostly of hills neighborhoods. The boundary of District 3, which covers West Oakland and downtown, moved across Interstate 580, which many saw as progress and reversing the harms created by redlining. 

Lake Merritt was kept in two districts after many felt a single representative should not have control over an asset used by people from all over the city. However, the Adams Point neighborhood near the lake was split into two districts, increasing the Black population of North Oakland’s District 1. 

Other decisions to carve up neighborhoods that are currently grouped together upset some residents. But Commission Chair Lili Gangas, who leads community technology initiatives at the Kapor Center, told The Oaklandside on Thursday afternoon that difficult choices had to be made at the expense of keeping some communities of interest together.

“Objectively, this is a pretty progressive map, even though it might not be as drastic as previous maps,” said Gangas, who voted against the map due to one issue in particular—the placement of the Coliseum, as we’ll explain below—but sees value in it nonetheless. “I think overall the map is in good shape. There had to be concessions made. In some areas, we didn’t have an alternative.” 

Coliseum as sticking point 

In the end, the vote came down to where to place the Coliseum complex. For at least two decades, the 120-acre site and the nearby BART station have belonged to District 7, at the border of District 6. Some commissioners argued residents in District 6 live closer to the facility and therefore should have some stake in the future of the property. 

A commission straw poll on keeping the Coliseum in District 7, which runs from the Coliseum area to the San Leandro border, ended in a 6-6 tie. Three commissioners—Shirley Gee, Stephanie Goode, and Tejal Shah—then indicated they would change their vote to move the Coliseum into District 6. Doing so gave the commission the supermajority vote needed to adopt the final map. The map approved yesterday moves the Coliseum complex and BART station into D6.

Earlier, Gee, a longtime resident of District 2 who’s been highly engaged in district issues, had made a motion that would keep the Coliseum where it is, but realized there wasn’t enough support. “We don’t have 9 votes clearly as is,” Gee said. “It’s going to go down.” 

Because the Coliseum contains no homes, some residents saw the change as purely political. At times, the conversation veered to a debate comparing the economies of the two districts. The final boundaries moved the District 6 line to Hegenberger Road. 

“It appeared to be gerrymandering,” said District 7 resident Sheryl Walton, an Oakland native who ran for a City Council seat in 2012, and has worked on Coliseum issues and followed the redistricting process closely. “The Redistricting Commission is not charged with creating economic engines for any one particular district.”

With the departure of the Raiders and Warriors and the A’s eyeing Howard Terminal for a new ballpark, the future of the 120-acre Coliseum Complex is in flux. A group of Black business leaders and investors have secured an exclusive negotiating agreement and are proposing building new housing, a Black-owned business district, and a satellite campus, and bringing a WNBA team to Oakland. 

Gangas told The Oaklandside she could not support adopting the map because of the Coliseum move. Gangas and commissioners Amber Blackwell and Gloria Crowell were the three “no” votes. “I’m all about getting to nine votes as well but this process has not been fair,” Crowell, a D7 resident who works on health and social services issues through Allen Temple Baptist Church, said during the hearing. 

“I’m sure a lot of people are going to be very ruffled,” Gangas said. “I don’t think we had an opportunity to talk about the harms of that change. I didn’t want our work to get dragged into politics. That was one of the main reasons I voted no. I think there are equity harms that we didn’t get to properly discuss.” 

Glenview returns to District 4, but Bartlett will move

Some residents of Bartlett, a residential area along 35th Avenue below Interstate 580, were stunned when their neighborhood was moved from District 4 (Laurel, Dimond, Redwood Heights) to District 5 (Fruitvale). Otto Pippenger, who lives in the Bartlett neighborhood, said the commission indicated last year that Bartlett was considered a community of interest along with the Dimond and Laurel after hearing from hundreds of residents.  

“If you presume good faith in them, it’s absolutely inexplicable. It comes as a tremendous blow,” Pippenger told The Oaklandside. Pippenger said the majority of earlier versions of the map kept Bartlett in District 4. “They made essentially an iron-clad promise to us, but at the 11th hour not only dismembered us but also in my opinion completely reversed course on the Coliseum.” 

Glenview residents are pleased to rejoin District 4 after being carved out during the remapping a decade ago. A plan to divide the areas around Dimond Park across several districts was scrapped. Allan Brill, co-founder of Glenview Area Groups for Action, said his neighborhood’s only gripe is that a strip of Glenview below MacArthur Boulevard was not included with the rest of the neighborhood. 

“For some reason, somebody in District 5 wanted that little strip there and we have no understanding of why,” Brill said. “That is clearly an area that identifies with Glenview.” 

As we previously reported, the City Charter requires the commission to pick a final map before Dec. 31, 2021. Because that deadline was blown due to a lack of a supermajority consensus, City Attorney Barbara Parker was required to ask a state judge to set the new district boundaries. In a petition filed in Alameda County Superior Court on Jan. 7, Parker wrote that if the commission could not agree by early February she would move forward with asking the court to impose a new map on the city for use in the November election. 

The Redistricting Commission will hold a public hearing for final adoption 14 days after the new map is published and available for public review. The final version of map F4 should be available on the commission’s website soon.

David DeBolt reported on City Hall and policing for The Oaklandside. He spent 12 years working for daily newspapers in the Bay Area, including on the Peninsula and Solano County. He joined the Bay Area News Group in 2012 where he covered a variety of beats, most recently as a senior breaking news reporter. During his time at BANG, DeBolt covered Oakland City Hall, the Raiders stadium saga and the A’s search for a new ballpark, as well as the Oakland Police Department and police reform efforts. He was part of the East Bay Times staff honored with the Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News for coverage of the Ghost Ship warehouse fire.