TAMPA — Tampa City Council’s northernmost district is being tweaked ahead of the 2015 election to better balance the population of the council’s four geographic districts.
District 7, represented by Councilwoman Lisa Montelione, has added 4,000 residents since the 2010 census, making it the city’s most populous district. District 7 includes New Tampa, the University of South Florida and neighborhoods bordering Temple Terrace.
Over the past three years, New Tampa has added two sprawling apartment complexes and two single-family subdivisions. The additions have brought the district’s population to about 92,000, said Terry Eagan, a project manager at the Tampa Hillsborough Planning Commission, which is handling the redrawing of the districts.
“District 7 has grown quite a bit, particularly in the north near the county line,” Eagan said.
At its northern edge, Tampa abuts Wesley Chapel in Pasco County across County Line Road.
City rules require that the council districts are redrawn ahead of each election. The council also has three seats that are elected at-large. The deadline to finished redistricting is April 1, 2014, one year before the new council takes office.
To balance the districts at around 85,500 people, planners have proposed shifting Precinct 341 in the Temple Crest area, which has 7,000 residents, from District 7 to District 5 next door.
Also, District 6 in West Tampa would lose 1,800 voters in Precinct 333 to help bring District 5 even with the others. District 6 is now represented by Council Chairman Charlie Miranda, who is term-limited in his current seat.
Miranda is considering a run for District 2, one of three at-large seats on the seven-member council.
District 5, represented by Councilman Frank Reddick, has seen its population hold fairly steady around 75,000 for more than a decade, Egan said.
“We’re not seeing much in the way of population growth or residential permitting,” Egan said. “It’s mostly been demolitions.”
The district is about 63 percent black, according to census records. Historically, it has sent black representatives to the city council.
Yvette Lewis, political action chairwoman for the Hillsborough County branch of the NAACP, said her group is reviewing the redistricting proposal to ensure it doesn’t dilute the black vote, a process known as retrogression.
“My concern is that there’s no retrogression and we keep it consistent, compact and we’re not splitting communities,” Lewis said.
Because of changes the Supreme Court made this year to the federal Voting Rights Act, changes to Hillsborough County’s election mechanisms no longer need to be approved by the Department of Justice.
Hillsborough County had been one of five Florida counties that required federal review because of a history of voter discrimination.
Even if county officials avoid retrogression this time, Lewis worries that the wave of redevelopment now sweeping through District 5 could produce the same results in another election cycle or two.
That’s because, along with historically black East Tampa, District 5 also includes gentrifying areas of Seminole Heights and V.M. Ybor, which are attracting largely white urban homesteaders. It also includes downtown and the Channel District, where another largely white population boom is taking place.
The city-sponsored demolitions in District 5 have happened in largely black Sulphur Springs. In the next few years, the city and Tampa Housing Authority plan to redevelop land west of the Hillsborough River now occupied by the largely black North Boulevard Homes housing project, which is also part of District 5.
“There’s no guarantee of who all is coming back,” Lewis said.
Lewis sees a coming shift of the District 5’s racial make up could cost Tampa’s black community its voice on city council.
“I don’t think the white folks in downtown and Channelside will be happy with an African-American representative,” Lewis said.