By Kris McDowell
Portland’s Independent District Commission (IDC) is in the process of establishing four geographic districts for City Council elections. Defining the boundaries of those geographic districts is one of the many changes to Portland’s election methods and form of government that will take place. The change in the City of Portland’s structure was approved by voters in November 2022 under Ballot Measure 26-228, which includes ranked-choice voting, geographic districts, a bigger city council and new leadership roles.
In June, IDC released three draft maps “based on extensive community input” that represent different ways to divide the city into four districts for City Council elections and representation. The three maps–Alder, Cedar and Maple–share some characteristics. All communities east of I-205 are in a single district. The Parkrose, David Douglas, Reynolds and Centennial school districts (the four non-PPS school districts) are in a single district. Neighborhoods along the northern part of Portland are in a single district, with the exception of neighborhoods in the Parkrose school district. The north and south sides of Columbia Boulevard are in a single district. Historic Albina in N/NE Portland is preserved in a single district. All communities west of the Willamette River are in a single district. The western border of the easternmost district runs along I-205 and 82nd Ave. to accommodate the Jade District and Lents neighborhood.
Where the maps deviate from one another is an illustration of different rationales to effectively respond to the district criteria that includes preserving communities of common interest. Specifically, the Alder map is built around preserving established neighborhood boundaries, while the Cedar map is built around prioritizing transit corridors and the Maple map is built around keeping much of the central city together. The two key differences between the maps involve how the boundaries handle the crossing of the Willamette River and how boundaries are established between N/NE and SE/central districts. The Alder map crosses the Willamette river in lower SE only and uses neighborhood organization boundaries; the Cedar map crosses the river in the central eastside and SE and uses Sandy Blvd. for a boundary; and the Maple map crosses the river in the central eastside and uses a combination of neighborhood organization boundaries and Sandy Blvd.
The Alder map is designed to promote broad engagement with central city issues and economic opportunities and distribute significant assets and institutions among multiple districts, using the Willamette River and I-84 as boundaries. Neighborhoods in lower SE share a district with demographically and socio-economically similar communities on the west side of the river and are connected by the Sellwood and Ross Island bridges.
The Cedar map uses transit corridors such as NE Sandy Blvd., SE 12th Ave., 82nd Ave. and TriMet MAX lines to prioritize the role of these arterial roadways in influencing the use of public space and notions of neighborhood on the eastern side of the city. Neighborhoods in the central eastside and inner SE that are bordered by the Willamette to the west and major transit lines to the east (bus and MAX) share a district with neighborhoods on the west side of the river.
Finally, the Maple map takes its direction to keep much of the central city together from the city’s Central City 2035 Plan, preserves the historic Albina neighborhood and adds several inner eastside neighborhoods. The city’s most densely populated and urbanized neighborhoods, where residential and commercial uses are tightly interwoven, exist in the central city. In this map, eastside neighborhoods with high percentages of renters (Central Eastside, Buckman, Kerns) share a district with similar renter-heavy neighborhoods on the westside (Goose Hollow, Old Town, University, South Waterfront), as well as other westside neighborhoods.
IDC is required to complete their district plan by August, prior to which they must hold at least two public hearings in each of the four proposed districts before voting to adopt a final version of the district map plan. In addition, they must ensure that district maps are consistent with state and federal laws and criteria. Once the final version is ready, it will need to be approved by nine out of 13 district commissioners in order for it to be adopted. If fewer than nine commissioners approve the plan, the most recommended plan would be sent to Portland City Council for consideration and adoption.
Community input on the draft map options is open through Saturday, July 22 and can be done in a variety of ways. Verbal testimony can be given at one of the eight IDC public hearings. Calls can be made to 311 to share comments verbally. Emails may be sent to DistrictCommission@portlandoregon.gov. Letters can be mailed to the Office of Management and Finance, Independent District Commission, 1120 SW 5th Ave., Room 901, Portland, OR 97204.
Links to the maps, Districting Summary Statistics including total age and voting age populations broken down by ethnicity, and details about the upcoming public hearings can be found at bit.ly/RedistrictingMapsPDX.