Blaine City Council approves ward redistricting plan

Published on Wed, Aug 10, 2011 by Pat Grubb

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Blaine city clerk Sheri Sanchez swears in Dennis Olason as city council member. Olason replaces Scott Dodd, who resigned on July 25. Photo by Pat Grubb

Capping nearly four months of deliberation, Blaine City Council has approved a ward redistricting plan that will take effect in time for the November general election.

  Community development director Michael Jones explained the various options open to council, saying, “You could choose to redistrict by passing one of the two ordinances, you could choose to not redistrict or you could choose to study alternatives.” He added that while council could choose further study, they were required to come to a point of resolution.

According to state law, cities in Washington organized by internal wards are required to review and adjust them following each decennial census. The last census took place in 2010.

Council first discussed the issue on May 9 and on two subsequent occasions before taking action on Monday, August 8. The latest meeting was the second public hearing held to allow the public a chance to comment.

The redistricting choices confronting council had been narrowed down from earlier meetings to three choices; one that would retain the status quo and two that would adjust boundaries and population counts. The current structure contained 2,084 voters in Ward 1, 1,769 in Ward 2 and 831 in Ward 3. Under the newly approved division, Ward 1 will hold 1,612; Ward 2, 1,769 and Ward 3, 1,303 and will greatly reduce the disparity between ward voter counts. The three wards in the previous plan had a total variance of 1,461 voters from the average while the new structure varies only by 517. The second redistricting option would have reduced the disparity even further but would result in five of the current council members living in Ward 3.
The greatest change between the old and the new is that Ward 3 now stretches across the water from Semiahmoo to encompass the westerly portion of Ward 1 (see maps).

Council member Harry Robinson expressed reservation about the redistricting, saying he didn’t believe the news had gotten out to the public. “I am concerned that we’ll do this and people will say they didn’t know about it. It bothers me that we’re making this change without public involvement.”

In response, city clerk Sheri Sanchez pointed out that the issue had been advertised in The Northern Light and Bellingham Herald and had been the subject of two public hearings and three council meetings.

Perhaps alluding to the practical impact, mayor Bonnie Onyon mused, “I don’t know if we need wards seeing as everyone in the city votes the entire slate.”

The ordinance passed 4-3, with Paul Greenough, Harry Robinson and Charlie Hawkins opposed.

Right: A map of the old ward boundaries. Left: A map of the newly approved ward boundaries. Images provided by the City of Blaine.