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Monday, November 14, 2011

Washington County Redistricting meeting Oct. 13

The RI Reapportionment Commission met at South Kingstown High School on Thursday, October 13th at 7 PM. A quorum of commissioners was there, including Co-Chairs: Rep. Stephen Ucci and Sen. Michael McCaffrey, RI House members: Rep. Donald Lally. Rep. Daniel Reilly, Rep. Joseph Trillo, RI Senate members: Sen. Bartrice Lanzi, Sen. Francis Maher and public members: Felix Appolonia, Matthew Gunnip, Ray Richman.

Attendees were met at the door by staffer, Ryan Taylor, who asked people to  sign in and was handing out Percent Population Change by Census Tract maps for the state as a whole and Washington and Kent Counties, along with Percentage of Housing Units Considered Vacant maps for the South Coast and the Narragansett Bay coastline. He said they were available on the website (http://www.riredistricting.com//), but I couldn't find the maps by census  tract, only those by county and town, which are listed under Research along with many other tables and maps. However, Kimball Brace of Election Data Services said there were updates to the site daily.

There were fewer than 20 people in the audience, not including the commissioners and staffers. The following current or former legislators were in the audience: Representatives Doreen Marie Costa, Spencer Dickinson, Laurence Ehrhardt (Deputy Minority Leader), Larry Valencia, Donna Walsh and former Representative Michael Rice.

Kimball Brace gave a PowerPoint presentation to the Commissioners. He said it would be available on the website. He explained some terminology with a "census block" equaling 100 people and a "Census tract" equaling 4000. Boundaries of "census tracts" have not changed since the 1950s. If the population has increased, the have been split by boundaries have remained the same. Washington County has had the largest percentage increase in population, but not the largest raw number; the largest raw number increase is Providence. The town of South Kingstown has gained population, while the town of Narragansett has lost population. However the coastal areas of South Kingstown, south of RT 1, have lost population, even though the town as a whole has gained. He discussed the Vacant Housing maps and said they were done on the "census block" level and the results depend on how many houses are in a block, which can skew the results, which are calculated as a percentage of vacant houses within a block. Maps of the Percentage Population Change by House and Senate district were part of the PowerPoint presentation. He said representatives from the Census Bureau will be attending upcoming hearings to answer Commissioners questions about the

Large maps of current RI Senate and House districts were posted on the wall, along with a blank street map of Washington County on which audience members were encouraged to draw their neighborhood lines. The Commission staff is interested in learning how residents group themselves or identify themselves in geographic terms.

Rep. Trillo questioned the large increase in vacant housing in coastal areas in the last 10 years. He wondered if the census being conducted in April caused a lower tally. Kim Brace said the census takers returned 6 times to any house where no one had been at home. Rep. Lally asked if RI tax payers could be cross referenced with specific houses to determine, if the houses were 2nd homes or owned by out-of-state residents. Kim Brace said the Census Bureau is not allowed to release any information identifying an individual, so that cross referencing couldn't be done. Audience member Dale Holberton, South Kingstown Town Clerk, said the neighborhoods on the south shore have many seasonal homes, snowbird owners and older owners, whose children have grown and moved away. which might account for the large increase in vacant houses.

Commissioner Ray Rickman spoke of the trend of increasing non-white population in the country and in RI. It is estimated that the US will be majority non-white in 2030 and RI in 2050. In the last census, the percentage Hispanic population increased significantly, the percentage African American population slightly and the percentage white population decreased slightly.

Kim Brace said the Commission would be back in South Kingstown in about 8 weeks with maps for possible district changes. Ryan Taylor said anyone is welcome to come by the Redistricting office at the State House and he will walk them through how to use the software to draw a map. He also said that he or Kim Brace would be willing to attend the forums on Redistricting that the League is planning. He seemed very interested in getting feedback from the public.

The next meeting is Monday, October 17th at the State House in Room 313 at 7 PM.

The meeting adjourned by 8 PM.

Notes taken by Nancy Burroughs, LWV South Kingstown/Narragansett

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