HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- In the latest in the fight over redistricting, Hispanic and Latino community leaders said they're worried the new maps approved by Houston City Council on Wednesday evening will dilute the voice of their people.
Councilmember Robert Gallegos repeatedly expressed concerns about Councilmember Abbie Kamin's amendment to the redistricting maps. The changes would keep Freedmen's Town, a historically Black neighborhood, within her district. The Houston Chronicle reported that residents did not want the transfer, and the executive director of the Freedmen Town's Conservancy was worried about setbacks to their multi-year projects if they had to collaborate with a different council member.
Kamin told ABC13 her amendment addressed the overwhelming requests and public testimony during multiple committee hearings from residents, community groups, and faith leaders in Freedmen's Town for their neighborhood to remain in District C. She said the area that was exchanged in order to keep Freedman's Town has a higher Hispanic population and increased the percentage of Hispanic residents in District H.
However, Gallegos stated Kamin's amendment would divide the Hispanic and Latino voice, which is a population that is already underrepresented in city government with him being the only Hispanic person on a council of 16 members. He said the areas that will be impacted have high percentages of Hispanic constituents but are experiencing gentrification and may see a decline in the near future.
"By doing this, it would dilute the vote of Hispanics in District H," Gallegos said in Wednesday's meeting. "We are not being represented like we should be represented in this horseshoe with 50 percent of the population being Hispanic."
Kamin pointed out that Gallegos' amendment that was passed during the city council meeting lowered the Hispanic population in District H and increased it in his District I, based on requests from residents to keep certain areas together.
The city's redistricting team said redrawing the maps is a very complicated and complex process, with so many different people wanting different things. According to the Houston Chronicle, City Demographer Jerry Wood said they did their best to make "as few people unhappy as possible" and comply with the law. It states that the most populous district cannot have 10 percent more residents than the least populated area.
"The biggest problem we have with redistricting is the Hispanic community is basically spread all the way through Houston. So it's difficult to come up with single-member districts where the Hispanic committee actually represents a majority of the registered voters," Douglas Ray, senior assistant city attorney, said.
"The fact is that there's very few areas in town that are so concentrated to where you could guarantee a Hispanic candidate would be the one favored by the voters," Ray added. "I think what we came up with is probably as good as we could do under the situation that we had. I don't think it will have a negative impact on the Hispanic population, but I'm sure there's people who would disagree with that."
Dr. Sergio Lira, who is the president of Greater Houston LULAC, told ABC13 they plan to file a lawsuit to replace the city's five at-large positions with single-member seats. The Hispanic civil rights organization will also begin collecting signatures to put this issue on the 2023 ballot as a referendum.
"We consistently say we are the most diverse city in America, but are we the most equitable in terms of representation? I want folks to understand that we're doing our best for fair and balanced representation based on the growth of the Latino population and the Asian/Pacific Islander community in Harris County. They deserve a voice at the table," Lira said.
Gallegos originally did not agree with LULAC's plans to sue the city, but after the new developments, he told his fellow councilmembers Wednesday evening that he now believes their lawsuit has merit.
"In time, District H will no longer be a Hispanic district. By supporting this, you will have LULAC coming back and they will have an argument this time. I was hesitant to support them, but now I will have to," Gallegos said.
The original article and video did not have statements and responses from Councilmember Abbie Kamin. Additions have been made to this report to include her comments