For the residents of Detroit Boulevard in South Sacramento, City Council elections have always been a little tricky.
Margarita Chavez, who is co-chairperson of the Detroit Boulevard Neighborhood Association, says during last year’s elections many residents were supportive of District 8 candidate Mai Vang. But one neighbor realized he couldn’t vote for her. The reason? Although Chavez’s neighbor lives just a few houses down, he resides in a different City Council district.
“And that was kind of frustrating, you know?” Chavez said.
The Detroit Boulevard neighborhood extends like a long finger off of Meadowview Road. Residents who reside along this mile-long, dead-end street call it a “one-way in, one-way out” neighborhood, because there’s only a single entrance. And though the community is close-knit because of this, it’s also split — the front half of Detroit Boulevard is part of District 8, but the back is District 7.
“It’s the weirdest lines of how they shape the district boundaries. It’s crazy, it doesn’t make sense,” Chavez said.
Detroit Boulevard runs north-south across the boundary for Sacramento City Council District 8 on the north half of the street and District 7 to the south.
Now, the city of Sacramento is in the process of redrawing its Council district lines, along with most government bodies in California and the country. The residents of Detroit Boulevard are hoping their neighborhood will be united as one during this city “redistricting” process.
The Detroit Boulevard neighborhood is a mostly Hmong and Latino community, and many residents don’t speak English as a first language. The neighborhood has been on the border of District 7 and District 8 since 1991, when maps were redrawn to have the two districts intersect. It’s one of many multiracial neighborhoods in Sacramento and California that have been caught between district lines — something that can result in a neighborhood or group of people having less political power and ability to advocate for themselves.
While District 7 reaches into South Sacramento, the majority of its population resides in the Pocket neighborhood, an area that has a higher average income and is majority white. By contrast, the neighborhoods in the South Sacramento section of District 7 tend to be more racially and culturally diverse and lower income.
Margarita Chavez walks through her neighborhood on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021.Andrew Nixon / CapRadio
Advocates like Cha Vang with the group AAPIs for Civic Empowerment say city services like trash clean-up or speed bumps to slow traffic are more difficult to obtain for communities like Detroit Boulevard, because two council members often have to be consulted.
“Just being able to build visibility is really hard because you have two separate council members,” Vang said. “Whenever there was a neighborhood clean-up program … it can't just be one district, it has to be both.”
Cha Vang remembers a story of an effort to convert a park, part of the nearby Susan B. Anthony Elementary School, into a space the entire neighborhood could use. The process took years.
“It's a lot more hassle. There is a lot more red tape that they have to go through to make sure that that happens,” Vang said.
The Detroit Boulevard neighborhood is currently represented by Council member Mai Vang, whose district also includes the Meadowview and Laguna neighborhoods. But Council member Rick Jennings of District 7 also represents Detroit Boulevard, even though his district includes Greenhaven, the Pocket, Valley Hi and parts of Meadowview.
Members of the city’s independent redistricting commission could not discuss the current redistricting effort, stating they aren’t allowed to talk about “anything that can influence the public input process.”
However, experts say that while redistricting strives to keep communities whole, sometimes it isn’t always possible, because every council district must have an equal number of people in it.
Paul Mitchell is a redistricting expert and founder of the Democratic consulting group Redistricting Partners, a company that helps local governments draw redistricting lines. He said cities try to not split certain communities across different districts, but sometimes it isn’t possible.
“It really should be what they strive toward is identifying these communities and then unifying them,” Mitchell said.
He mentioned Los Angeles’ Koreatown as an area that has historically been spread across different districts. But it’s been united during this most recent round of redistricting, due to advocacy from the community.
I think they don't share really similar values and really similar interests. Folks in the Pocket, economically, they're just really different.
Dao Vang, who handles redistricting outreach for Hmong Innovating Politics in South Sacramento, hopes that the city’s Hmong population and other AAPI communities in the area can one day be unified under one district, as well.
“There's a lot of Hmong folks, not just in the Detroit Boulevard area,” Dao Vang said, adding that there are similar split neighborhoods along Interstate 5 and elsewhere in districts 7 and 8.
He worries that the majority of people who live in District 7 won’t always have very much in common with many of the Asian Americans who live in District 8, who tend to be newer immigrants.
“I think they don't share really similar values and really similar interests. Folks in the Pocket, economically, they're just really different,” Vang said.
This has posed organizing challenges. For instance, HIP is encouraging Council members to open vaccine clinics. But vaccination rates in the Pocket are much higher than many South Sacramento communities, so it’s difficult to serve the varying needs of District 7.
Charlotte Coron used to live in the District 7 side of Detroit Boulevard before moving into District 8. The neighborhood association member is hoping the city will reconsider the lines this time around, and that her neighborhood can eventually be entirely united under District 8.
“It's such a small part of District 7 that we kind of felt sometimes like we were left waiting, like that’s the last thing they'll handle,” Coron said.
That could change. Of the six redistricting maps chosen by the city’s redistricting commission to go forward, all suggest unifying Detroit Boulevard. This would be the first time in 30 years the neighborhood would be under a single council district.
But there are many steps before that becomes a reality. The next public meeting to discuss the city’s redistricting draft map is scheduled for December 1. The deadline to finalize the maps is December 16.