Fairfax County supervisors voted 9-1 Dec. 7 to approve a new boundary map for the Board of Supervisors and School Board that swapped only seven of the county’s 247 precincts.
But the board’s lone Republican, Supervisor Patrick Herrity (R-Springfield), complained that five of the changed precincts were in his district and that he had seen the proposed map only after close of business on the preceding day.
“I’m disappointed for Fairfax County,” said Herrity, adding that the board’s last redistricting a decade ago was more fair, equitable and less politically tainted. “Back then, the board operated less on political agenda and more on decorum and looking for commonsense answers to problems,” he said.
Supervisors this summer formed a 20-member Redistricting Advisory Committee (RAC) that developed 24 potential boundary maps and fielded 40 more created by county residents using Geographic Information System software – a “huge increase” over the three maps local residents submitted 10 years ago, said Erin Ward, deputy county attorney.
Time pressures often affect redistricting, said Ward, noting that supervisors in 2011 had to approve the new map in time for the June primary, because their seats were up for grabs that fall. This year, pandemic-delayed delivery of 2020 U.S. census figures pushed the process into autumn, she said.
Supervisors tweaked a map submitted by a member of the public – listed as “PUB_9_0919_2336” in RAC’s final report – that reassigned six precincts and featured maximum deviations of 2.3 percent above the targeted per-district population of 127,900 residents and 2 percent below.
(The plan’s author will remain a mystery, as the committee decided from the outset not to identify who had submitted proposals so that results could be evaluated objectively, said county spokesman Brian Worthy.)
The board’s Democratic majority made several changes to that proposal, moving Precinct 703 (Fort Buffalo) from Providence District to Mason, Precinct 730 (Penderbrook) from Providence to Springfield District and Precinct 827 (Irving) from Springfield to Braddock District.
The board also deleted the RAC map’s proposed moves of the Army and Price precincts and instead relocated Precinct 626 (Saratoga) from Mount Vernon to Springfield District; switched Precinct 840 (West Springfield) from Springfield to Lee; split Precinct 717 (Woodburn) at Interstate 495 between Providence and Mason districts, moving the precinct’s eastern area to Mason; and moved Precinct 933 (Compton) from Sully to Springfield District.
Dranesville and Hunter Mill districts underwent no changes.
“Out of the 1.2 million people that are out there in this county, sometimes they have better ideas than we could come up with on our own,” said Supervisor James Walkinshaw (D-Braddock), the board’s Legislative Committee chairman.
The resulting seven precinct changes are even fewer than the 10 relocated a decade ago, Walkinshaw said. The largest and smallest of the resulting districts have a population deviation of 4.58 percent, far below the maximum 10-percent difference that could have been allowed, he added.
“This is a plan that’s minimally disruptive,” Walkinshaw said. “It does not displace any member of this board, any member of the School Board, any planning commissioner, any one of our district offices.”
The plan protects existing communities of interest, including towns and historic neighborhoods, while uniting some communities that currently are divided, Walkinshaw said. These include neighborhoods south of Lake Accotink Park, which are split between Braddock and Springfield districts, and ones around Seven Corners, which are divided between Mason and Providence, he said.
But Herrity, who cast the only vote against the proposal, said the person who submitted the original map probably would not recognize it now.
During the last redistricting, each supervisor had the chance to discuss the proposed changes to his or her district with the Legislative Committee chairman, then-Supervisor Jeff McKay (D-Lee), who now chairs the board, Herrity said. Walkinshaw did not do so with him this year, Herrity said, even though five of the seven changes affected Springfield District.
“We just don’t make changes in other people’s districts without consulting the supervisor,” Herrity said. “That’s been a longstanding priority and policy of the board.”
The final map was not available for public review or comment before the Dec. 7 meeting, Herrity said. Trying to learn if county staff had shown RAC the altered map (they hadn’t), Herrity inquired of Walkinshaw, who responded, “I’m not here to answer your question, supervisor.”
Instead of consolidating the West Springfield community by adding a couple of precincts, as recommended by RAC, the new map splits it into three different magisterial districts, the one outcome Herrity hoped to avoid.
Herrity added the removed precincts are right across the street from his office and “I could hit it with a stone.”
Springfield’s new Penderbrook precinct, located around the city of Fairfax’s west end and next to Oakton, is a 25-minute drive from the district office and may necessitate a satellite office, Herrity said. Dranesville District already has this arrangement, with a main office in McLean and a satellite branch in Herndon, he said.
Springfield was the only district to lose population since the last redistricting, with 3,000 fewer residents now, said McKay, who said this year’s process was not politically motivated and still needs to be reviewed and certified by Virginia’s attorney general.
Herrity said the process used was a snub not only to him but to all Springfield Districts and “is against everything this board used to stand for.”
Walkinshaw said RAC had not recommended any one map.
“These districts don’t belong to any of us,” he said. “These districts belong to the people we represent.”