Districting debacle: Blurry line for Cambria Heights

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Current district lines for Cambria Heights could possibly be moved.Photo Courtesy of the NYC Districting Commission
Current district lines for Cambria Heights could possibly be moved.

Cambria Heights residents are standing unified against a proposal to divide them into two council districts.

Around 400 people attended an emergency town hall meeting on Sunday, October 21, hosted by attorney and assembly hopeful Clyde Vanel.

“We were expecting 40 people,” said Vanel, who was pleasantly surprised by the community turnout.

Vanel told the community that the New York City Districting Commission was drawing up plans to move a section of Cambria Heights from District 27 into the neighboring District 31. This map was based on population changes from the 2010 census, designed to make sure each district contains an equal number of constituents.

However, at Community Board 13’s monthly meeting the next day on Monday, October 22, residents learned that the commission is working on revising this proposed map, and trying to keep the neighborhood together.

Jonathan Ettricks, director of community outreach for the commission, attended Monday’s meeting and spoke to over 100 concerned residents.

“The first proposal cut out a small piece of Cambria Heights based on population change only,” said Ettricks. “It didn’t take into account the needs and concerns of the people of Cambria Heights.”

The current line for District 27 runs along 121st Avenue from Springfield Boulevard to the Cross Island Parkway. The preliminary draft moves 119th Avenue from Springfield Boulevard to 230th Street into District 31.

Ettricks said that the first proposal was scratched last week — before Sunday’s town hall meeting — and that “the people who organized the meeting hadn’t looked at the [districting] website or called me.”

After a second public hearing on Wednesday, October 10, the commission began revising maps based on public input.

“The goal is to try to put Cambria Heights into [District] 27,” said Ettricks.

“They’re going to ‘try’?” countered Vanel, who is continuing to urge community engagement.

Vanel insists that Sunday’s emergency meeting was necessary, because a large majority of the community was still unaware of the redistricting proposal, as shown from the large turnout.

“I don’t understand how the commission could tell the community: ‘We met, we’ll try to keep Cambria Heights in one community, but the process is still going,” said Vanel. “How definitive is that?”

At the town hall meeting, Vanel passed around a petition, and hopes to acquire 1,000 signatures. He also suggests that residents write letters to the commission voicing their concerns. The process, according to Vanel, is “still not over.”

“Go to your block, go to your neighbors, go to your friends. Empower yourselves,” he said.

However, Ettricks said that the commission is in fact working to accommodate the neighborhood.

“As long as Cambria Heights can be put into [District] 27 as a whole without exceeding the deviation called for by the charter, it’s something that could be done, and that’s what we’re looking at now,” he said.

The New York City charter that Ettricks referenced requires drawing district lines that keep neighborhoods intact.

The next public meeting addressing this issue, among others citywide, is being held at New York Law School on Tuesday, October 30, at 1 p.m. Final draft plans from the commission will be submitted to the City Council by November 5; if those plans are rejected, another round of public hearings will commence. Residents can visit www.nyc.gov/districting for more information.

“People need to continue to pay attention to the process,” said Ettricks.