By Elizabeth Miller.
The Green Towson Alliance opposes the October 6, 2021 map proposed by the Baltimore County redistricting Commission for two reasons: 1) the map fails to unite greater Towson into a single district and 2) the map as drawn does not conform to the Voting Rights Act due to unlawful minority vote dilution.
GTA wrote to the commission requesting that greater Towson be included in a single councilmanic district. Greater Towson can be defined as neighborhoods that consider Towson to be their “downtown,” and its perimeter closely resembles our association boundaries, which includes approximately 96,000 residents. This area is currently divided among four councilmanic districts. While the proposed District 6 is more contiguous than the current District 5, the proposed plan persists in dividing greater Towson among four councilmanic districts.
Most alarming is the boundary change that divides downtown Towson in two. Councilpersons would agree it would be unthinkable to split Pikesville, Catonsville, Essex, Owings Mills, Perry Hall or Dundalk between two districts, but that is what is proposed for our County seat! The northern half of downtown Towson is proposed to move into District 3. It has completely different land use, land development and livability concerns from that suburban and rural district.
Downtown Towson is within a performance-based zoning overlay district with environmental sustainability requirements that recognize the unique challenges of the urban setting such as the heat island effect, lack of open space, poor air quality and polluted stormwater run-off. Splitting Downtown Towson between two districts could cause legislative gridlock on these and other important issues. Downtown Towson and its nearby neighborhoods are a community, and the Commission must implement its directive to “provide districts that are compact, contiguous, and in which due regard is given to natural, geographic and community boundaries.”
In keeping with our principles of environmental justice, GTA endorses this evening’s unanimous call for maps that provide more racial equity in redistricting. Giving citizens an opportunity to expand the diversity of the County Council will help address the outsized burden that minorities and low-income communities carry due to historic injustices and the disproportionate harmful effects of climate change. Ms. Bevins, we look forward to the election of the first black woman councilmember from a second majority-minority district.
With all due respect to the difficult task of redistricting, the Commission is obligated to comply with the Voting Rights Act, not personal beliefs about whether or not people vote based on color. We believe the Baltimore County Council can ill afford to invite completely avoidable litigation at a time when we must act on climate change and reckon with the County’s legacy of racism. Please redraw the maps to put the Downtown Overlay District and its surrounding neighborhoods in a single Towson district and comply with the Voting Rights Act by enhancing racial equity throughout Baltimore County.
Elizabeth Miller gave the above testimony on behalf of the Green Towson Alliance at the Baltimore County Redistricting Public Hearing on October 26th, 2021.