The Pinellas County Commission has approved updated boundaries for its single-member district map and its at-large member district map, with the most significant changes affecting Clearwater voters.
The approval marks the end of the redistricting process, which occurs once a decade after each U.S. census to adjust for population shifts. This year was the first time an 11-member redistricting board, created by a voter referendum, convened with the help of a consultant to review data and make suggestions to the commission.
The County Commission on Tuesday adopted a variation of a single-member district map recommended by the redistricting board and an at-large map the committee had not considered or reviewed.
Pinellas saw minimal population growth over the past 10 years spread evenly across the county, with a 7 percent increase to 984,000 residents. In comparison, Hillsborough County grew by 20 percent to 1.47 million people.
But officials had a condensed timeline to review data and implement changes. Census data arrived five months late due to delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic, pushing the redistricting board’s first meeting to September. The law requires maps to be adopted by the end of the year.
The new map for the four single-member districts addresses the current splitting of much of Clearwater by bringing Clearwater Beach into District 5 with the rest of the city. Previously Clearwater Beach was sliced off into District 4 with the northernmost part of the county.
The map also makes minor changes to the boundaries of Districts 5, 6 and 7 so that the cities of Largo, Seminole and Pinellas Park will each fall completely within one district. Previously, each city had portions in different districts.
In this map, the boundary for District 5 that juts up into the Countryside area is pulled slightly south to Enterprise Road.
Roughly 16,000 residents were moved into a different single member district in this new map, according to consultant Kurt Spitzer.
The redistricting board had recommended a map that made the same adjustments to Clearwater Beach but proposed moving the boundary jutting up into Countryside farther south to Sunset Point Road.
Commissioner Karen Seel said on Tuesday that bringing the boundary down to Sunset Point Road would take too much unincorporated area out of District 4. She said better practice would be to keep the boundary lines “as close to what they have been all these years.”
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The single-member district map was approved 6-1 with Commissioner Kathleen Peters in opposition. Peters said bringing the boundary down to Sunset Point Road would have made the district more compact, which is more in line with the guidance of the County Charter.
The most significant change to the map for the three at-large districts is that the western end of St. Petersburg is moved from District 1 into District 3 to be with the rest of the city. It also includes minor shifts to small areas along district boundaries where the Census Bureau changed the shape of geographic blocks.
The redistricting board recommended the small shifts to adjust for census blocks but did not consider bringing all of St. Petersburg into District 3. That change was proposed by Commissioner Charlie Justice, who serves at-large District 3. The commission adopted the at-large map unanimously.
Spitzer, the consultant, said he did not calculate how many residents will be affected by the shift in boundaries of at-large Districts 1 and 3 since residents countywide vote for those seats. The main impact will be in the residential boundaries for any candidate running for those two seats.
Attorney Brian Aungst Jr., who served as chairperson for the redistricting board, said the inaugural process went smoothly despite the condensed timeline.
He said next time it would be helpful for commissioners to submit all of their suggestions to the redistricting board ahead of time “so our work product can be more helpful.” But Aungst noted the board’s recommendations were suggestions and the commission had the authority to make changes.
“The outcome was a map we hadn’t seen and a map a majority (of the redistricting board) didn’t vote to recommend, but it certainly doesn’t mean those maps are bad or the process didn’t work,” Aungst said.