The city of Long Beach, Calif., requires re-evaluation of its City Council districts once every five years to adjust for changes in population and ethnic composition. In 1991, redistricting was a labor-intensive process that took five months to complete. Thanks to technology, the next round of redistricting was much more pleasant. GIS Manager Tina Dickinson, using only ArcView, developed an application allowing Long Beach to wrap up
the redistricting project in just over two weeks.
Ruth McGree, chief of staff to Councilman H. Delano Roosevelt, said the 1991 redistricting was done manually, with each minor change to a district requiring recalculation of ethnicity and population figures. "We would sit down with maps and move district lines and see what census blocks were taken in. Then we would add up those figures, locate the larger-density areas and redesign the districts so that people were spread out evenly among all nine. It seemed to take forever.
"The political nature of redistricting is tough enough," McGree said, "having to add figures up on a Paradox-type program and estimate the final demographics and population figures for every change made was really tough." Since even the smallest change to a district required so much time and effort to assess the impact on all the others, council members were limited in the number of changes they could make. Not everyone was happy with the results.
Dickinson's user-friendly application, on the other hand, let council members and their aides create hypothetical district changes almost as fast as they were needed, after only 30 minutes of instruction. Without this application, redistricting in 1996 might have taken nearly a year to complete.
Of course, the technology was only part of the solution; before it could be used, the city had to adjust for the undercount of the 1990 Census, sort through a decade of economic decline, and come up with a new model on which to base ethnicity and population estimates.
Decade of Decline
From the late 1980s onward, Long Beach has experienced a series of economic setbacks. The Navy closed its massive shipyard, including its base, housing area and hospital; the Los Angeles riots torched part of the city, and Douglas Aircraft cut its workforce by nearly 50 percent. The cost? A $4 billion hole in the economy and 58,600 jobs lost. More than 21,000 people left town for good. Trying to assess the resulting changes in population and ethnicity, and come up with anything resembling an accurate census for the redistricting program presented a formidable challenge.
Assembling the Data
Data acquisition and processing was the task of Advanced Planning Director Jack Humphrey. Drawing from the 1990 Census, and from a subsequent demographic model developed by the Urban Research Unit, Humphrey created a 1.8MB spreadsheet down to the census-block level, then used it as a basis to estimate the ethnicity and population of the various districts.
Humphrey acknowledged the estimates were bound to be shaky. "Certainly, there was some element of error, but we felt we kept it to a minimum. Also, since the redistricting process involved large areas of the city, we believed the differences would average out."
In addition to new addresses picked up during the Census Bureau's LUCA (Local Updating of Census Addresses) Program in 1995 (see "The Census of The Century," Government Technology, August 1998), the planning department factored in the number of buildings and apartments demolished or no longer occupied, and checked with schools to determine the current ethnicity in various areas. "We couldn't wait till the year 2000 to do this," Dickinson pointed out. "Besides, we expect to run the redistricting process again as soon as the Census 2000 data is available to us. We'll probably see lots of changes in ethnicity, not so much in the number of people."
Building the Application