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Residents in unincorporated areas keep close eye on districting process

SEATTLE - Rural area residents will be keeping a close eye on the work of the recently appointed King County Districting Committee that has the task of reducing the number of districts in Metropolitan King County from 13 to nine.

Last month, voters passed King County Charter Amendment 1 with a 56-percent approval. Since being appointed by the County Council on Nov. 24, a bi-partisan citizen committee has met twice to figure out the details of how to complete the process of not only redrawing the county district's boundaries, but eliciting public opinion on the proposed maps and finally voting on the new districts. The King County Districting Committee is set to approve the final map by Jan. 15.

Prior to 1992, the County Council had nine members, but after lobbying from the county's nonurban areas for more representation, the county expanded to 13. Much of the support for reducing the number of council members this year came from the suburban and rural areas.

The last time the county redrew its district lines in 2001, there were some proposals that left the entire east portion of the county with only one district. The map that was adopted split the rural Eastside into three districts, a number King County Councilwoman Kathy Lambert said she would like to keep. She said she has gone through some preliminary ideas of where districts could be located and she said there would ideally be three rural districts, three urban districts and three suburban districts to give county residents the best representation. Should the rural area lose any representation, it will be an uphill battle to get any of that representation back.

"Not only will their representation in local government be diminished, but so will everything else," she said.

But Steve Ohlenkamp, chair of the districting committee, said he doesn't imagine the rural areas will be lumped into one category.

"I'm sure both sides are concerned about that. Vashon Island is also rural, sometimes that gets forgotten. That issue will be addressed. I can't imagine there would be only one voice for the rural areas. There's too many issues out there to be dealt with," he said.

John Schlosser, the committee's districting master who also served as districting master in 1996 and 2001, said factors such as school districts, water sheds, natural features, annexation areas, growth boundaries, city boundaries and major transportation corridors will also play a role.

"We're trying to group together communities with interests in common," Schlosser said. "The issue of race is important in the extent that we, as a group, choose to not devise a plan that favors or causes disadvantage to certain groups."

The issues of race may not be as important to residents of East King County, which has a lower number of nonwhites than West King County, as getting at least as much rural representation as it has now. About 20 percent of the county lives outside incorporated areas and residents of those areas will be looking to see how they are represented.

"In reading the feedback from the last process, some people say they want an entire ethnic group in one district because they feel it gives them more power, while others want their group to be in two districts because it gives them two representatives to go to," said districting committee member Steve Dennis. "Which method favors and which disfavors?"

Each of the county's 13 districts represents about 133,000 people, a number that would increase to more than 190,000 with nine districts.

The committee will receive multiple maps showing various factors (such as those named above, in addition to the dispersion of ethnic groups maps) on Dec. 30. The committee will get a copy of the proposed redistricting plan on Jan. 3, at which time it will be made available to the public via the county's Web site.

The King County Districting Committee will be holding public hearings on the new districts in:

* Bellevue: Wednesday, Dec. 15, 6 p.m., City Hall, 11511 Main St.

* Lake Forest Park: Wednesday, Jan 5, 6 p.m., City Hall, 17425 Ballinger Way N.E.

* Auburn: Thursday, Jan. 6, 6 p.m., City Hall, 25 West Main.

* Seattle: Saturday, Jan. 8, 10 a.m., King County Courthouse, Council Chambers, 516 Third Ave.

For information regarding the county's districting effort, visit www.metrokc.gov/council/districting/index.htm.

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