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New election district ideas emerge

The process of sketching new boundaries for Modesto's City Council elections next year is far from over, with new drafts emerging Thursday at a neighborhood meeting in south Modesto.

The council commission responsible for drawing districts still is looking for consensus on whether it should split south and west Modesto into separate districts or combine them within one political boundary.

The fate of the airport neighborhood south of Yosemite Boulevard also remains in flux, with plans grouping it several ways.

The commission met in the heart of south Modesto, a neighborhood with a large Spanish-speaking population, at Hanshaw Middle School on Las Vegas Street, just west of Crows Landing Road.

The neighborhood often is considered under-represented in politics. Residents from west and south Modesto sued the city in 2004, pressing for voting reforms that would boost the odds for Latino candidates.

The meeting's purpose was to hear what these residents had to say about the proposed district boundaries. The city provided a Spanish translator for this meeting.

The translator, however, was not needed. About 20 people were at the meeting, including members of the commission, and only a few were from south Modesto.

Rocio Velasquez, 43, was one of those south Modesto residents who showed up. Her family has been living in the neighborhood for five years since they moved to Modesto from the Bay Area.

"I feel like I need to know more about this because this is the first meeting I have attended," Velasquez said to the commission when asked for her views. "I don't have any idea how these ideas are going to affect my community."

She said after the meeting that south and west Modesto might fit into one district, because they are more aligned with one another in terms of economic background and geography. But she is not sure.

Velasquez said there is a strong argument to be made in favor of splitting south and west Modesto and attaching the neighborhoods to other stronger economic areas.

"If we get stuck together, what difference will it make if nobody shows up," said Velasquez, referring to the lack of south Modesto residents at the meeting. "It is sad. It's not that they don't want to attend; it's that they're too busy working."

Velasquez said she will attend the commission's next meeting. She brought along her daughter, 17-year-old Michelle Velasquez, to Thursday's meeting.

Michelle said she hopes the commission will the pick the plan that unifies communities such as south and west Modesto, which seem to fit together.

"I just think they have the same problems and issues, and I think they would come together to fix those problems," she said.

The commission has narrowed its preferences to two maps, both of which were submitted by residents. Both could be discarded for another option.

Commission's second meeting

This was the second time the commission held a neighborhood meeting to hear residents' input on the proposed districts.

The first meeting produced a lot of concerns and ideas from the public, said Doug Johnson, a consultant working with the commission. Residents can submit their ideas for new maps on the commission's Web site.

Brian Hill, a Webmaster who works for Modesto Junior College, submitted one of the new maps. His map puts south and west Modesto in one district, while attaching the airport neighborhood to central Modesto and the La Loma neighborhood.

"After hearing feedback at the first meeting, I tried to correct some the problems people were bringing up," Hill said.

Rosa Jimenez of Modesto said she sees some promise in Hill's proposed map.

Agreement, disagreement

"There's a lot of movement within the same geographical area," Jimenez said of the airport and La Loma neighborhoods.

Jimenez, however, strongly disagrees with one of the plans that puts the airport and La Loma neighborhoods in the same district with south Modesto.

"What's the incentive to deal with issues in south Modesto if it doesn't affect the daily lives of people in La Loma," Jimenez told the commission.

The commission intends to issue its recommendation to the council in October. The council cannot tinker with the boundaries, although it can reject the map and send it back to the commission.

The commission is scheduled for another meeting Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the YMCA, 2700 McHenry Ave. in Modesto.

More information and a look at potential district maps are available online at www.drawmodesto.org.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at rahumada@modbee.com or 578-2394.

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