Two Omaha City Council members will present an amendment to proposed new district boundaries Tuesday after multiple community members spoke in opposition to redistricting plans last week.
The main concern shared with council members centered on the proposed transfer of an area in north downtown from District 2, which makes up much of North Omaha, to District 3, which encompasses much of downtown and midtown Omaha.
Under the contested proposal, the CHI Health Center, Riverfront Place condos, Gallup’s riverfront campus and the future site of the Kiewit Luminarium would have moved into District 3 and out of District 2, represented by Councilwoman Juanita Johnson.
District 2 would have gained an area further west that included a portion of Creighton University and Gifford Park.
Former State Sen. Ernie Chambers was one of several community members to voice concerns about the plan last week.
The move, Chambers said, would transfer assets and dilute the vote of North Omaha’s Black community.
“You cut off something that is of value as Black people, to our community of interests, and then you infused White people into that district to further dilute our community of interest,” Chambers said to council members.
Preston Love Jr., a longtime Omaha civic engagement activist, asked that council members “give serious thought” to the transfer of assets from district to district.
“(North downtown) is a great economic asset for North Omaha, which suffers from poverty, from a lack of economic vibrancy,” Love said. “We would hope that we could keep that asset.”
Following last week’s council meeting, Johnson and District 3 Councilman Danny Begley drafted an amendment that would keep north downtown in Johnson’s district.
The council members plan to swap the riverfront back to Johnson’s District 2, and a portion of Creighton University and the Gifford Park area back to Begley’s District 3.
“While the geography was a small change, I wasn’t aware of the passions that people had and the frustrations that people had with that change,” Begley said in an interview Monday. “We listened to people who came and testified and said well, now we understand their concerns with the changes.”
The process, Begley said, “is democracy in action.”
Other districts would also see geographic changes under the proposed boundaries.
Under the redistricting plan, City Council President Pete Festersen’s District 1, which includes Dundee, Benson and Florence, would move slightly to the west.
District 6, represented by Brinker Harding, would absorb much of the Rockbrook neighborhood previously in District 5, west of 108th Street and south of West Center Road.
District 5 and its councilman, Don Rowe, would absorb from District 6 an area north of West Center Road between 168th and 192nd Streets that includes Lakeside Hospital.
District 4, represented by Vinny Palermo, would continue to stretch west from South Omaha along the southern boundary of Douglas County. It would wrap around Ralston and reach as far as 96th Street, taking a small chunk of the current District 5.
The proposal is based on 2020 Census figures, which showed the City of Omaha with an official population of 486,051, up 19%, or 77,093 people, during the past decade. Under state law, the boundaries have to be substantially equal in population.
A vote on the new district boundaries is planned for Tuesday.