Ken Kalthoff, NBCDFW
Residents in Pleasant Grove are looking toward a redistricting battle to gain representation for the 42% Hispanic population in Dallas.
Hispanic leaders are threatening to go to court over the redistricting of the Dallas City Council if additional seats favoring the city's growing Latino population are not created.
The 2010 Census shows that while the overall number of people living in Dallas remained about the same compared with 2000, the Hispanic population increased by more than 84,000 people. Hispanics now comprise 42 percent of the city's population, up from 36 percent 10 years earlier.
LULAC leader Jesse Diaz said the group is preparing for a lawsuit.
"We're talking to attorneys," he said. "This time, we're not going to down as easy. We're going to go down fighting."
The increase in the Hispanic population is especially evident in the Pleasant Grove area of Southeast Dallas where Diaz has been in the real estate business for around 30 years.
"I think it’s time for us to have a voice downtown," he said. "The Pleasant Grove area has always been treated like a stepchild."
In an earlier round of redistricting about 20 years ago, Pleasant Grove was sliced into four districts to boost the number of black seats in the City Council, Diaz said. A similar map survived redistricting in 2000, he said.
Today, all four City Council members who represent Southeast Dallas black. None of them live there, Diaz said.
"The only time you see them is when there's a ribbon cutting," Diaz said.
"This area has changed to majority Hispanic, and it's time for Pleasant Grove to be a Hispanic district," he said.
Interim Mayor Dwaine Caraway is one of the Pleasant Grove council representatives.
He said Pleasant Grove has been well represented at City Hall but agreed that it should be united in this year’s redistricting.
"We will not play the politics of this issue to make it race," he said. "It will be about a contiguous district."
As the Hispanic population in Dallas grew, the black population dropped to 25 percent, with white non-Hispanic residents at 29 percent, the Census shows.
Whites currently hold seven of the 14 City Council seats. Blacks hold four seats, and Hispanics hold three.
Districts in an updated district map must each include about an equal population of about 85,000 people.
Three districts currently have far more than that, while three others have far fewer.
A redistricting commission has been appointed by the City Council to juggle priorities and recommend a new map this fall.
The commission has scheduled many public meetings. Councilman Steve Salazar, who will leave the council in June because of term limitations, said the process is designed for minimal interference from sitting council members.
"It is a citizen-driven process, and that's the way it should be," he said. "The appointed commissioners will have almost the final say, and the council will have a limited time to change it."
Saving the seats of incumbents is not supposed to be a priority, but District 8 Councilman Tennell Atkins predicted there will be fighting over the lines.
"At the end of the day, I hope we draw the lines as suited for the whole city, so the city can grow," he said.
The new map will be sent to the U.S. Justice Department for review under the Voting Rights Act.
If all goes as planned, the new map of Dallas City Council districts will be used for 2013 elections.