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Medford proposes new council boundaries

Medford City Council
The four wards of Medford will be redrawn so that each one has roughly 22,000 residents based on population growth since the ward map was last drawn in 2016.
Changes to existing wards would balance out city population

Unlike more contentious redistricting efforts, a redrawing of Medford’s four council wards is mostly a matter of simple arithmetic and not politics.

The four wards will be redrawn so that each one has roughly 22,000 residents based on population growth since the ward map was last drawn in 2016.

Achieving an equal population size for each district is the highest priority for city officials in devising the new ward map, said Matt Brinkley, director of Medford planning.

Each ward is represented by two city councilors, and the proposed maps wouldn’t push any of the councilors out of their existing wards.

“We’re able to achieve the population rebranding without doing too many gyrations,” Brinkley said.

Balancing the size of each ward is part of an ongoing effort that will lead to a public hearing and a City Council vote on the ordinance, scheduled for 6 p.m., Thursday, May 19.

The new wards will mean many Medford voters will be represented by different councilors, some of whom will be running in the general election this fall.

Residents living close to the current boundary with another ward will be the most affected by the changes.

Ward 2 in southwest Medford, which has seen a lot of new housing developments over the past decade, has the most residents of any ward at 24,186.

“Ward 2 is out of balance,” Brinkley said. “It represents almost 30% of the total population.”

Ward 4 in southeast Medford is the smallest with 19,937 residents.

As a result of this discrepancy, the proposed new map calls for increasing the size of Ward 4 by including some additional areas from Ward 2. The proposed map maintains Ward 4’s boundary to the east of Bear Creek and Interstate 5.

Similarly Ward 1, in northeast Medford, has a lower population than Ward 3 in the northwest. As a result, Ward 1’s boundary will be shifted slightly to the west of Crater Lake Avenue in some areas.

As part of the rebalancing effort, Ward 3’s boundary will be pushed slightly south into Ward 2.

The ward maps are typically updated sometime after the U.S. Census Bureau completes its calculation of populations throughout the country.

In 2021, the Oregon Legislature created congressional and legislative redistricting based on census data, an effort that sparked accusations of gerrymandering.

The proposed Medford map redraws the wards so each ward has 25% of the city’s population, within a fraction of a percentage point.

As of the 2020 U.S. Census, Medford has 87,886 residents in its urban growth boundary. The UGB includes areas outside the city limits that are earmarked for annexation in the years to come.

Within the existing city limits, there are 85,538 residents.

Brinkley said the proposed ward maps calculate the number of residents living in the UGB, though only the residents living within the city limits can actually vote for a councilor.

He said he expects more annexations of properties in the UGB before the next census.

“We are constantly annexing new land,” Brinkley said.

Reach freelance writer Damian Mann at dmannnews@gmail.com.