Cal leaders push to put student on Berkeley City Council

Will a student ever sit on Berkeley City Council again?

In the 15 years since Berkeley adopted City Council districts, no student has been elected to the post even though they make up a quarter of the population.

Now a coalition of UC Berkeley student leaders is aiming to change that.

The group hopes to put forward a plan that will reconfigure two City Council districts to make one with a super-majority of students. If that doesn’t work, the leaders may try and put a referendum before Berkeley voters to create a student-dominated district.

“Is this fair to the community?” said Joey Freeman, who as vice-president of external affairs for the Associated Students of the University of California is leading the redistricting effort. “You can make a very good argument there should be someone on the council representing the student interests.”

The catalyst to reconsider this question is the 2010 census. Law requires that the boundaries of all political seats be updated every ten years to reflect population changes. Berkeley’s population increased 9% between 2000 and 2010, going from 102,744 residents to 112,580.

The Berkeley city charter requires there be an equal distribution of residents in each of the city’s eight City Council districts. So the boundaries must be redrawn to put 14,703 residents in each district, up from 12,843. The city has set a September 16th deadline to receive new plans, but Councilmember Gordon Wozniak has an item on the July 19th agenda to extend this deadline to November 1. The City Council had already extended the deadline about a month. (Click here to see materials on how to present a new redistricting plan.)

Freeman and others want to use this opportunity to create a student-dominated district, but they are facing significant obstacles. Berkeley’s charter requires all new redistricting plans to comply with three criteria: no change in boundaries can lead to the ousting of a sitting council member; districts shall be equal in size; and new districts shall adhere as closely as possible to the original districts drawn up in 1986.

So the students are faced with a conundrum: if they submit a plan that creates a district with a supermajority of students, it won’t adhere closely to the original 1986 boundaries and will most likely be rejected. (This is what happened in 2002; the Berkeley City Attorney said an ASUC plan was not compliant with the law.) But if they decide to first push for a city charter referendum to allow for a new district, it won’t go on the ballot until the November 2012 election. And the City Council has established a timetable that calls for Berkeley to adopt new council districts by April 2012.

“Students make up one-quarter of Berkeley’s population,” said Kristin Hunziker, a 2009 Cal graduate who was active in Cal Democrats. She is now a political consultant and managed Wozniak’s 2010 re-election campaign. “Berkeley is a university town. We have a lot of university students. They should have representation on city government. There has only been one student who has served on the Berkeley City Council [Nancy Skinner, who was elected in 1984 before there were districts]. There should be more.”

While students live in large numbers in four city council districts, those represented by Wozniak (District 8) and Kriss Worthington (District 7) would be most affected by the students’ plan. But the two councilmen have different approaches about how to solve the situation.

Gordon Wozniak

Wozniak wants to slow the process down to give the students more time to come up with a redistricting plan. Since most Cal students won’t return from vacation until late August, the city’s current September 16th deadline to submit a new plan won’t give them a chance to confer. That’s why he is proposing the deadline be moved to November 1, even though city staff has said that will not give the city enough time to create new districts in time for the November 2012 election. Wozniak thinks that is fine; the new districts can be in place for the 2014 election.

“You have a district plan that makes it almost impossible to elect a student because they are spread over four districts,” said Wozniak. “I think it would be good if there was an active student on the council.”

Many of the students at Cal are of Asian heritage, and a student-dominated district might also bring that diversity to the council, he pointed out.

Worthington is opposed to deciding the matter through the city charter first, and then adjusting the city council district boundaries. If it is done in that order, then some voters who would have been moved into new districts because of population changes in time for the November 2012 elections, won’t get to vote for those running for council in Districts 2, 3, 5, and 6.

Kriss Worthington

“If a delay means we are not going to do redistricting in 2012, I think that’s gravely undemocratic,” said Worthington.

He said he would support a city charter referendum to create a student-dominated district since it would give voters a chance to decide the issue. He just thinks the referendum should be done after redistricting is completed.

Worthington said Wozniak might benefit politically if there was a student-dominated district. Any major redrawing of district lines would probably shift the students out of District 8 and into District 7. That would make Wozniak’s district more politically moderate, which might help him in future elections.

“It would allow Gordon to dump all the young people out of his district,” said Worthington.  “The students tend to vote more liberally than his district.”

Conversely, Worthington would be the city council member most likely to face a challenge from a student.

In the meantime, the Cal coalition is soliciting support for its plans. Skinner, the only UC student to be elected to the council, is behind them, said Freeman.

“Nancy is supportive of extending the deadline and creating a district with a supermajority of students,” said Freeman.

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  • http://caviarcommunism.us West Bezerkeley

    Eric, as a person that has collaborated with Laura Menard (west and south Berkeley share a lot of crime problems) I have to be frank with you. Most of our neighbors that are permanent residents don’t care enough to get involved and take the neighborhoods back. As for the students, they were less interested than permanent residents.

    I know this because as the H2O Waterfront Gang was taking over my neighborhood, I walked my neighborhood talking with people to restart a dead neighborhood watch. It took about 18 months before I burned out and in that time, not a single Cal student in the ‘hood could be bothered to get involved. Why? Because most students are transient. One year they live in WB, the next in Rockridge, the next with 5 friends in a rental in the hills, etc. 

    If students want their voices heard, they have representation on the council today and they have people from older generations that have been on the street talking with people in desperation, trying to get anybody of any age involved. 

    What I perceive in your posts is that students want a political soapbox, rather than accepting real and sincere offers from permanent residents to make real change happen.

    This students against the rest of the population stance is shallow and unproductive . Those of us that have asked anybody and everybody to lend a hand (no matter how small), get involved, make a difference, only to end up with a small group of people with ages ranging from 35-60. Well, it says everything I need to know about the interest of students to make areas of Berkeley more welcoming. 

    This is a raw nerve issue for many of us that have put ourselves out there publicly, in the newspapers, at council meetings, and have risked our personal safety and the safety of our families in a desperate attempt to make areas of Berkeley safer for everyone. Tread carefully in this area until you and the student population start showing commitment through actions, not words. 

    Respectfully,
    Jarad Carleton
    Ex-neighborhood watch captain

  • Charles_Siegel

    One point no one has mentioned. 

    Council terms are four years, so if you are an undergraduate student when you are elected, you probably will have graduated and will no longer be a student before your term ends. 

    Then what?  Do you refuse to run again because you are no longer a student?

  • Guest

    Berkeley students are some of the brightest in the country, and commenters do the university and this town a disservice by bashing students. To claim that many undergraduates can’t “wipe their own rear ends”… well I’m sure many adults would make the same compliant about their adult coworkers, who have time and experience on their side. 

    Students are just as reasonable (or not reasonable), and just as able to grasp long term effects of policy decisions (or not) as the general Berkeley resident population. I think the real reason most commenters are against a student resident district is a fear response, a fear that you’ll disagree with what you think they’ll support. Why are so many people afraid of what students will do if they had representation on city council? Are they so radically different from you that they’ll ruin this town?

    Furthermore – in response to some comments I’ve read – students have absolutely shown that they’ll vote for positive change – AND pay for it – as students even if they won’t be around for the results. Take student recreation centers. Students will assess themselves a fee and forgo normal gym access in order to construct better recreation facilities that oftentimes won’t even benefit them due to the duration of construction projects. Another example is sustainability referendums. Students will vote to assess themselves a fee that in part is used to fund energy efficiency projects. Those students don’t get any direct savings paid back to them from energy efficiency or renewable energy measures they fund. But they do it anyway with the understanding of the long term benefits.

    Finally, what about not all non-student Berkeley residents that move here for a few years, and then leave? Should we rescind representation for them? Not everyone in Berkeley is a lifer.

  • Anonymous

    I do appreciate your thoughtful response, Jarad. To be fair to both of us, I think we are talking about rather different problems–both of which are real and important. What I was referring to was the neighborhood immediately South of the campus; I now realize that what you, Laura, and some others are most likely referring to are the southern-most neighborhoods of Berkeley–areas closer to the Oakland and Emeryville borders. While I still disagree with the dismissive and at times insulting attitude towards the student population, I both understand and agree with the idea that the problems of South Berkeley, rather than Southside, run deep and are not easily corrected on a local level.
    I maintain that for the campus-adjacent neighborhood and areas of Telegraph, there are local-level steps we have not taken, but which could be effective in improving the area. The crime, drug, and gang related problems of South Berkeley, however, I think will require a coherent policy response at much higher levels of government.

    I am truly not trying to sow dissension between students and long-term residents. I myself was once the former and am now on my way to becoming the latter. But I do feel the need to defend the student population from some of the insults I’ve read–some of which have been characterized by far greater hostility than anything I’ve ever written here. I don’t think students are uncaring or unwilling to get involved, but neither do I think student involvement is a magic bullet. Most generally, what I think Berkeley needs is a change from a political process that disproportionately rewards squeaky wheels and makes most people feel out-shouted and unwelcome. If having a student voice could help on this and other issues, then I am all for it.

  • Anonymous

    I do appreciate your thoughtful response, Jarad. To be fair to both of us, I think we are talking about rather different problems–both of which are real and important. What I was referring to was the neighborhood immediately South of the campus; I now realize that what you, Laura, and some others are most likely referring to are the southern-most neighborhoods of Berkeley–areas closer to the Oakland and Emeryville borders. While I still disagree with the dismissive and at times insulting attitude towards the student population, I both understand and agree with the idea that the problems of South Berkeley, rather than Southside, run deep and are not easily corrected on a local level.
    I maintain that for the campus-adjacent neighborhood and areas of Telegraph, there are local-level steps we have not taken, but which could be effective in improving the area. The crime, drug, and gang related problems of South Berkeley, however, I think will require a coherent policy response at much higher levels of government.

    I am truly not trying to sow dissension between students and long-term residents. I myself was once the former and am now on my way to becoming the latter. But I do feel the need to defend the student population from some of the insults I’ve read–some of which have been characterized by far greater hostility than anything I’ve ever written here. I don’t think students are uncaring or unwilling to get involved, but neither do I think student involvement is a magic bullet. Most generally, what I think Berkeley needs is a change from a political process that disproportionately rewards squeaky wheels and makes most people feel out-shouted and unwelcome. If having a student voice could help on this and other issues, then I am all for it.

  • lauramenard

    Hyperbolic nonsense!

  • lauramenard

    Eric,

    Do you have institutional knowledge about the process and result of the multi- year effort to resolve southside neighborhood issues within the Chancellor’s task force. If not, you might want to meet with the long time southside neighborhood activists to learn specifically want was accomplished and what remains problematic.

    BAPAC collaborated closely  with Students for a Safer Southside and the various Southside neighborhood groups for several years, so we had direct engagement on quality of life issues.

    On a personal note I rented a studio directly across from People’s Park for my disabled brother, it was common for me to recognize south Berkeley players dealing in the park.

    This is a small city in fact.

  • http://caviarcommunism.us West Bezerkeley

    To claim that many undergraduates can’t “wipe their own rear ends”…

    What some are trying to point out in their own way is that there are a lot of students that have been negatively impacted by what psychologists & people in the 40 & older demographic are calling “The Cult of Self-Esteem.”

    For those interested, here’s one article on the topic from the Atlantic Monthly, July/Aug 2011 issue — http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/print/2011/07/how-to-land-your-kid-in-therapy/8555/

    Finally, what about not all non-student Berkeley residents that move here for a few years, and then leave?

    What you are talking about is the story of every city in America, students and non-students. What you are blatantly dodging is why you believe that Berkeley should illegally gerrymander a district to provide a political soap box for a clearly defined special interest group. If you want to debate the topic, come to the discussion prepared…

    Gerrymandering is illegal, but if we are going to slide down the slippery slope, through the rabbit hole and into Wonderland, the Mad Hatter, the Mouse, Alice, and me would all like a gerrymandered district that represents home owner DINK’s (double income, no kids) with political philosophies that are a mix of Libertarian and fiscally conservative Austrian Social Democrat.

    If the city could do that for my special interest group, I too will commit to “vote for positive change AND pay for it”!

    Sarcastic? — guilty as charged. I won’t get my wish and neither should the students. Gerrymandering is illegal regardless of whether you get bent over a barrel to pay for property taxes or $12K+ in tuition costs.

    Unless you are born into wealth, life will not cater to you, so it’s better to accept that reality now than go through life complaining about how unfair everything is. I remember feeling disenfranchised as a UCD student (I still feel disenfranchised), but the sense of entitlement & feeling that gerrymandering is OK for the students really leads me to believe that the article in the Atlantic Monthly about your generation (assuming that “guest” is a student) is spot on. — http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/print/2011/07/how-to-land-your-kid-in-therapy/8555/

  • Guest

    Wowza. Listen, I’m not actually for or against a student district. I’m still mulling over the ramifications of the idea. You’ll notice that I don’t state that I support it. What I don’t appreciate is posters that denigrate students. 

    If you oppose a student district for legal reasons, fine. If you’re against students because they’re students, and that’s what you communicate in your post, that’s not fine.

  • http://www.yourmomissoberkeley.com Berto

    If a student wants to run they can run now.  Right now as is.  If they can win, good for them.  Gerrymandering is illegal and immoral.  If some other short term resident can run and win, good for them.  There is no restriction to anyone running now so why try to game it to get a student in?

  • http://www.yourmomissoberkeley.com Berto

    Quick question, is there a residency requirement to run for city council?  For example, when I went to school I kept my Berkeley residency and voter registration since i knew I was coming back.  Would a student have to be a full time resident or at least transfer their “permanent” address to Berkeley?

  • http://www.webhamster.com/ The Sharkey

    students have absolutely shown that they’ll vote for positive change –
    AND pay for it – as students even if they won’t be around for the
    results.

    Personally speaking, I would be more concerned with how a very temporary Berkeley student resident would vote for parcel taxes which they would not pay, and which would most likely continue long after they graduated and moved out of town.

    It’s easy to vote for improvements & special allocations when you’re spending someone else’s money.

  • http://caviarcommunism.us West Bezerkeley

    Thanks for the clarification.

  • GPO

    Good point.  They need to either file their candidacy papers as freshmen right after their dorm orientations end or get on the extended 5/6 + year graduation plan.

  • GPO

    By no means do I mean to impugn the bulk of the student body which I personally hold in high regard, but does anyone recall this nutbar who ran for Mayor of Berkeley in 2006 — Christian Pecaut, aptly described in one internet commentary as a “real pant-load”?  I thought he had (or claimed to have) some relationship with UCB, but I dont’ recall if he was actually enrolled there at the time he ran for mayor.

    His candidacy statement:

     http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2006-10-20/article/25363?headline=Berkeley-Mayoral-Candidate-Statements-Christian-Pecaut&status=301

    Sample from Pecaut’s official Candidate Statement linked to above in the Planet:

    Landlords: Remorseless, lying, blood-sucking parasites. More property, more vicious. Give back every dollar stolen from the tenants, immediately, in cash. Rent is Theft. 

    Bates: That ghoulish “smile” betrays your duplicity. Giggles like an idiotic school boy when he can’t lie his way out of responsibility. City Manager Phil Kamlarz does the same when caught ripping off the public and lying about it. Real estate profiteering is payoff to Tom and his BCA cohorts for 34 years of fucking Berkeley over.

    [...]

    UC Berkeley: 90% of the students are conniving cruel imbeciles. Spoor of a big ascendant nazi-bourgeiosie. Extermination disease programs called “cancer research” and “synthetic biology”. Save Darfur campaign is fake bred there: China’s oil supplies are the real target. 

    [...]

    Police: A blunt spoon gouge of cruelty, incompetence, arrogance, and systemic theft-punishment, with growing slush funds from the drug trade and nouveau Gestapo. Stacked wih torturers and murderers trained in Iraq. 5%+ pay increase every year for 5 years = $80,000 starting salary. 

    [...]

    Which brings me to UC Berkeley. There will be no principled protest coming from the students there. That “university” turned Nazi-Republican once Schwarzenegger was made President of the UC Regents by Stanford’s Hoover Institution three years ago. Just sit in a student café around Berkeley and hear for yourself: “biology” and “public health” means pharmaceutical and biological warfare research, “environmental design” means high-profit development scams, and “history” means getting forced to lie about how current society is the only way people ever have or ever will live. 

    etc.

  • Bruce Love

    How are the current district boundaries not “gerrymandering”? 

  • http://caviarcommunism.us West Bezerkeley

    Ding! ding! ding! — spot on Sharkey

  • http://caviarcommunism.us West Bezerkeley

    Yes, you must be a permanent resident to run for city office. If you aren’t a permanent resident and you run for city office it’s a felony. As a reminder for the revolving door population of the city, here’s a primer to remind everyone — http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/local&id=5670403

  • Guest

    I understand your concern. However, (and correct me if I’m wrong), doesn’t the general population have to vote to approve a new parcel tax? Which means that registered student voters are already able to vote for/against that now? I don’t understand how having a student city council rep would affect that, aside from him/her being in a better position to mobilize students to vote one way or another.

    And another thought… my understanding of parcel taxes is that they’re generally used for schools (…and not UC schools). So perhaps you should be less concerned about students voting in favor of parcel taxes and more concerned about people with kids! 

  • http://www.yourmomissoberkeley.com Berto

    Interesting.  Is there any standard for how much time you have to spend in your Berkeley home to qualify?

  • http://www.webhamster.com/ The Sharkey

    Parcel taxes are not solely for schools. The recently-defeated Pools Measure is an example of a non-school parcel tax.

    As a relative newcomer to Berkeley I am not intimately familiar with all the different ways in which Councilmembers can squander funds, but as we saw recently even the simple allocation of funding in the City Budget can easily be manipulated from being a simple decision on how to best maintain infrastructure into a politically charged nightmare fraught with waste.

    We should also keep in mind how easy it is to convince unemployed Cal students to protest against practically anything, and how much that can affect decisions by weak-willed Councilmembers. A gerrymandered student district would only serve to amplify that problem, and give even more power to a group of individuals who have no vested interest in the long-term health and success of the City of Berkeley.

  • http://caviarcommunism.us West Bezerkeley

    From the Charter of the City of Berkeley —

    Commencing with the general municipal election in November 1986, each Councilmember shall be elected by the electors within a Council district, must have resided in the District in which he or she is elected for a period of not less than thirty days immediately preceding the date he or she files a declaration of candidacy for the office of Councilmember, must continue to reside therein during his or her incumbency, and shall be removed from office upon ceasing to be such resident.

  • http://caviarcommunism.us West Bezerkeley

    Too bad the city didn’t hand that guy a flyer for city mental health services
    http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/mentalhealth/

    I always thought Ted Kaczynski was “disturbed,” but what you posted is a completely different shade of crazy. Thanks for that post, it was truly and interesting flashback to the recent past.

  • http://caviarcommunism.us West Bezerkeley

    Parcel taxes have been passed 2x in the recent past when the fiscally inept management of AC Transit could not manage it’s own budget. Both times they told voters that the parcel tax was needed to prevent price hikes and service cuts. Both times the measures passed. After they passed, fares rose and service was cut, but I’m still paying the parcel tax!

    This is one of the biggest injustices in our political system today. Persons that have no “skin in the game” are allowed to tax my home, they don’t have to contribute to the tax measures they vote into law, and I’m stuck paying the bill. The next time a parcel tax measure comes up for AC Transit, students will vote for it again, homeowners will get screwed again, and transit service will be no better than it was before the new parcel tax. 

    Students will graduate and move away, new students will come in and the process will start again. It doesnt take a rocket scientist to understand why many permanent residents bristle at student demands for greater political recognition. My property taxes reflect decades of political recognition of a transient student population. 

  • Anonymous

    Balkanizing Berkeley further is a natural step in maintaining our city’s patronage system. Council seats are lifetime appointments made by financial interests (you choose, from developers to unions) who’ve perfected rounding up the meager numbers needed to win a district election. 

    Which explains why the tepid public debate of our elected officials produces politically safe compromises made within a narrow band of options. Vibrant politics will reappear when people align according to their fundamental interests; Something we’ve been able to avoid during a long period of relative prosperity. As the economy worsens, council spats over which festivals to fund will be replaced by title fights featuring: 

    Property tax bills versus public employee benefit packages. 

    Cost of social services versus demonstrable benefit 

    Quality of city services versus salaries and staffing levels

    more…

    And at the school board:

    Basic skill proficiency versus feel good programs and social promotion

    Parental expectations and  accountability versus school resources

    political correctness versus reality

    more…

    We need new hats in the ring.

  • GPO

    Thanks for contemplating the “deeper meaning” of this candidacy.  For the record, I found information suggesting that Pecualt was NOT a current UCB student when he ran for mayor but was a 25 year old recent Stanford (!) graduate.  Evidently, he had only moved to Berkeley shortly before he filed his candidacy.
     
     
    http://www.cameliastreet.org/2006/05/26/announcing-christian-pecautberkeleys-newest-mayoral-candidate/
     
     
    I do find it somewhat disturbing that he found 517 voters to support him.   I don’t know the exact tipping point for “mass insanity” in a community of 100,000, but based on many years of residency here, I would say that Berkeley’s mental health is definitely “at risk”, especially when you combine Running Wolf voters with Pecault’s.
     
     
    City of Berkeley, Mayor (100) 100/100 100.00%
     
    NP – ZELDA BRONSTEIN 12,652 30.92%
     
    NP – TOM BATES 25,680 62.77%
     
    NP – ZACHARY RUNNING WOLF 1,880 4.60%
     
    NP – CHRISTIAN PECAUT 517 1.26%
     
    Write-In 185 0.45%
     
    Total … 40,914 100.00%

  • Doc

    How is striving to keep the status quo in People’s Park “representing student interest?