Cal students file redistricting proposal with the city

The campaign to create at least one student-majority district in Berkeley reached a milestone today when a group of student leaders submitted their detailed redistricting proposal to the city clerk.

“We need the city to know that the student community is a legitimate community of interest,” said Joey Freeman, external affairs vice president for the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC), the student government. “Student issues are community issues.”

“We haven’t had adequate representation of students in Berkeley for over 25 years,” said Vishalli Loomba, President of ASUC.

Freeman acknowledged that today’s proposal is non-compliant with the city charter. The 1986 measure that created Berkeley’s districts — and the amended city charter that resulted — has three requirements: no boundary changes can unseat an existing councilmember, the boundaries need to adhere as closely as possible to the 1986 boundaries, and the districts should be equal in population. Today’s proposal fails on the first two criteria.

Left to right, front row: Joey Freeman, Julia Joung, Nancy Skinner. Photo: Lance Knobel

The two student majority districts in the proposal, 4 and 7, would both have students as more than 80% of the electorate. District 4 is currently represented by Jesse Arreguín and district 7 by Kriss Worthington. At a forum last week on the idea of a student district, Worthington suggested that current plans were designed to eliminate what he called the “progressives” on the Council. “Berkeley students are progressive, for the most part,” said Freeman.

At the presentation of the proposal, questions were raised by several speakers about the legitimacy of the redistricting restrictions in the city charter.

“It’s possible that at some point [those provisions] could be subject to legal challenge,” said Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, who was the last student to serve on the Berkeley City Council. “We’ve had huge demographic shifts in Berkeley since 1986. It seems to me very legally questionable.”

Freeman said that allied to today’s redistricting proposal, students were mobilizing to place a measure on the November 2012 ballot to amend the city charter — and allow a redistricting proposal along the lines submitted today. If today’s City Council approved the student submission it, too, would require a ballot measure for adoption, since it runs counter to the charter.

Skinner spoke at length this morning about how the 1986 measure had the clear effect of reducing the student voice in Berkeley city politics. When she won election to the council in 1984, it was as an at-large candidate, so students scattered all over the city could vote for her.

“The architects of the district initiative very much wanted to dilute the students,” Skinner said. “They had far more in mind than just creating districts.”

Julia Joung, East Asian Union chair and academic vice president of ASUC, pointed out one major consequence of a student majority district.

“Drawing a student district is drawing an Asian district,” she said. She said that one-fifth of Berkeley residents is Asian and in the Southside, the proportion is as high as one-half. Only one Asian has ever served on the Berkeley City Council, Joung said, and that was 30 years ago. “Some people, even in our progressive haven of Berkeley, deny the Asian identity.”

The only current member of the City Council to show up in support of the student proposal was Gordon Wozniak, whose district 8 constituents are about one-third students.

“I’m supportive of the student district, but I’m not sure what’s the best proposal,” Wozniak said. “By population, the students are 25% of the city and that’s a quarter of the districts. If the students were more actively involved, that would be a good thing for decision making. There’s been benign neglect about the students in general. They’re below the radar. And a student member would certainly raise the IQ of the Council.”

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  • Guest

    While you may be correct in saying that people with no real-world experience are perfect for the City Council, I’d still rather vote for someone who’s had a real job and a mortgage and all those icky complicated things that so may of the constituents that they’re hoping to represent have to deal with.

  • I mentioned that in the article. Joey Freeman’s response was that the likelihood is students will vote progressive. 

  • Jesse Townley

    I don’t think it’s an either/or thing.

    Until Jesse Arreguin, the youngest member of the City Council was over 50- and the average age before Jesse was elected was north of that. That’s fine for the experience factor you mention, but the addition of younger community members expands the breadth of perspectives.

    Also, I don’t think one can generalize about younger Councilmembers as unable to grapple with “real world” issues- I’d hope that a campaign would weed out completely clueless candidates on the local level. (On the national level, well, it’s a bit different)

  • Unfortunately you’re probably right.

    One needs only look to the campus protests which demand free this and free that and outlawing this and outlawing that to get an idea of the kinds of things that the activists in the Cal community (but not necessarily the average Cal student) would support.

  • EBGuy

    My comment about Councilwoman Laura Menard was not totally tongue in cheek.  I think Max Anderson would be vulnerable — though he would now have the advantage of running as an incumbent.

  • laura

    Thanks for the vote of confidence EBGUy.

     In 2008 Max won his second term unopposed, the fact that no one ran against him says a lot about this town politics. He has been in office now 7 years and what  improvements has district 3 benefited from that Max can accurately take credit for?

    Being an outsider makes it basically impossible to get elected though, voters in Berkeley pick up the slate card and mark ballots as directed.


    “But in this case, it seems like just another example of how governance
    of Berkeleyans is looking more and more like feudalism instead of like a
    democracy. No one in recent memory has succeeded to office, either
    elected or appointed, without an active link to his or her predecessor.
    Outsiders just don’t have a chance.” 

  • Bruce Love

    I don’t think you should generalize your own personal experience quite that broadly.  Rightly or wrongly, you had a lot of negatives going into that election.   (By “have a lot of negatives” I mean the technical term of art:   that you had accumulated a bunch of vocal people who were positively resolved to vote against you based on the past and regardless of what platform you put forward for the future.   Rightly or wrongly you had offended a significant part of the district which in turn creates mistrust from an even larger part.)

  • laura

    Our campaign did considerably better than most challengers of the machine, despite being outspent 8 to 1, 35% of the vote is damn good, close to twice what I expected. We did not expect to win and accomplished all of our goals.

    I was congratulated by  Darryl Moore’s campaign manager for running  an excellent campaign.

    Winning the Oakland Tribune endorsement was great, it is the only endorsement  based on an actual debate of issues, all the clubs/ union endorsements are predetermined.

    As to your assertion of who voted how, check out the precinct results, I won in the majority black neighborhoods, Anderson carried the Le Conte neighborhood, classic BCA political lines.

  • Bruce Love

    You say “Our campaign did considerably better than most challengers….” and, well, great – fine. 

    My point is that this part is premature, where you write: Being an outsider makes it basically impossible to get elected though, too many voters mark ballots as directed by the Bates slate card..   If anything, your campaign is evidence to the contrary – both because of the votes you got and the votes against you that you drew (those voters, either way, weren’t following a Bates-machine slate).

    That’s an interesting suggestion re Selawsky, by the way.

  • “…you had accumulated a bunch of vocal people who were positively resolved to vote against you based on the past and regardless of what platform you put forward for the future. “

    People like you?

    “I’ll only add that I think Ms. Menard has harmful political influence well beyond what might be justified by her positive contribution while, as neighbors go, she’s extremely influential. She seems, under the surface (to me), neither stupid or a person with necessarily evil intent. And so I try, here and there, to either engage or firmly refute her.”

    – Thomas Lord (aka “Bruce Love”)

  • Charles_Siegel

    I think the issue is just that most voters do not follow Berkeley politics.  As a result, they vote based primarily on name recognition, so the incumbent has a huge advantage.

  • Greg


    Though it is isn’t clear to me exactly why it is relevant, what tor_berg asked was what unaddressed civic needs are specific to the student body.

    BRT, sustainability, and housing in general certainly are not specific to that demographic.

    Additionally, it seems disingenuous to suggest that values you ascribe to the student body on development/housing are not addressed.  Yes, the two council members whose districts would be most affected by this plan could be seen as obstructionists on this issue at times.  However, they are also the only consistent opposition to the Bates ‘super-majority’ (which I suspect you believe is  ‘responsive’ to housing/development concerns).  

    Trying to argue a group is not adequately represented because there exists a small, ineffectual opposition to the super-majority that ostensibly shares their position on an issue is odd, to say the least.

  • Anonymous

    I totally agree that the VRA is irrelevant to the discussion at hand, but Tanweth is arguing that the VRA is intended to protect the franchise of university students. It is not. And since Asians are not a majority in Berkeley or in any part of Berkeley large enough to be a council district, then it would be illegal under the VRA to create a district for Asians. I used Asians as an example because Joung stated that a lot of students are Asian and that Asians are underrepresented on the Council. While that may be true, redrawing districts to remedy the problem would be unfair and unlawful.

    I completely disagree that 45% is a respectable voter turnout. It’s horrible. Less than half the student body could be assed to vote for their own representatives? Over 3/4 of the Berkeley population turned out in 2008. Again, with virtually no student candidates for city council and voter turnout that is dwarfed by turnout for the population at large, it seems obvious that the problem is that students don’t participate in local politics. Freeman and Juong think that the city should just hand the student body a couple of council seats to remedy this. I think the student body should actually work for those seats by running for office and showing up to vote.

  • Anonymous

    I’m not going to take a student-majority district seriously until a student runs in 7. If students really are half the population in 7, then a) Kriss was elected with student votes, and b) a serious student candidate could beat him. I mentioned Daryl because he’s up for re-election next year and I know there’s some discontent down here. There are, in fact, UC students living in District 2 — they’re my neighbors — but students should really be focused on 7 if they want a seat on the council.