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.
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.”