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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  • This is crap. They already take enough money away from the city and are constantly trying to take over the land. I hope this does not pass.

  • Guest

    I completely disagree. I think student are a vital part of the Berkeley community and should be allowed to have a voice in the decision-making process.

  • berkeleyhigh1999

    ill vote against it. seems more like a political project for some students political ambition having resume. 

  • Bryan Garcia

    What’s stopping them from having a voice right now?

  • Bryan Garcia

    Why *shouldn’t* the voice of the students be diluted?  Most of them come live here for 9 months out of the year, for 2 to 5 years, with no real long-term investment in our community and most of them wouldn’t even stay around long enough to deal with the effects of any long-term proposals they might get involved with.

    Students are a transient presence in this city.

  • Anonymous

    Is there something stopping Freeman and Joung from simply running for city council? Couldn’t ASUC just make it part of Association’s agenda to make certain a student is on the ballot in some district every two years? Jason Overman did OK in 2006 — far better than Wozniak’s opponents in 2010 — and he had already been elected to the rent board. Why have no Cal students run for council since then? By the time the next election rolls around, there will be approximately zero Cal students who were Cal students the last time a Cal student ran for council. That’s a failure of the ASUC and the student body, not of the district map.
    I’m still looking for voter turnout for Cal students. The best I have found so far is an article about the youth vote 2008 election. Nationwide, 53% of voters age 18-29 voted in 2008, the highest turnout for that age group since 1972. In a national campaign to register college students, Cal led the country with 12,000 new student voters. By contrast, in 2008, Berkeley at large had 86,020 registered voters and 77.5% voted. I think that the fundamental problem with this proposal is that gerrymandering districts to promote identity politics is, prima facie, a horrible idea, particularly in a place like Berkeley. But the more important problem is that college students generally don’t vote. 

  • Completely Serious

    It looks like the students chopped out Kriss, the “students’ friend.”  Ha ha!

  • Students already have a voice in the decision-making process if they want it.

    We don’t need to gerrymander a district for they to have a voice. All they have to do is actually show up and vote.


  • Bryan Garcia

    I agree.  It all seems like a ploy for some over-achieving undergrad to have a bullet-point on his/her future resume that he/she was elected to the city council.

  • Bruce Love

    Kriss’ district would, as it must, grow in number and as you can see, it would still mainly contain voters from today’s districts 7 and 4.

    On the other hand, Wozniak’s district must shrink and, under this map, Wozniak’s district would shrink in number but there would be a large influx of voters from districts 7 and 3.   I speculate that that is part of Wozniak’s attention to this effort: he appears to have the most to lose.

  • Andrew

    I bet most of the students aren’t even registered to vote here.

  • Bruce Love

    This issue is a distraction from the question of whether or not the city completes redistricting under the current rules in time for 2012.

  • Berkeleyside Reader

    The students leading this effort will no longer be students by the time a student district is created, which means they will not even be able to run for this seat. How cynical that we can’t even think for a second that student leaders might actually be visionary and lay the groundwork to make life better for students for years to come?

  • Guest

    The districts were gerrymanders when they were first implemented in 1986. That’s exactly what Nancy Skinner, a true progressive voice, has been repeatedly saying. The districts were created to benefit political interests at the time and in the process, the student community was split up and their voice diluted. This campaign reverses the gerrymandering and restores a bit of fairness to representation in this city. And another point: the charter currently says that the new lines have to be drawn as closely as possible to the 1986 lines – in a city whose demographics and population have changed dramatically since 86 and will continue to change into the future, how is that provision even legal?

  • Anonymous

    Yep, students sure are a transient presence–they’ve only been a presence in Berkeley since 1873.

    It’s true that many individual students are compelled to leave after graduation–which might have something to do with the city’s abysmal record on improved housing and economic opportunity. Nevertheless, I’d say it’s pretty anti-democratic to dilute the opportunities for representation for a permanent community, even if many individuals within that community are transient. Do immigrant communities with a lot of turnover not deserve fair shots at representation either? Should new homeowners not be allowed to vote in local elections until they’ve been there more than four years? What if they plan to move again when their kids finish school? People say students are apathetic, but the extent to which they don’t participate at the city level owes itself to the efforts of those who wanted to quash student participation and thus carved up their neighborhoods.

    This particular argument against students having better opportunities for proportional representation on the city council is truly very tired. I really wonder what it is that opponents are so afraid of. Higher taxes?–those votes have to go to the city at large and must pass with a proportion well over that which students constitute. Worse policy outcomes?–I think the baby-boom generation has demonstrated its own capacity for poor policy making, both locally and nationally. A fear that students will use more city services?–It’s non-students, homeowners, and families who actually benefit most from city expenditures.

    Students want to see Berkeley evolve and improve just as much, if not more than anyone else and I hope we get to see more of their values expressed on the council.

  • Berkeley voter

    Actually, Overman only got 35% of the vote in District 8. That’s the whole problem – students DO vote and they DO support students, but the districts are drawn in a way that silences their voices. 

  • Bruce Love

    Why not a return to at-large elections?

  • Anonymous

    Eric, in what sense are Cal students denied proportional representation now? I have yet to hear any proponent of this plan describe civic needs of the student body that are not shared by the population at large. Again, what is the problem that a student-majority district is supposed to solve?

    I am opposed to this proposal because it is unfair. It is clear to me, from voter turnout records, that a council member from a student-majority district would be elected by a smaller proportion of the district’s population than council members from other districts. That means my vote would count less than that of a voter in a student-majority district.

    I agree that students are a vital part of the Berkeley community; it’s part of why I live here. But when students put on their voter hats, they’re Berkeley voters, not Cal voters. Giving them a louder voice than voters in other districts is simply not fair.

  • Tanweth

    The problem is that students can run for the City Council all they want in current districts, but because student voters who would be their main supporters are spread across four districts, they will almost certainly lose as they have ever since districts were implemented in 1986. Nobody is contesting that voter turnout is lower among students, as it is among minorities. Is it improper for minorities to receive representation because they vote at lower percentages? The point is that, far from this being “identity politics,” it’s about giving a community that is distinctive from the majority community in demography and interests representation in Berkeley city government. Unfortunately district systems by their nature require deliberate crafting by the powers that be to allow this to happen (and allow the powers that be to deliberately prevent this, as happened in 1986 to students). This is why the Voting Rights Act exists in the first place: to ensure minority communities are given fair representation in district systems because they are unique in demography and interests. At the end of the day, that is what this is about.

    In addition, you can be sure that if representation on Berkeley’s city council becomes a reality, you will see higher voter turnout because students will see that there is someone there to truly represent them, as they see in ASUC elections, which get relatively high voter turnout.

  • EBGuy

    Councilwoman Laura Menard.  Well that would certainly make things interesting.

  • Anonymous

    Wozniak’s opponents in 2010 got less than 20%. Wozniak has lived in District 8 since the 60s, he knows everybody, and his campaigns are always really well funded. He’s going to be a really tough incumbent for anyone to beat. Maybe try another district? Seems like a strong candidate could give Daryl Moore a run for his money next year. 

    And do you know for certain that no students voted for Wozniak over Overman? 

  • Berkeley voter

    In 2006, only Overman ran against Wozniak, but in 2010 there were 3 others, so they all split the anti-Wozniak vote. Wozniak got about 65% both times.

    So you’re right that Wozniak would be hard to unseat, and impossible for a student to do so. 

    That’s why the students want a district, so they’re not competing with the older, richer homeowners. That’s an issue of basic community representation: Right now both 7 & 8 are half students and half homeowners. Why not make 1 student district & 1 homeowner district?

    Are you suggesting a student run against Darryl Moore? Students don’t live in D2, though. 

  • Berkeley voter

    Are you saying Wozniak is worried about getting voters from 7 and 3 into his district? But I thought he endorsed the student proposal?

  • Anonymous

    Students constitute a clear community of interest which is currently split across multiple districts. This denial of proportional representation is no different than Texas Republican efforts to divide and dilute democratic strongholds like Austin.

    Good examples of the city council not being sufficiently responsive to student values and needs include Telegraph BRT (and the state of that avenue), the Southside plan, and housing in general. Students support more and better housing, improved transit, and moving towards greater sustainability. Yet even the supposedly student-friendly council members voted against BRT and have routinely sided against more housing development in both the Downtown and Southside areas. (Voting for provisions that would render infeasible the construction of new housing is effectively the same as opposition, but allows one to claim being in favor of it.) Had there been more effective voices for students on Council, perhaps the Southside plan would not have been allowed to languish so long. A more effective student advocate on council might place a higher priority on the safety and comfort of the thousands of students who use the Telegraph Avenue than on allowing a relatively small number of people to continue to use the sidewalks all day as their own private living-room.

    Regarding your concerns about voting turnout, the same argument could be applied to the flats, which tend to have lower turnout than the hills. Likewise, a district that has a high proportion of families will have fewer people of voting age than a district composed mainly of young professionals. Nevertheless, federal law requires one to consider population–not voting turnout–when it comes to creating districts. (Someone please correct me if I’m wrong.)

    Regarding the notion that student voices would be louder, this is a fallacy. When one has a community of interest sufficiently concentrated to constitute a district (or two  district) hyper majority, this “loudness” is not the result of any artificial amplification. Right now we have the opposite–the student voice is muted because they were purposefully divided across districts. Under the student’s plan, Districts 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, and 8 would have overwhelming majorities of non-students. So you have 25% of the city in “loudly” student districts and 75% of the city in “loudly” non-student districts. Seeing as how students are about a quarter of Berkeley’s population, this seems pretty fair.

    Again, I don’t understand what all the fuss is about. Non-students aren’t being denied their voice, student majority district reps could constitute at most 2/9 of the council, and students are actually intelligent citizens with good ideas and no shortage of passion. What’s the big screamin’ deal?

  • Bruce Love

    What are the ideal principles by which district lines should be drawn, ignoring any constraints in the charter about how they may be drawn?  (I can’t think of any way to draw Berkeley districts that seems fair to me.) 

  • Anonymous

    Great, so we have some arguing that students are a vital part of the community and others arguing that they are a distinctive minority that is being shut out of civic engagement. Obviously, I agree with the former and not the latter. So if I’m wrong, will someone please tell me what issues of concern to the Cal student body are not being addressed? In what way is this community distinctive?

    It’s ironic that you bring up the Voting Rights Act, because if someone were to propose creating a Asian-majority district to remedy the fact that there have been no Asian-Americans on the city council, that would be illegal under the Voting Rights Act.

    Do you have any figures on turnout for ASUC elections? I would be very interested in seeing that. I have been unable to find voter turnout specific to Cal, but it is well established that young people in this country vote at rates well below that of the general population.

  • Bruce Love

    No, he distinctly did not endorse this map.   This is what he said (per the article):

    “I’m supportive of the student district, but I’m not sure what’s the best proposal […]”

    That and the comments I elided make it clear that he endorsed the abstract principle of a student district.

    That which I quoted makes it clear that he declined to endorse this map.

    Update: to be more clear about that – that which I quoted makes it clear that he explicitly indicated that he was not endorsing this map. He just said it in a way that doesn’t stand out, is all.

  • Berkeley voter

    Shouldn’t they be drawn to surround communities of interest? That was what the VRA said, and it’s also what Prop 11 said when we (Californians) created the Citizens’ Redistricting Commission in 2008. 

    In my mind, the hillsides should be districts (i.e. 6 and the south part of 8 now), the Monterey/Solano areas (D5 now), downtown (D4 now), west Berkeley (D1 & D2 now). 

    But some students are in a district with LeConte & Bateman Neighborhood Associations, and the students east/southeast of the campus are stuck with CENA. It’s really the only area where communities are split over districts rather than in 1 district. It makes way more sense to me to put the students in a district (or 2, since there’s so many of them) and then put all the Neighborhoods in a district. 

  • There are many communities of interest in Berkeley that are spread throughout the city and do not have a gerrymandered district to ensure that community of interest gets special attention. All registered voters (and nonregistered anybodies can go to public meetings and speak out) are free to participate in the civic process while they live here.

    I can’t believe anyone thinks it is a good idea to stack the deck in favor of getting a student candidate elected.   Imagine stacking the deck to favor other communities of interest?!  Such a move would be howled out of town.

  • Bruce Love

    Well, how about stacking in favor of homeowners, as the 1986 lines did?    The main benefit of the student campaign here might be to point out the inherent contradictions of having a district system for Berkeley in the first place.

  • I live in what would be proposed as District 4. Is the proposed District 4 a significant change from the current one? I see that the graphic accompanying this story shows current districts outined in a purply pink but I just can’t see where my district is now. I live in Arrequin’s district, on Oxford Street, across from the stadium but I don’t see the boundaries of my current district, can’t make it out. Poor color choice?

    Speaking as a nonstudent who lives downtown on Oxford Street, across from the University, I am appalled that a group of transient activists want to impose a student representative over me by using their gerrymandered, manipulated power to shove their agenda down my throat.

    In my experience, even the mostly brainiac undergrads at UC are privileged young people with an outsized sense of entitlement. Esp. undergrads today who have, too often, been told they are special special special and since they are still in college, they have not yet bumped into adult reality where they will soon find the world is jam packed full of smart people who worked just as hard as them, are just as smart, care just as much. It is outrageous to feel entitled to gerrymander student districts.

  • Anonymous

    Tizzielish, your own argument defeats itself when you acknowledge that those communities are spread throughout the city. The proposed districts are compact, contiguous, and reflect demographic and geographic boundaries. This is what voting law means when it talks about communities of interest–those that have a geographic concentration. What if instead of students, we were talking about an LBGT neighborhood that was divided up in such way that no LGBT candidate could reasonably win a council seat?

    Arguing that citizens can always participate in meetings is likewise misinformed. If a primarily black neighborhood was split up such that a black person couldn’t reasonably win a seat, would you argue that they should just attend public meetings instead?

    You and others keep insisting on words and phrases like “gerrymander” and “stacking the deck.” But this has it the wrong way around: it is students who currently have the deck stacked against them because they are divided across so many districts. Instead, the deck is stacked in favor of non-students.

    None of this to say that the LGBT, black, or student communities are
    monolithic and vote as one. Nevertheless, we do recognize them as
    legitimate communities of interest which are sufficiently concentrated to merit representation in a district system. So let the howlin’, the hootin’, the hissin’, and the hollerin’ begin!

  • I’m not saying that the current districts are any good, but saying that discrimination is OK as long as it’s done for the “right” reasons doesn’t seem right to me.

    If we’re going to make a special district with lines placed solely so that students get a voice, what other minority groups are we going to do that for? Are we going to make a special Asian District? What about a couple different special districts just for people who live near the Amtrack line so that they can vote to build a sound tunnel over the tracks to cut down on the late-night train honking? What about a special district just for BUSD employees?

    I don’t have a solution, I just dislike the fuzzy morality that’s required to think that “good” discrimination is an OK way to plan our City. Maybe we can get some students at Cal to build an impartial district-mapping robot that can analyze public opinion and come up with some districts that make everyone happy.

  • It’s unfair and inaccurate for you to act like homeowners are one enormous homogeneous group that all have the same interests and whose aren’t actually comprised of distinct different groups whose voices are also split across multiple districts.

    I have lived in several different districts in Berkeley, and I have never felt like I had a voice on the City Council.

  • “I can’t think of any way to draw Berkeley districts that seems fair to me.”

    I agree with you on this one completely.

    I don’t like the idea of gerrymandering districts solely for the purpose of representing specific groups, but I also don’t think our current districts make a whole lot of sense.

    Districts like 1 & 2 seem too large and are strangely laid out given the neighborhoods in town. It seems like it would be better split into 3 different districts, or at least modified in a way that didn’t split University Ave in such a weird way. The layout of District 3 seems especially bad, since issues at the top of District 3 are completely different than the ones at the bottom.

    It might be an interesting experiment for lots of different people to turn in what they thought were the best possible district maps, and then to have a program done up that analyzed the different proposals and generated a “best fit” map that tried to average the different proposals.

  • District 2 is at least 3 distinct neighborhoods with distinct sets of problems. Probably more. If anything it ought to be split down more, not lumped in with another district.

    Using the map above as a starting point, I’d probably chop the Eastern part of D1 off and put it in D5, and chop the northern part of D2 off and put it in D1. I’d probably also chop some off the bottom of D3 and give it to D2 since the bottom of D3 shares more in common with D2 than it does with the northern part of D3.

    Districts 1 and 2 are just goofy.

  • Bruce Love

    re: Shouldn’t they be drawn to surround communities of interest?

    OK, but that states the constraint of the law not any principle to be applied.

    How – in Berkeley specifically – do we define community of interest?  You state your opinion (“in my mind…”) but what principles of reasoning lead you that opinion?  Also, what did you do with D3?!?!?  :-)

  • @8281666dab7978716295a0aa03e61da1:disqus  – Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure that non-students could still run for that seat. Just because the district would be student-majority does not mean that only students would be eligible to run for that position.

  • Anonymous

    False dichotomy, tor_berg. LGBT folks were a vital part of the San Francisco community and simultaneously a distinctive minority shut out of civic engagement. That is, until a district system was implemented which allowed Harvey Milk to get elected as a supervisor. If you care to read some of my previous comments, you’ll see just a few student-related issues I outlined.

    Regarding your understanding of the VRA, you’ve actually got it backwards. If you had a geographic area where Asians constituted a majority and you could show that it had been divided to purposefully prevent representation, then you could be legally required to create an Asian majority district.

    For ASUC elections, the turnout was 45%, which demonstrates just how involved students could be if they feel they actually have a bigger stake in the process and a chance to win.

  • Two wrongs don’t make a right, but you make a good point. The current system doesn’t seem to be working very well.

  • Mike Pavone

    You can find the current district map here:

    The proposed district 4 is quite different than the existing one. In the proposal, district 4 would be made up of parts of the existing district 4, district 7, district 8 and a tiny sliver of district 6.

  • Why is the Northwest corner where I live left out of the new district. Since I teach at UC Berkeley I would like to run for the students.

  • Sue

    >I can’t believe anyone thinks it is a good idea to stack the deck in favor of getting a student candidate elected<

    You mean except the students.

  • Guest

    Anybody notice how Arreguin and Worthington are the only Councilmembers redistricted out of their districts in this proposal?

  • laura

    I am interested in considering the pros and cons of 4 at-large and 4 districts representatives. comments?

  • Anonymous

    The students are not real citizens of this town. They are temps.

  • The problem is that students can run for the City Council all they want
    in current districts, but because student voters who would be their main
    supporters are spread across four districts, they will almost certainly
    lose as they have ever since districts were implemented in 1986.

    If the student candidates are actually qualified and have good ideas, why wouldn’t they be able to get votes from non-student Berkeley residents? Why assume that students are the only people who would ever consider running for a student candidate?

  • Guest

    You are correct that anyone can run for this seat. It would not be reserved for a student. However, it is likely that because the vast majority of constituents would be students, a student would be elected. 

  • Guest

    I’m a UC grad student, and I think that having a student on the city council is a big mistake.  They will vote for any half baked, poorly thought out tax increase, since they won’t be around to actually have to pay for it.

  • Jesse Townley

    It seems like a “student district” would possibly elect a matriculating student, but more likely it would elect a recent student, like Jesse Arreguin.

    The City Council is *not* a part-time job. Balancing a UC education with the hands-on attention needed to be an effective Councilmember? That’s a really tall order.

    I think as students emerge from their UC career, BA or MA in hand, they’re perfect to join local government. Jason Overman, Igor Tregub, Andy Katz, and Jesse Arreguin are all recent examples of conscientious, engaged recent students who have been elected to local office.