City defers redistricting, plans charter amendment

One of two redistricting proposals presented by Eric Panzer. It deviates from the 1986 boundaries, but was accepted as compliant by city staff.

Redistricting in Berkeley will be deferred to 2013 after a 7-2 vote by the City Council last night. In the same vote, the Council agreed to draft an amendment to the City Charter which would allow for redistricting that could deviate from the 1986 boundaries.

“It seems to me to be completely outdated and counterproductive having to stick to 1986 lines,” said Mayor Tom Bates. “Redistricting should be about fairness, not about perpetuating the political career of any person.”

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. The Council will place an amendment on this November’s ballot to eliminate what many members saw as unfair requirements.

Much of the impetus for the deferment of redistricting and a potential charter amendment has come from a group of UC Berkeley students, who have been agitating for at least one student majority district in the city. The 1986 requirements made that a difficult task. The student redistricting proposal, presented by ASUC vice president Joey Freeman, was non-compliant.

Six redistricting proposals were presented to the Council that were compliant with the 1986 requirements.

Bates and councilmembers Max Anderson and Linda Maio all said last night that the 1986 boundaries had been drawn with the explicit aim of splitting the student vote in the city. Anderson also said that the 1986 boundaries had intentionally weakened the city’s African American vote.

A statement from Berkeley Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, read to the Council last night, echoed that view. “It is a fact that the Berkeley population is changing,” Skinner’s statement said. “It doesn’t make sense to stick to lines that were inequitably drawn a quarter of a century ago.”

Some councilmembers, however, protested that the decision to defer redistricting would “disenfranchise” thousands of Berkeley voters.

Councilmember Kriss Worthington: "most undemocratic" moment in a decade

“For us not to choose one of the six alternatives is for us to be negligent in our jobs. Inaction is actually maintaining those boundaries,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington. “This is the most undemocratic thing that has happened at this City Council in at least a decade.”

Worthington and Councilmember Jesse Arreguín pointed out that a number — the exact numbers were disputed throughout the debate — of voters would go through a cycle of council elections without having a vote. Other councilmembers said that was an inevitable consequence of redistricting when you have staggered elections. Other voters, Councilmember Susan Wengraf said, would vote twice.

A heated debate emerged on whether this constituted disenfranchisement or “deferment”, in Wengraf’s phrase.

“Whatever the council elects to do, no one will be disenfranchised in the process,” said Sherry Smith, president of the League of Women Voters of Berkeley, Albany, Emeryville, during the public comment preceding the Council discussion.

“In the process of delaying redistricting people who would be moved into new districts can’t vote in those districts,” Arreguín said. “Whether you call that disenfranchisement or not, they can’t vote in the city council election.”

Councilmember Darryl Moore countered the charges of disenfranchisement by recalling the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and ’60s, commemorated this week on Martin Luther King Jr. Day: “Let’s not cheapen the word disenfranchisement, because people lost their lives because of it,” he said.

Under the student proposal, two student majority districts would be created — largely at the expense of the districts currently represented by Arreguín and Worthington. In response to a question from Arreguín, Freeman denied last night that it was the intention of the plans to unseat the two councilmembers seen as the progressives on the City Council.

“We hope both of you will continue to be champions of students, and we’re creating conditions under which we’ll always have champions of students,” Freeman said.

The charter-compliant redistricting proposals that received most praise from councilmembers during the debate were two that had been prepared by Eric Panzer, who works for a planning firm in Berkeley. But Panzer said he was delighted the Council had decided to pursue charter amendment.

“I’m thrilled that Council has deferred redistricting and expressed its strong support for removing the strictures of the 1986 district boundaries,” Panzer said. “I’ve striven to create fairer districts in my proposals, and I’d be delighted to have greater flexibility to that end. It may take a great deal more work, but in the end, I hope we can establish districts more reflective of Berkeley’s contemporary needs and constituencies.”

Cal students file redistricting proposal with the city [09.30.11]

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  • Bruce Love

    Suppose that a charter amendment fails and no “student majority” district is created.    Before the 2013 deadline, but after the November 2012 cycle, council will have to adopt something like one of the 6 proposed plans.    The net result will be thousands of people living with a newly elected councilmember from an election in which they could not vote.  This is why some people say “disenfranchisement”.

    The people who would be thus deprived of voting come mainly from districts currently regarded as the progressive minority, but would be moved to districts regarded as the conservative majority.   This is why some people say that the delay in redistricting is an attempt to manipulate an electoral outcome via deliberate disenfranchisement.

    The credibility of the possibility of a so-called student majority district hangs on the council majority opinion and the activism of a tiny number of students who display no evidence of popular support.   The campaigns for and against charter reforms will surely be interesting.

    The upshot is that having asked for and received public guidance for a chartered redistricting that would assure one-person, one-vote in 2012, the majority has tossed that input aside in favor of the most unlikely proposal around which, conveniently, serves as an excuse to delay redistricting to 2013.

  • Jesse Arreguin

    Lance just a small correction to your article, the Council vote to delay redistricting to 2013 and to pursue a City Council placed Charter amendment regarding changing the current redistricting rules was 6 YES and 3 NO (Anderson, Arreguin and Worthington). I stated during the vote that while I dont support delaying redistricting for the reasons you mention in your article, that I am not against placing a Charter Amendment on the ballot to change the redistricting rules and in fact I am interested in working on developing such a proposal.  

  • Thanks for the clarification, Jesse. I wasn’t sure immediately after the vote whether it was 7-2 or 6-3 and checked with the deputy city clerk before I left the meeting. She checked her record and told me it was 7-2. 

    I’ll change it in the text. 

  • Completely Serious

    This really pisses me off.  A group I belong to submitted a plan:  It was arduous, difficult work.  Shame on the Council.  I hate to be aligned with Josef Arrequin and Karl Marxington, but here I am, forced into bed with people whose politics I abhor. 

    I say disenfranchise the Council in the next two elections by voting all of them out of office.

  • DMoore

    Lance, according to the acting City Clerk the vote was 7-2.

  • Curious observer

    One wonders what the Council majority’s real agenda is.  They had the opportunity Tuesday night to approve two plans that included student supermajorities.  They declined to do so and decided to take up redistricting themselves.  Hens watch out!   The foxes are guarding the house!

  • Thanks. I’ve returned it to the original. 

    The confusion over the vote occurs, I think, because Councilmember Max Anderson clearly thought there was an issue of disenfranchisement in his remarks. But he voted yes for the deferral and charter amendment in any case.  

  • Anonymous

    I reviewed the video of the meeting and here is what happened: Councilmember Anderson  made a substitute motion not to defer, but to move ahead with selecting a redistricting proposal. That motion failed 3-4-2. What has likely led to the confusion, however, is after Councilmember Anderson’s substitute motion failed, he voted in favor of deferral (the 7-2 vote). So though one can say the vote for deferral was 7-2, the true picture is in the 3-4-2 vote where Councilmember Anderson said ‘I’m in favor of moving ahead now!” His vote for delay only came after his motion failed and delay was inevitable. Unfortunately, the clerk doesn’t record failed substitute motion votes, though we’ve tried to address that before in a Council item. It is more accurate to preface the 7-2 vote with the fact that 3 councilmembers voted in favor of moving ahead, or not to delay.

  • Anonymous

    I’m a big fan of Occam’s razor, especially when applied to politics. Typically, there’s always a base motive beneath the reasons that politicians use to dress up their decisions, but in the end, I strongly believe that the simplest explanation or motivation is the correct one. In this case, Councilmembers that are running for re-election this year aren’t enthusiastic about changing their boundaries and the content of their voters, particularly Councilmembers who faced a close election last time and do not want more progressive voters moved into their districts.

    Using occam’s razor and discarding other stated reasons adopted through cognitive dissonance, the reason is political self-preservation.

    In fact, I hope there’s a push to put redistricting out of the hands of councilmembers in any charter reform we see -in this case, you can see how self-preservation was put ahead of redistricting. The fox and the hen house is a very appropriate metaphor and it’s entirely inappropriate to have elected officials drawing their own lines and deciding when it happens. Timely redistricting and charter reform were never mutually exclusive and doing both was, in fact, the best way to minimize the risk of delaying people’s right to vote in the event reform fails.

  • Bill

    Someone please explain this comment:
    “In the process of delaying redistricting people who would be moved into new districts can’t vote in those districts,” Arreguín said. “Whether you call that disenfranchisement or not, they can’t vote in the city council election.”
    Who says they can’t vote in a city council election if they’re registered to vote? I don’t understand this comment at all.  They may not be able to vote in a new district but they can vote where they’re registered.

  • Bill

    Yes, I expect you are right but I wonder if there would really be that much of a change in the makeup of the council given the current or even proposed districts and the members representing districts 1,2,3 5,6 and 8.

  • Bruce Love

    For one example: District 5 in 2008 was close — about 400 votes.   Likely redistricting scenarios short of a charter amendment would give District 5 (currently Capitelli) voters from District 4 (currently Arreguin).  

    The timing of redistricting can plausibly swing or preserve a seat to the so-called conservative majority.

  • Bruce Love

    For example:  Short of a charter amendment, there are pretty much certainly voters currently in District 4 who are really in District 5.   If redistricting happens before November 2012 then they get to vote in the council election.   If redistricting happens after November 2012, then they don’t get to vote (district 4 is not up this election).