Op-Ed: Berkeley must keep the one fair redistricting map in play

By Jacquelyn McCormick

Jacquelyn McCormick sits on the BNC Committee for Redistricting. McCormick, who runs an interior design business and lives in Berkeley, ran for Mayor in the November 2012 elections.

Not so very long ago, Berkeley proclaimed itself to be a “City of Neighborhoods.” Not so much now. Under the quiet and persistent guidance of the present Mayor and Council, policy and practice emphasis has steadily shifted away from neighborhoods — their well-being and preservation — to developing density and allowing increased project size and bulk.

This point was driven home on May 7, 2013 when the Council approved a motion by Council Member Gordon Wozniak (seconded by Darryl Moore) to eliminate from Council consideration the map submitted by the Berkeley Neighborhood Council (BNC). This was done even though there was no question that the BNC map was the only redistricting map submitted which was based on the dual principles of creating a majority student district and keeping neighborhood groups together under one Council representative. It was clear that keeping neighborhoods together strengthens neighborhood input; splitting neighborhoods between representatives results in no one on the Council being accountable.

The Wozniak/Moore motion focused Council consideration of redistricting on just two maps. The Berkeley Student District Campaign (BSDC) creates a student supermajority in one Council District (7), a student majority in another District (4) and a near student majority in a third District (8). The other accepted map, Edge Simplicity, was submitted by Eric Panzer and selected because Council Members liked its “clean” lines even though its author stated it was just an exercise and he favored the BSDC map. Since the BSDC map was clearly the one most favored by the Council, this statement will focus on the strengths of the BNC map compared to the BSDC map.

Here are three facts about the BNC and the BSDC maps that everyone needs to know:

1. Is the BNC student district only “gratuitous” as claimed by the proponents of the BSDC map? ·       NO. The BNC map creates a supermajority student district (District 7)

that has more students, by at least 640 people, than does the proposed BSDC student district! Where are the differences? While the BNC map does not include the Greeks (sororities and fraternities), the BSDC map does not include the Student Co-Ops north of the campus and two huge student dorms.

Are some students more “student” than others – i.e., more likely to vote as has been stated by the BSDC authors? The hard fact is that the BNC map strengthens the creation of a true student district. It should not be about politics. It is about fair and just representation.

2.   Should maps considered by the Council recognize Communities of Interest? YES. State law requires consideration of Communities of Interest and defines them as a contiguous population which shares common social and economic interests that should be included within a single district for purposes of its effective and fair representation. By any one’s definition a student district is a Community of Interest and a neighborhood is equally a Community of Interest.

The BSDC map makes up the difference in its main student district population by including a significant number of blocks from the residential LeConte and Willard neighborhoods. These neighborhoods are continually plagued by Southside Plan student-oriented development encroachment. Should these neighborhood groups be divided in such a manner without consideration of the State requirement to consider keeping Communities of Interest intact? The BNC map says both students AND neighborhoods are Communities of Interest and must be recognized as such.

The BSDC map negatively impacts the State’s direction regarding Communities of Interest by dividing the Dwight-Hillside neighborhood and continues the weakening of a voice for neighborhoods in community affairs, by dividing the Live Oak/Codornices Creek (LOCCNA), Spruce Street, Halcyon, and Milvia Alliance neighborhoods. Additionally, the BSDC maps rejects the opportunity to right a long-standing injustice by not recognizing the hundreds of residents of West Berkeley who have been struggling to gain recognition as a neighborhood and gain Council representation for over 50 years.

3.  Is the claim that it would be “too big” a valid reason for rejecting the formation of a West Berkeley Council District? NO. A comparison of perimeter miles around Districts 1 and 2 (the Council Districts most affected by the creation of a West Berkeley Council District) shows that the West Berkeley District created by the BNC map (District 1) has a perimeter that is 2.84 miles larger than the BSDC map. However, District 2 in the BSDC map has a perimeter of 3.04 miles larger than that of the BNC map. A comparison of perimeter miles around other districts show minor variations. The “too big” argument is a classic “red herring”. It should be pointed out that, practically speaking, the BNC proposed West Berkeley District is probably the easiest area for Council candidates to walk, while districts in the hills are very difficult to walk because of the topography.

Only the Berkeley Neighborhood Council (BNC) map addresses both objectives of creating a Student District and recognizing that a fair and just city is indeed a City of Neighborhoods. The City Council should ensure there is minimal impact to neighborhood groups and consider them as strong a Community of Interest as that of the students. Neighborhood populations are not transient and are more permanent in nature and decisions made by the Council have long term impact on their residents’ livelihoods and quality of life.

Neighborhoods throughout the City need to unite to ensure there is a place for you at the table of civic affairs. The time has come for everyone concerned about the principles of fair council representation to acknowledge that neighborhoods are truly Communities of Interest.

Join us by signing on to this statement. Tell the council to: Reverse the Wozniak/Moore motion by adding to their redistricting consideration the Berkeley Neighborhoods Council map.

All it takes is for you to e-mail BNC at bnc50@yahoo.com to indicate your willingness to sign on to this statement. Thank you for your consideration.

The Berkeley Neighborhoods Council redistricting map.

Berkeley Council to consider two redistricting maps (05.08.13)
Redistricting plans focus on student-majority district [04.26.13]
Berkeley could face most dramatic redistricting in 27 years [01.11.13]
City defers redistricting, plans charter amendment [01.18.12]
Cal students file redistricting proposal with the city [09.30.11]

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  • The_Sharkey

    I agree with McCormick on this one.

    West Berkeley is a community that has been split for far too long.
    It deserves representation on the Council.

  • Isabelle Gaston

    The North East Berkeley Association (NEBA) Board unanimously supports the BNC map including a new West Berkeley District. The Council should reverse the Wozniak/Moore motion.

    Isabelle Gaston, President of NEBA

  • JG

    I disagree that “students” should have their own district, any more than any other class of citizenry. Students are transient residents with little vested interest in the long term health, atmosphere, etc., of their environment. The University (and parents) already provide the bulk of their basic needs room and board for them – their contributions on how to improve the lot of life for anyone over 21 would be… marginal. The fact that they are physically clustered is a byproduct of their enrollment at the University, not driven by some life choice to integrate themselves long term into Berkeley’s citizenry. For those who are in fact passionate and DO believe they represent the best choice for a particular district, let them move there and qualify like any other candidate.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Can anyone tell me exactly what the vote was and which councilmembers voted for and against?

    May 7, 2013 when the Council approved a motion by Council Member Gordon
    Wozniak (seconded by Darryl Moore) to eliminate from Council
    consideration the map submitted by the Berkeley Neighborhood Council

  • EBGuy

    How about a renter majority district instead?
    And I’m sorry, but the BNC maps looks like it was designed by a committee.

  • The_Sharkey

    All the maps look like that, because they required the protection of existing council members, which is a horse crap requirement that results in distorted districts.

  • Woolsey

    Strongly agree with JG – the students are not invested in Berkeley, other than those that are renters and would like to lower their rent. They are also distracted by school concerns and unlikely to become informed regarding Berkeley issues. Why is it a given that they need their own district or two?.

  • The_Sharkey

    I’ve spoken to many former Cal students students who’ve told me that they never even got outside the campus area of Berkeley during their entire 4 years at Cal. They were more likely to get on BART and go to San Francisco than to visit other areas in Berkeley.

  • guest

    Students have a natural long term interest in the health, atmosphere,
    etc. of their environment. Many alumni remain supporters of their
    schools and some remain even more deeply engaged. The future value of
    their credentials rests, in part, on the future representation of the
    university as a desirable place to study. Long-lived campus
    organizations and student government provide many examples of students
    displaying and acting on an interest in the long-term health,
    atmosphere, etc. of their environment.

    Students in Berkeley form a “community of interest” as defined by the state constitution. They have shared interests “common to an urban area”, they share “similar living standards”, they “use the same transportation facilities”, “have similar work opportunities”, and “have access to the same media of communication relevant to the election process”.

    And they share all of those commonalities in ways distinct from what they generally have in common with non-student residents.

  • guest

    Check the annotated agenda for that night, on the city web site.

  • EBGuy

    I don’t disagree; however, Alfred Twu’s maps was a MUCH cleaner West Berkeley District. It was also a fairly big shake up of the status quo, so I think that’s why it didn’t move forward.

  • The_Sharkey

    How many times do you have to get banned before you actually leave, Tom?

    Why not go update your own blog instead of continuing to post comments on a news site that’s banned you twice?

  • FiatSlug

    Actually, students have no long-term interest as a group. Any thoughtful person would realize this for these reasons: (1) the vast majority of students attending any particular college or university did not grow up in the host community and (2) the vast majority of the student population dose not intend to stay in the ares many months beyond graduation. Ergo, any natural long-term interest that students might have as a group is a pipe dream.

    This is not to say that students can’t be empathetic or understanding of the issues facing an area, only that they don’t have the background nor are they likely to acquire the background necessary to make informed decisions as Councilmembers.

  • JG

    I’m sorry but unless you’re a house fly, the phrase “natural long term interest in the health, atmosphere, etc. of their environment.” is an oxymoron for a group that has an average stay of less than 4 years in our fine City.

  • EricPanzer

    While I respect the hard work that the BNC and Jaquelyn McCormick have put into their mapping efforts, I think that some of McCormick’s core arguments are somewhat disingenuous and obfuscatory.

    As someone who has submitted their own map and expressed support for the proposal put forward by the Berkeley Student District Campaign, I of course acknowledge that I have strong a strong bias. Nevertheless, I believe there are some objective problems with McCormick’s contentions.

    “there was no question that the BNC map was the only redistricting map submitted which was based on the dual principles of creating a majority student district and keeping neighborhood groups together under one Council representative.

    I don’t think this assertion is remotely settled. I believe that most map submitters made a conscious effort to preserve neighborhoods and communities of interest. Of course, neighborhood boundaries are rarely perfectly discrete, and in some areas may be as much a matter of opinion as geography or demographics. Additionally, the requirements for redistricting in Berkeley–including roughly equal populations, incumbency protections, and an emphasis on the “compactness” of districts–mean that there is virtually no map that will perfectly satisfy all desires or avoid splitting certain neighborhoods to some degree. Even the BNC proposal divides some neighborhoods. For exmaple, under the BNC plan: Cloyne Court, one the larger UC co-ops, would be split from the other Northside co-ops; sororities and fraternities on Southside would be divided between Districts 7 and 8; and the Lorin District, which the BNC conveniently left off of their map, would be split into two districts at its very heart. These are but a few examples, and the BNC map in general features neighborhood boundaries that have been selectively drawn to show its suggested Council districts in a positive light. For instance, even though Ohlone Park actually extends all the way to MLK, the BNC map puts the eastern boundary of the “Ohlone Park” neighborhood at Grant St, which is one block short of the actual edge of the park and–very conveniently–precisely where one of the BNC Council district boundaries falls. Other neighborhoods appear to be all but fabricated. For example “Milvia Alliance” returns only two Google results and both are from this very opinion piece. If the “Milvia Alliance” is so active and important a neighborhood that it simply must be kept together, why is there not a single digital mention of it anywhere outside of McCormick’s own writing?

    1. Is the BNC student district only “gratuitous” as claimed by the proponents of the BSDC map? NO. The BNC map creates a supermajority student district (District 7)

    I’m not entirely certain what McCormick is getting at (perhaps the pure proportion of students in a district?), but in any event, there can be no perfect student district. There are simply too many UC Berkeley students for them all to fit in one district, so one will always be forced to pick and choose which student-heavy blocks will be included. The students feel it is important to keep the Greeks together, and their map also keeps the Northside coops together–albeit in the revised District 6. McCormick seems to be trying to convince us that her approach to the inevitable division of the student community is better than the one the students themselves have endorsed.

    Additionally, McCormick completely fails to address the issue of City Council constituencies. While radical changes to district boundaries may in some cases be justified, it is nonetheless important to consider how major changes might result in the division of key constituencies from their representatives. Darryl Moore and Linda Maio remain very popular in their respective districts. In 2012, Moore won with 59% of the vote, besting his closest challenger by more than 30 percent. In 2010, Linda Maio won with 66% of the vote, besting her competition by more than 40 percent. While such considerations must be balanced against neighborhood integrity, the BNC plan would be particularly radical in the number of voters who would be shifted between Council members. It’s hard not to see the changes in West Berkeley as being targeted, at least in part, at weakening the electoral positions of these two Council Members. To be fair, any changes to boundaries may benefit some Councilmembers at the expense of others, but it is important to consider whether those effects are intentional, or merely incidental. If we are to make such radical changes, I would prefer to see them as part of an even more comprehensive reform, where incumbency is no longer protected, and perhaps even in conjunction with a shift to a Council with at-large, as well as district-based seats.

    I’m sure there is more about this argument that I could criticize, but I think this is more than sufficient to demonstrate that McCormick’s acclaim for the BNC map and disdain for the BSDC map is grounded much more in opinion than in any objective facts. While there are almost certainly pros and cons to both proposals, I don’t believe McCormick has made a remotely compelling argument in regard to the BNC map being preferable to any other.

  • AlanTobey

    One of the difficulties with McCormick’s expressed thinking behind the BNC map is that, while “communities of interest” need to be recognized, neither “BNC” nor “neighborhood organization” has any legal recognition. Both groups are simply self-nominated entities who can define themselves as they see fit, and may choose to do so based on political or ideological principles rather than just geographical ones. For example,and not to tar all groups with the same brush, many neighborhood groups have formed to fight perceived threats or unwanted development and thereafter take on a strong NIMBY coloration that may not at all represent majority opinion in their chosen locale. Finally, there’s no exclusivity of territory; multiple groups may claim overlapping or competing turf.

    Thus it’s unfair to say that a legal redistricting map needs to strictly respect informal neighborhood-group boundaries that can be themselves defined based on preset political goals. Neighborhoods themselves, to be sure, do often have an organic and recognizable reality — but it’s a social reality at best. It’s disingenuous to claim for redistricting purposes that neighborhoods have official boundaries as crisp as ZIP codes or census tracts.

  • Guest

    I’m curious was it ever a possibility that the new districts would not take effect until some time in the future (say, two election cycles, or something) and not have incumbency protection? Just wondering.

  • Minnie

    What a compliment it is to Tom Lord to assume that he’s the author of every single intelligent comment on this blog! But it’s just possible that he’s not the only intelligent person in Berkeley….

  • The_Sharkey

    Tom’s writing style and tone are easily identifiable, and his comments are rarely intelligent.

  • Guest

    How is this not an “ad hominem” attack that the commenting rules specifically prohibit? (And by the way, I’ve written at least one comment that Sharkey has claimed was written by “Tom” and I don’t even know who you guys are talking about!)

  • guest

    District 1 turns into a joke under the BNC plan. Comparing the “walkability” of one district to another to justify the absurd borders is ridiculous.

    Stop with the empty “injustice” claims. It gives you no credibility.

  • Completely_Serious

    Wouldn’t that be great. And fair. And democratic. Not Berkeley at all! That would interfere with the machine.

    I’m nostalgic for the old, city-wide elected council.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Nostalgic? You of all people? Gasp.

    Seriously, I agree.

  • guest

    Ms. McCormick, going back to your self proclaimed area of expertise, can you clarify the distinction between taupe and beige?

  • You Are Pathetic

    Can’t argue with the ideas, so you attack the individual’s profession? Classy!

  • guest

    An interior designer offering space planning suggestions for the city’s electorate is pathetic. Perfectly normal here, but pathetic.

  • Rob Wrenn

    Students have always had their own District, namely District 7. They have been a majority of residents of that District for a long time. However, many students don’t bother to participate in local elections so they have never elected anyone to the City Council, except for Nancy Skinner in 1984, who was actually elected citywide, not from a district. Some students don’t register to vote at their Berkeley addresses, preferring to register in their home communities. Of those who do register, a sizable proportion don’t bother to vote. Of those who vote, a substantial number don’t vote the whole ballot. They vote for President and on major propositions, but don’t vote for local officials or measures. In short, students have only themselves to blame if they lack representation on the City Council. The City shouldn’t be bending over backwards to cram so many students into District 7 as to guarantee the election of a student. I would also note that when students have been offered the choice of a student candidate, many, particularly those not living in dorms, have opted to vote for the non-student candidate.

  • Rob Wrenn

    I don’t get how West Berkeley would benefit from having everyone in one district. As it is now, there are two councilmembers, those representing Districts 1 and 2, who have to pay some attention to the concerns of West Berkeley residents. If all of West Berkeley is in one district, then only one councilmember can be held accountable. My neighhborhood, LeConte, has been split between two districts, Districts 3 and 7. I don’t think this has hurt our influence in local politics. We have two councilmembers we can appeal to, not just one; two that we can hold accountable. Similarly, students would benefit, should they bother to participate, which they largely don’t, by having a strong presence in several districts. HIstorically, since District elections, they have been a majority in 7, but also had a sizable presence in Districts 4 and 8, and some in District 6 as well. Republicans have redistricted states they control to cram all the Democrats in supermajority districts where a Democrat is guaranteed to be elected. They control the House even though a majority of Americans voted for Democratic House candidates because there are so many supermajority Democratic districts. The problem with District elections in Berkeley is that councilmembers can safely ingore the concerns of residents outside their districts unless they have citywide political ambitions. A neighborhood can adamantly oppose a poorly thought out development, but they can only hold their own councilmember acountable at the polls (if the person seeks re-election). Other councilmembers, perhaps recipients of developer campaign contributions, can safely vote to approve crappy projects not in their district. I think the Panzer proposal, while not perfect, is superior to the BNC proposal.

  • David D.

    Sorry, Ms. McCormick, but it’s time to let this go. I live in District 1, and the BNC redistricting plan sticks me in an awkwardly shaped West Berkeley district. East of San Pablo, life is distinctly different north and south of University. The maps developed by the BSDC and Eric Panzer recognize this. And regarding your effort to keep communities together, did you not notice that your plan splits Westbrae in half?

  • David D.

    Sorry, Ms. McCormick, but it’s time to let this go. I live in District 1, and the BNC redistricting plan sticks me in an awkwardly shaped West Berkeley district. I live near North Berkeley BART, which has little in common with the Berkeley Bowl West area. The maps developed by the BSDC and Eric Panzer recognize this.

    Regarding your effort to keep communities together, did you not notice that your plan splits Westbrae in half?

  • guest

    There are two small but critical problems with that analysis, Rob.

    The conclusion (“The City shouldn’t be bending over over backwards ….”) is based on inferences about how we might expect students to use their newly concentrated vote. How the students might vote is categorically not a legally valid argument for or against a student district. For this same reason the question of whether or not they will elect a student to City Council is beside the point.

    The observation that students have been a majority in District 7 as currently drawn doesn’t erase the fact that a heavy concentration of students near campus is split by current district lines.

  • guest

    how is tom/bruce still posting after being banned twice?

  • guest

    what does north berkeley bart have in common with the west gilman neighborhood? not much either.

  • David D.

    Moderator, why does this show up? I clicked “delete” instead of “edit” and this is what happens? Seems like very poor programming and potentially awkward considering “delete” doesn’t mean delete…

  • guest

    If you were familiar with the disease, you wouldn’t be chiding Sharkey for his zealous attempts to prevent reinfection.

  • guest

    As President of the North by Northwest Berkeley Association (NBNWBA) Board, I speak confidently for our entire organization, all three of us (that’s two more than NEBA): The BNC map is stoopid!

  • gus

    BNC’s map put my address within the boundaries of a “community of interest” that I’ve never heard of. Is “5th & Channing” a community of interest, or an intersection 5 blocks from my house?