Berkeley Council denies last-minute redistricting proposal

The City Council approved a motion Tuesday to make the campus district map the preferred plan for redistricting.

A new City Council redistricting plan was presented Tuesday during the second public hearing for redistricting proposals, but council members voted against considering it because of its last-minute introduction.

Despite the submittal of the new proposal, the council voted to make the Berkeley Student District Campaign (BSDC) map the preferred plan for council redistricting. The preferred map creates a student-majority district around the UC Berkeley campus and is scheduled to be adopted Sept. 10. The redistricting will correct for population changes recorded in the 2010 census, and will be the first since the passage of Measure R last November, which removes the severe geographic constraints mandated in Berkeley since 1986. 

“Some people say there’s a perfect map out there, but I think this is pretty close,” council member Gordon Wozniak said at the hearing. Mayor Tom Bates said the BSDC map was superior to the other map under consideration, the Edge Simplicity map, because it didn’t divide the Willard district.

“I support the goal of having a district that has a supermajority of students,” council member Jesse Arreguín said. Although he supported the last-minute plan, called the United Student District Amendment (USDA), he agreed with the majority of the council about the importance of having a strong student district. “I think it would unify the voice of the students and make sure their needs and concerns are being addressed by city government,” he said.

“I like the student map. The lines are very clean,” council member Susan Wengraf said at the hearing.

Kriss Worthington, whose student interns designed the USDA map, said it would better represent the campus as a whole because it included more student housing in the Northside area.

“We could fix the flaws of what was left out and I think it would far more accurately reflect the concept of what is a student district,” Worthington said.

Bates and council member Linda Maio expressed concern that the proposal was submitted too late, since the council had already gone through a process of considering and narrowing down the seven maps submitted on May 7.

“It seems to me that to bring something up at the 11th hour, with none of that process, is wrong,” Maio said. “I think it actually dishonors the integrity of the process.”

According to Worthington, information on the number of dorms and cooperative houses, particularly in the Northside area, wasn’t available at previous council meetings. He said it was necessary for him to gather that data before he could draw up an amended plan that included more student housing.

Council member Max Anderson voted to consider the USDA plan, claiming that not doing so would be undemocratic.

“All of us on this council have introduced late items,” Anderson said. “We have an obligation to be democratic.”

“We can keep an open mind, use the new information and actually fix some of the flaws,” Worthington said.

The majority of comments during the public comment period focused on the two maps originally slated for consideration — the BSDC plan and the Edge Simplicity plan. The two plans are similar and only differ in their mapping of districts seven and eight; the campus district map extends district seven, the “campus district,” slightly farther east to encompass student housing there. One UC Berkeley student and fraternity member said that extension is important because it allows a number of Greek houses to be included in the student supermajority district.

Safeena Mecklai, ASUC external affairs vice president, stressed the importance of having a unified student voice in citywide decision-making.

“The only other map being discussed tonight, the Simplicity map, aims to draw the cleanest lines possible at the expense of communities of interest,” Mecklai told the council. “Student involvement will be essential to the success of any efforts to revitalize Telegraph Avenue, to provide affordable housing, and to reverse the crime rates that have made UC Berkeley the third most dangerous university campus in America.”

After the council voted to deny consideration of USDA plan, UC Berkeley student Stefan Elgstrand, who spoke in support of it, said it was “a disappointment, but at the same time, I’m not that surprised.”

“I still believe that this is the better alternative,” he said.

Sam Lai, who interns with Worthington, agreed.

“I want to credit it to the timing,” she said. “I don’t think there’s any question that this [plan] is an improvement.”

Editors’ Note: This story was updated shortly after press time to correct information regarding the designers of the USDA redistricting map.

Camille Baptista is a summer intern at Berkeleyside. She studies creative writing and human rights at Barnard in New York City, where she writes for the Columbia Daily Spectator.

Related:
Berkeley council to consider two city 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)

Berkeleyside publishes many articles every day. To see all our stories in chronological order, and read ones you may have missed, check out our All the News grid.

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  • The_Sharkey

    The council is more interested in protecting incumbents than in creating districts that truly reflect the various neighborhoods of Berkeley/

  • AnthonySanchez

    That’s inherent in the process and that’s why I tried to advocate for independent redistricting, but that clearly came off as too complicated and less controllable to some. However, as long as a majority Council can draw the lines, incumbency protection is important to ensure that if someone is kicked out of office, it is by the voters, and not by a clique on Council.

    Also, I will add that in practice, there is not perfect way to redistrict when you try to design for insulation, accountability and practicality.

  • AnthonySanchez

    I have only one correction for this article: our office was in no way involved with the design and development of the USDA map -we were only shown a copy beforehand. Also, a bit nit-picky, but Kriss Worthington, too, did not development the map -his office did, or in this case, his interns. Stating otherwise diminishes this as a “student” map, and casts it more as a “politician” map.

  • EBGuy

    Plausible deniability. He-he. In all fairness, though, I hope the record can be corrected.
    Hmmm… looks like no co-op voters to counter balance the frats. Score 1 for whoever runs against Kriss…

  • S.Fischer

    “Mayor Tom Bates said the BSDC map was superior to the other map under consideration…because it didn’t divide the Willard district.” Except for those of us who live between Stuart and Russell on the west side of Hillegass! Why does this gerrymandering get a pass? If the student district is so important, then Kriss Worthington should move into a neighborhood closer to the University and its students. What happens to this “bump” when a new council person is elected who is actually a student?

  • Camille Baptista

    Thanks Anthony. We’ve updated the article to reflect that information.

  • guest

    Was the possibility ever considered of having new districts without incumbency protection but taking effect after one or two election cycles?

  • EBGuy

    The point of redistricting is to make sure citizens votes in each district are roughly ‘equal’ to each other. The slower you respond to the new census data, the longer the the inequality persists. I was pretty offended that the city council punted on redistricting last year.

  • EBGuy

    Nice job with the quote from Safeena Mecklai; I bet it’s representative of what’s to come. What do other folks think?

  • Guest

    Sounds a little bit like Jeffery Skilling of Enron. To put a finer point on it, “Yes, my office (read giant corporation) did it but I didn’t know they were doing it…” What crap.

  • AnthonySanchez

    Council has to redistrict and the lines be in effect every decade -delaying lines would have violated the law. But yes, that did occur to me.

  • AnthonySanchez

    This doesn’t compute. Please explain analogy.

  • EBGuy

    I agree and tend to favor Eric’s solution as it looks cleaner and less gerrymandered. That said, this is the frats flexing their political muscles. Or maybe I’m imagining things…

  • Truth Sayer

    though I seldom agree with you, the one thing I agree with you is that “if someone is kicked out of office, it is by the voters, and not by a clique on Council.”

  • Woolsey

    Well… if the students are interested in improving public safety and facilitating bike transportation then maybe it will be OK. In practice, I think that most students will not be engaged and the students involved will be those honing their political skills and playing to the crowd: cheap rent.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    I wonder if “affordable housing” means the same to Mecklai and other students as it does outside the university community?

  • guest

    The kids are going to kick Worthington’s ass. I’d much rather see preening student “gonna be’s”, than Worthington’s “never was” mug.

  • Tizzielish

    I’ve written this before but every time I read that the council, esp my city council rep Jesse Arrequin, openly supports discriminating in favor of students, to gerrymander a district to guarantee a student on the city council, I am amazed. Imagine trying to design a district to ensure Hispanics had a serious shot at electing someone! And this: if it is unconstitutional to weigh race into admissions at UC Berkreley, why is it constitutional to weigh social status (student) into gerrymandering?

    Just because gerrymandering goes on all over, stacking the deck unfairly in many political races, esp. Congressional districts, doesn’t make it moral or right. It’s wrong.

    Computer algorhythms should set up our district and the software should be written by distant, objective tech geeks only interested in reasonable formulas. Of course such people would be lobbied and all their choices argued pro and con. . .

    We have a political system that pretends to listen to all voices.

    I am disgusted that this city is gerrymandering to ensure a student has a real chance to get on the city council. Jesse Arrequin was first elected at age 24 — because he was politically active in Berkeley throughout his student years. Any student who wants to be active in politics in this city has a chance to get elected right now — if the incumbents would step down, if we had term limits, if if if. Just because we have dinosaur mayors and incumbents who are all but unbeatable doesn’t mean we have to also give a student a guaranteed seat. And what about a student actually getting elected?! Will they then stay on the council, with the powerful incumbency advantage and age in office, age out of student-hood? then will we have to gerrymander again?

    This decision, to gerrymander a student district, is wrong. Students can get involved in politics, just as any citizen can. They are crybabies seeking special entitlement.

  • vote counter

    Imagine trying to design a district to ensure Hispanics had a serious shot at electing someone!

    If there were a concentration of similarly situated Latino voters in a compact geographic area then accommodating that group during redistricting is not only plausible, it might be legally obligatory in California and under the City charter. Consider how if that were not the case, it would be easier to use redistricting for discriminatory purposes.

    There is probably gerrymandering going on here but it is not the kind you think. In fact, it appears to be the council majority’s intention to dilute the student vote by splitting certain students into a separate district.

    The council majority say they want the student-drawn map. That map splits off from district 7 a group of students on northside who are historically reliable Worthington supporters. By excluding those students from the student district, Worthington faces a tougher campaign come next election. Ironically, the effort to draw a student district will result in once again diluting the student vote for gerrymandering purposes.

    The new map that Worthington supporters drew up and that council declined to consider was drawn in response to this gerrymandering and student-vote dilution. At past meetings, city staff instructed the council that splitting district 7 this way was necessary – that there was no way to include those students in a redrawn district 7. The new map demonstrates that staff was wrong.

    Certain council members who, judging by their behavior on the dais, dislike having Worthington there, argued against considering the new map on procedural grounds.

  • GO AWAY, TOM/BRUCE

    District 7 is a joke because of where Worthington “lives” and no other reason.

  • vote counter

    Huh?

  • guest

    “They are crybabies seeking special entitlement.”

    That’s the pot calling the pan a utensil of color! ©2010

  • Gus

    Uhhh, “city staff” did not draw BSDC map. Representatives of the ASUC did.

    You’ve constructed a conspiracy theory from whole cloth here. The implication of what you’ve fabricated here is that the ASUC undertook a years long campaign to advocate for a student-district while instead secretly working to dilute the student vote.

    It’s plainly nonsense

  • The_Sharkey

    Tom’s always loved a good old-fashioned conspiracy theory.

  • Completely_Serious

    The whole thing stinks. We need a referendum to remove the “can’t redistrict an incumbent out of the district” provision.

    Of course, when you live in El Cerrito, or is it El Segundo, you don’t live in your district anyways.

  • EBGuy

    Clearly, though, this IS a Southside focused student district. Perhaps it might look a bit different if Worthington didn’t live so far down Telegraph. And the frat row bump is clearly a hack that favors an organized student subgroup (excuse me, helps maintain a community of interest — according to Safeena Mecklai).

  • vote counter

    Gus I didn’t say that city staff had drawn the BSDC map so it’s odd you feel compelled to point that out.

    And as for conspiracy theories, nobody has to take the word of Berkeleyside comments they can go watch or listen to the recordings of the July 2nd council meeting. The relevant action starts at 47 minutes in and at 49 minutes Kriss moves to accept for consideration the proposed amended map. The vote quickly goes against him. If you want to skip over the public comments, the council debate about the maps resumes at about 1 hour, 9 minutes, 30 seconds in and continues until about 1 hour 45 minutes.

    Kriss has asked at several previous meetings what student housing was included in the map and was at one point told that it was impossible to include the student coops because of the councilmember residency requirement. The BSDC map that the council majority favors excludes 3/4 of the student coops, a majority of student dorms, and I-house. Wozniak, Capitelli, and Bates explain that this isn’t supposed to be a “student district” after all. Wengraf and Maio express their worries about process. The debate gets kind of ugly, as these things go.

    http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/Clerk/City_Council/City_Council__Agenda_Index.aspx

  • vote counter

    ” Perhaps it might look a bit different if Worthington didn’t live so far down Telegraph.”

    That’s the supposed excuse for excluding I-house, the majority of student dorms, and most of the coops from district 7. And that’s the point of the amended version of the BSDC map: to show that that those exclusions aren’t really necessary after all.

    Council has the legal option and good democratic reason to consider amending the BSDC map to fix those exclusions. The proposals that the council majority rejected would have directed city staff to analyze such an amendment between now and September.

  • Gus

    Actually, I was at that meeting, so your biased blow-by-blow is unnecessary.

    You did say, “At past meetings, city staff instructed the council that splitting district 7 this way was necessary – that there was no way to include those students in a redrawn district 7.”

    It is a matter of record that the BSDC map does not include the co-ops because that’s the way the students drew it within the context of Measure R’s directives. You repeatedly assign nefarious motives to “council majority” and “city staff” when neither entity was involved in creating the BSDC map.

    Worthington’s “USDA” map, publicly endorsed by a single Cal student, was rejected simply because Worthington is very bad at his job. Measure R passed on November 6, 2012. Redistricting proposals were due March 15, 2013. On May 7, Council selected the BSDC map as one of two finalists. Then on July 2, 2013, Kriss Worthington finally gets his act together and attempts to interject himself into the process. His motion was obviously out of order, so it was voted down.

    Had you been at the meeting, rather than skipping through the video, you would have noted that Evil Overlord Tom Bates actually voted to allow Kriss to introduce his new data, five months after the deadline everybody else had to observe. But Kriss’s motion to introduce supplemental data failed to garner the 2/3 support necessary, but only actually received two No votes. Some conspiracy.

    Further, given the council minority’s constant harping about transparency, it is deliciously ironic that Kriss and his minions are pitching a fit that he wasn’t allowed to introduce data that no one else had seen nor verified.

    It’s super fun to think you’re the special one who has uncovered some fiendish plot, but as you move through life and gain a little more experience, you’ll discover that generally incompetence is a much more likely explanation than conspiracy.

  • vote counter

    Gus I make no claims one way or another as to the process or motivations by which the BSDC map was drawn. That is entirely your projection and it is a red herring.

    The council majority is declining to consider modest changes to the student map and, in the past, acted on the basis of incorrect information in picking that map. You point out deadlines but, as Kriss pointed out, the past three times council redistricted the process included “late” modifications. You act as though the sole point of a public hearing was to weigh the Panzer map, which not even Panzer endorses, against a BSDC map written in stone. The council minority contended that the public hearing should allow for the proposal of modest improvements to the main maps being considered.

    As for Bates’ vote: Once again, accusations of a “conspiracy” are entirely your projection. Meanwhile, Bates spoke harshly against Kriss’ motion even while voting “yes” and every person on that dais knows how to count votes and play the roll call game. It is, from time to time, the mayor’s privilege to cast a symbolic vote of “support” for a measure he is happily confident will not pass. (That is not a slam on this mayor in particular. It is intrinsic to the parliamentary rules used and any politician who doesn’t know how to work that game is not fully competent.)

    I’m done but I didn’t want to leave standing this nonsense about “fiendish plots” and such.

  • The_Sharkey

    To think it was almost a year ago to the day that you were formally banned from Berkeleyside for the second time.

    http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2012-07-06/article/39963?headline=Banned-in-Berkeley-on-Berkeleyside

  • Gus

    “Fiendish” or otherwise, you entered this conversation solely to allege that the purpose of the district map created by an ASUC-sponsored committee and favored by the overwhelming majority of students who offered a public opinion is actually to dilute the student vote. That’s nonsensical on its face.

    Further, sans evidence, you claim that this was the object of “council majority” all along. This is paranoia.

    Redistricting has involved a defined and open process. Kriss Worthington does not feel bound by that process, but that’s a problem for Kriss Worthington, not the rest of us.

  • Gus

    “It is intrinsic to the parliamentary rules used and any politician who doesn’t know how to work that game is not fully competent.”

    By implication, were Kriss a competent politician, he would not have failed so completely in his effort to derail the redistricting process.

  • guest

    “By implication,”

    You are using those words incorrectly, Gus.

  • Gus

    No. “vote counter” asserts that a politician who is inadept at parliamentary procedure “is not fully competent.” On July 2, Kriss Worthington’s efforts to get his USDA map considered were quashed, primarily on procedural grounds. Thus, though “vote counter’s” assertion does not name any specific politician, it implies that Worthington’s failure “to work that game” is a demonstration of his incompetence. And an “implication” is something that is implied.

    Perhaps guest is confused by my use of the subjunctive mood in constructing the conditional.

  • vote counter

    > No. “vote counter” asserts that a politician who is inadept at parliamentary procedure “is not fully competent.” [….]

    No I didn’t. I said that the mayor, like everyone else on council, knows how to count votes and knows when he can take a “symbolic” vote for a position he’s happily confident won’t pass. That has pretty much nothing to do with the procedural objections to Kriss’s motion to look at new data.

    The “procedural grounds” on which Kriss’ motion to accept a document was rejected had nothing to do with the parliamentary niceties of voting. The “procedure” that the mayor, Wengraf and Maio in particular harped on was the schedules for soliciting initial proposals, the meetings that went with those schedules, and so forth. Kriss offered a possible improvement to the BSDC map and Wengraf and Maio were arguably making up a new rule when they said “too late”. It doesn’t matter. Council majority doesn’t have to explicitly agree on their new rule — they just have to vote that way.

    Council majority made a power play over this issue. That’s within their authority and it’s what they did. Opinions vary as to whether or not they did a virtuous thing but there’s no sense in denying that that’s what happened.

  • move in a forward direction pl

    May I offer that this stinks to high hell of allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good? This town’s decision making is already delayed to a snails pace due to every Tom Dick and Harry crying that they weren’t heard. It adds insult to injury when they also claim that all they are suggesting is a “minor change” or an “refinement”. Are all you well spoken intellectuals completely unaware of the actual work required to IMPLEMENT plans after they have been established and how much of a complete waste of peoples’ time and resources it is to change midstream? In the engineering world we call it “scope creep” and it is a term of derision because it is indicative of a willful ignorance of the breadth and depth of work that has to be done to make plans into reality. This does not mean that things need to be set in stone, but it does mean that the more you miss a deadline, the more the onus is on you to justify the cost/benefits of making whatever changes you propose.

    The point is that the time has passed to discuss these finer block by block adjustments to the maps, there was more than ample time to do that long ago. If we don’t pick one then we don’t actually get new districts. It is as simple as that. If Council majority (I’m still unclear on this construction without a definite article) made a power play over this issue, it was to smack down what was either an overt stall tactic by Councilman Worthington, or to express exasperated frustration at his incompetence if he truly just couldn’t get these “improvements” in front of people until this final hour . I would venture it was more of an interpretation, than a “new rule”, when they said “too late”.

  • guest

    If ever there was a tempest in a pee pot, this is it. Berkeley is a UNIVERSITY TOWN! Why would the students have less say in civic matters than the parasites whose livelihoods they make possible?

  • Goodby in Advance

    If life in Berkeley is so awful why don’t you just commit suicide?

  • guest

    Life in my Berkeley is wonderful. My aim is to make it that way for the majority of citizens, not the final few still clinging to a failed past.