Redistricting meeting sheds light on past process

Currently, this Berkeley Student District Campaign map, authored by Eric Panzer, is the council's choice going forward.

Currently, this Berkeley Student District Campaign map, authored by Eric Panzer, is the council’s choice going forward.

A small group of community members came together earlier this week at the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce to learn how the city’s redistricting process, underway for the past two years, will impact the city going forward.

Redistricting takes place in Berkeley every 10 years, when U.S. Census data are released, to ensure that districts have roughly equal populations.

Since at least 2000, students and others who live around the UC Berkeley campus have been trying to establish a student-majority district with the aim of giving students a larger voice and role in city decisions. In 2000, a proposal that essentially created a ring around campus was rejected by the city attorney because it didn’t comply with the city charter’s rules for redistricting. Last fall, Berkeley voters passed Measure R to change the way redistricting takes place.

As a result of Measure R, redistricting plans must meet four simple criteria: new boundaries can not have two sitting council members in the same district; populations of districts must be nearly equal; boundaries must be easily understood; and boundaries must take into account cohesiveness, contiguity, compactness and communities of interest.

As far as “communities of interest,” the maps presented to the council earlier this year took into account historic neighborhoods, traffic boundaries, and a not-too-distant departure from current boundaries.

Most of the growth between 2000 and 2010 took place south of campus and in the downtown area, said Councilman Gordon Wozniak on Monday at the chamber session. Districts 4 (Arreguín), 7 (Worthington) and 8 (Wozniak) needed to shrink as a result.

Wozniak said the idea of a campus district has wide support because, though the student population turns over, “they’re always there.” He continued: “We’d like to engage them and perhaps keep them in Berkeley after they graduate. It would help our city flourish. This is an attempt, in a way, to engage them and get them involved in our city politics.”

Wozniak noted that student elections for Cal’s ASUC (Associated Students of the University of California) are vigorously contested, have high turn-out and draw “very high quality people running for those offices. We’re hoping the same thing will happen in this campus district.”

Added Councilman Jesse Arreguín, who also attended Monday’s meeting: “It will help really mobilize and empower students to get involved in local elections.”

City Council staffer Kristin Hunziker, from Wozniak’s office, said she has been working closely with students for nearly three years to come up with a campus district map that could win broad council support. In July, the council voted to designate that map, the Berkeley Student District Campaign map, as its preferred choice for redistricting. It is scheduled to be adopted Sept. 10. Councilman Kriss Worthington’s office, however, has been working on another proposal that offers an alternative vision for the campus district. So far, it has not been able to gain enough traction to move ahead.

Eric Panzer, right, authored the map that was approved by the Berkeley City Council in July. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Eric Panzer, right, authored the map that was approved by the Berkeley City Council in July. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Eric Panzer, an urban planner and GIS expert who — as a volunteer — helped create the Berkeley Student District map, spoke Monday about the process. He said the redesign involved analyzing the population changes of nearly 2000 census blocks. The requirements to keep sitting council members in their districts, and to have balanced population across districts, he said, made the job tough.

“It can be very challenging because Berkeley is a very dense city, and there’s a lot of variability from block to block,” he said. “That’s proven a challenge but it’s also been a fun challenge.”

Panzer added: “If you make small changes, sometimes they have ripple effects.”

One attendee at Monday’s meeting asked about the status of the Kriss Worthington proposal, which would include a slightly higher student population, but would also split at least one established neighborhood — the North Shattuck area — into three separate districts.

Even the Worthington map, noted presenters on Monday, doesn’t include all the city’s students, which can fill up close to two districts due to their 25,000 to 30,000 population. Most districts are set to include close to 14,000 people.

Kriss Worthington's office has created an alternate vision of a student district.

Worthington’s office has created an alternate vision of a student district that would add Foothill, Bowles, Stern, I-House and 11 co-ops to the mix.

Wozniak said he doesn’t see the Worthington map gaining traction: “I don’t think the council is likely to consider a separate new proposal because there have already been several votes.”

Arreguín said the council regularly accepts revisions to agenda items; Panzer noted that the redistricting maps, however, require city staff to perform extensive analyses to verify that local and federal regulations are met. (Worthingon and Councilman Max Anderson voted against the Berkeley Student District Campaign map in early July.)

Arreguín and Wozniak said, in the future, the city may wish to create an independent commission to make decisions about redistricting.

“There are a lot of constraints,” Wozniak said, “and, in the end, it’s not a simple process. The council has to pass it in the end. There was some talk earlier of fairly radical change proposals, but it’s hard to get the council to say, ‘Yes, we’re in favor,’ of a major shift. It’s amazing that, in the end, the one proposal won so much support.”

Participants in Monday’s discussion noted that though the new map would create a so-called “student district,” or “campus district,” it’s hard to say exactly how many students live there. The concept is based instead on age ranges, which are readily available from census data: that is, a concentration of people who live in the area who are age 18 to 29.

Still, staffer Hunziker noted that Berkeley would be “on the cutting edge” if the district does ultimately come to pass, and that it would be appropriate to call it a student district given that students were a driving force behind the district’s conceptualization and reshaping.

Wozniak noted that, whatever you call it, the proposed district has a high concentration of young people who have made different lifestyle choices than many other city residents.

“Ninety-nine percent are probably renters and 90% don’t have cars. Ninety-five percent use mass transit,” he said. “That’s quite different from a lot of the other districts in the city. They have different needs and different interests. And they will have a seat at the table.”

Berkeley Council denies last-minute redistricting proposal (07.08.13)
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)

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  • Tom

    They’re making an “18-29” district, how is this different than making a “Black” district or a “Rich” district?

  • Tizzielish

    As I have pointed out in berkeleyside comments before, I don’t understand why it is unconstistutional to use race in admissions to UC Berkeley considerations but it is acceptable to use social categories to stack a preferential deck in the votes for city reps.

    Imagine gerrymandering voting districts for Asians, or for Caucasians or for folks over forty or for homeowners with few renters.

    It is wrong to draw districts with the biased intention to all but guarantee a student sits on the council.

    Wrong wrong wrong.

  • Chris J

    I think you’re correct, yet at the same time, if there is NO student being elected to the city council, then given their general population percentage of the city which is significant at least 9 months of the year, then that is wrong, wrong, wrong.

  • remember how we got here

    Tizzielish as a point of history, before Berkeley had districts council seats were elected at large.

    The students, by shear demographics and level of participation, had a powerful voice.

    They helped swing an election that put a student on city council: Nancy Skinner.

    Two years later, Berkeley conservatives responded by getting a reform to the city charter, creating the district system, and splitting the students among several districts. The student voice in elections was diluted that way. The conservatives timed their effort so that the vote of residents would be taken when most students were out of town.

    You are against creating a district to give students a voice. Are you also against creating a system of districts to take away the electoral voice of students? Because that is the current situation.

    The contention between the BDSC and and BDSA maps is basically an argument about gerrymandering in favor of more conservative voters or in favor of more progressive voters. This article documents the specifics of how conservatives influenced the BDSC map.

  • AnthonySanchez

    Whether people think a district for students is or is non-permitted gerrymandering, and I am only addressing the technicality here, an age group is not a class category like race for the purposes of redistricting.

  • squarepeg

    wtf are you talking about? sure it is.

  • Biker 94703

    Nothing is stopping a student from running. Or from voting for a student.

    Who is the last student who ran for council? How’d they do? What was the turnout in the student-heavy voting areas?

    Personally, I think we have enough bs grandstanding by council already and I wouldn’t welcome more of the nonsense that typifies the ASUC.

  • AnthonySanchez

    I misspoke, I meant protected class. I’ve edited my above comment to reflect that.

  • The_Sharkey

    Maybe it’s different at Cal, but students at the colleges I attended didn’t usually bother to register and vote in the communities they went to school in. Beyond that, people in the 18-20something age range have notoriously poor turnout at the polls even when they’re in their home districts.

    I doubt that creating a district pandering to them will change that.

  • Chris J

    We usually have the government we deserve, I have heard. If people don’t register to vote, don’t care to vote, or if they have their unique perspective (students) diluted by redistricting, well…that’s that.

  • remember how we got here

    Chris J., you can not be too cavalier and say “if they have their […] perspective diluted by redistricting […] that’s that”.

    The federal and state constitutions guarantee people equal protection under the law. Districting that dilutes the votes of a group of people based on their status as members of an identifiable community of interest (as defined in state law) can be unlawful because it denies equal protection.

  • Chris J

    Ok. Ironic that they still require protection even if they seem to have displayed zero interest in local politics. Oh, I’m not saying that someone shouldn’t be looking out for them–there is no shortage of windmills to tilt against in the minds of local Berkeleyans.

    I’m more of an in the trenches sorta politician–I probably care more for injustice against friends and neighbors than similarly screwed over people whom I don’t know.

    Not being facetious, but I’m glad that there are more altruistic folks out there with time and energy for strangers or people who don’t care or would rather be left alone.

  • Charles_Siegel

    I think the last student who ran for council was Nancy Skinner – who did pretty well, considering that she not only won the council seat repeatedly but also became our representative in the state Assembly and will soon become our state Senator.

  • concerned resident

    I’d be interested in knowing more about her voting record as a council member. Did she operate as a council member who happens to be a student? Or as a student with the powers of a council member?

    Most importantly, did she treat non-student residents like an ATM machine? I’m a lot less interested in the yak shaving aspects of the city council and am much more concerned by the prospect of being saddled with more 30 year bond issues that create programs and services for people who have no intention of being around to help pay for them. Yes, yes, Skinner stayed but her classmates have mostly moved on.

  • The_Sharkey

    And no student has cared enough to try to run in the 20 years since she left office? How do we even know that the current distracting map is really that big of a problem for a potential student candidate if none have bothered to try? Why are we gerrymandering for a group that isn’t participating?

  • guest

    If you really want to know about her voting record, why don’t you do the research and find out?

    Instead, you are attacking her by innuendo. Let me give you a taste of the same sort of attack:

    I would be interested in knowing more about concerned resident’s motives. Is he interested in the well being of Berkeley, or is are his interest’s purely selfish? Has he ever done anything to help Berkeley, or is he just interested in what he can get out of the city. Would he vote against bonds that are needed to preserve city infrastructure and make the city safer, or would he just vote against bonds that waste money?

  • Shoo Tom

    Go away

  • not Tom, you idiot

    “Go away”


  • Charles_Siegel

    When Nancy first ran, we had at-large elections. When we shifted to districts, she had the advantage of the incumbency.

    If no student has run in the 20 since we have had district elections, maybe that says something.

  • tor_berg

    Students run every once in awhile, but honestly, it’s difficult to remember the guy who lost to the councilman across town 10 years ago. Jason Overman lost to Wozniak in 2006. Micki Weinberg lost to Worthington in 2002. There were probably others since Skinner.

  • The_Sharkey

    How many student council members did we have before Skinner? All that students not running for council tells us is that students aren’t interested in running for council.

    It would be one thing if students were running all the time and getting lots of votes but being thwarted by the current district system, but that’s not what’s happening. What’s happening is that we’re gerrymandering to try to increase the voting power of a group that doesn’t seem particularly interested in the first place.

  • 2ndGenBerkeleyan

    Anyone recall the graphic response of then Mayor Gus Newport and his vice-mayor, Veronica “eyeliner” Fukson to the passage of the original district elections initiative back in the mid-1980s which appeared in the Daily Cal?

    They both (famously) gave the one fingered salute to the voters of Berkeley.

  • The_Sharkey

    I believe Tom is participating in this discussion as “remember how we got here” rather than as “guest.”

    The comment you are replying to has a similar tone, but the writing style is a little different. The comment from “remember how we got here” seems to be more in his style, with wrong-word mistakes (shear/sheer) and blaming things he doesn’t like on conservative conspiracies.