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, 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.
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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