Tuesday night, the Berkeley City Council approved a new redistricting map to redraw council boundaries to reflect the city’s population changes over the past decade and increase the number of student-aged voters in District 7.
Proponents of the new map say District 7 will become the first student district in the country. Cal students have helped spearhead the campaign to build support for the map, which they said has broad support on campus and in the neighborhoods nearby.
But detractors of the new map say it is a watered down district that will dilute progressive student power, and pushed for a different proposal. The vote split the council, with council members Kriss Worthington and Jesse Arreguín voting against it, and Councilman Max Anderson abstaining.
The council voted in July to select a preferred redistricting map, the Berkeley Student District Campaign (BSDC) map, which creates a “campus district” made up largely of student-aged residents who live near UC Berkeley but is otherwise not a radical departure from many of the city’s existing council districts.
But, shortly before that vote, Worthington’s office created an alternate version of that document, the United Student District Amendment (USDA) map, which included 11 co-ops, three dorms and International House, which were not included in the BSDC map. (Update, 3:55 p.m.: Stefan Elgstrand, an intern in Worthington’s office, spearheaded the creation of the USDA map. He said Wednesday afternoon via email that, “While I am an intern for him, the map was a student movement in which we used his office as a means to present it to Council.”)
The USDA map would have boosted the population of student-aged residents from 86% (BSDC) to 90%. (Currently District 7 has about 70% student-aged residents.)
Tuesday night, Worthington criticized the BSDC map as “biased” and “one-sided” because it failed to keep together all the residents of the Berkeley Student Cooperative — which are currently in his district — and encouraged residents to launch a referendum campaign to force the City Council to reconsider its vote or bring the decision to a public vote. Under the BSDC map, 25% of the co-op houses would be in District 7, effectively splitting the population of what Worthington and others said should be held together as a community of interest.
Worthington described the BSDC map as a “controversial gerrymander” similar to Republican efforts around the country to dilute Democratic power by redrawing district lines.
“This is a partisan political gerrymander befitting of what the Republicans have done to distort our Congress, and this is so unfair to the students who are going to be kept out of participating, but it’s also unfair to the entire city of Berkeley,” he said.
Worthington said that students who live in the co-ops represent some of the most progressive and engaged voices in the city and that, by “kicking them out” of the district, the city is weakening the progressive movement in Berkeley as a whole.
Worthington also said it is inaccurate to call the new District 7 the first student district in the country, because District 7 already has a “supermajority” of student-aged voters under current district boundaries.
Councilman Max Anderson called the BSDC map “another political hack job” that would divide student voices rather than amplify them, and said it reminded him of historical efforts to exclude minority voices, such as students in North Carolina or elderly African American voters from elections around the country.
“Why are people afraid of your vote, your voice, your participation,” he said, “in a city that, up until recent years, has been the paragon of inclusion and welcoming and acceptance?”
He also noted that two active neighborhood associations, Halcyon and LeConte, will be divided by the BSDC map, when they have expressed interest in remaining unified. He chose to abstain from the vote.
Cal alum Joey Freeman, who worked on the BSDC map as a member of the ASUC, the legislative body that represents Cal students, said, from his perspective, the BSDC map actually unites student-aged populations that were split up in 1986 among several council districts.
“We have worked hard to build a coalition not just of students but of neighborhoods and elected officials,” he told the council. He said the map had been vetted in 17 public meetings over three years. “We had to fight every step of the way to prove students are ready to have a seat at the table.”
Many students came out Tuesday night, with roughly seven speaking in support of the BSDC map, and another 17 speaking in support of the USDA map. Many of the speakers for the USDA map were co-op members who said they hadn’t been adequately included in the process, and did not want their voice divided.
Councilwoman Linda Maio said she was troubled that a process meant to unify students had instead created what appeared Tuesday night to be a deep fracture. She said she hoped the students would be able to come together under the new boundaries to “have a thoughtful student district that represents you.”
She bristled at Worthington’s earlier comments about gerrymandering.
“I don’t appreciate being called undemocratic and regressive,” said Maio. “I’m rather trembling right now from that attack.”
Councilman Laurie Capitelli also said he was “deeply offended” by the comments made by Worthington, who he called “the alleged progressive on the council.” Capitelli said he viewed the Southside neighborhoods — which grow under the BSDC map — as more central to a “campus district” than those on the north side of campus due to their similar economic challenges and struggles with public safety issues.
Mayor Tom Bates said, ultimately, he believed the BSDC map would be a win for student-aged voters.
“I’ve never been interested in a student district, but I’ve been interested in someone being elected who can support young people,” he said.
Tuesday night was the first reading of the redistricting ordinance, which is set for its final reading at the Dec. 17 council meeting. Those interested in collecting signatures for a referendum opposing that map would be allowed to begin petitioning efforts after that vote.
Worthington said Tuesday night that referendum efforts would not come from inside his office, but that there’s a “high likelihood” of the creation of that campaign. He noted that it might be a challenge during the holiday season to collect the requisite number of signatures — about 5,300, or 10% of the turnout from the last mayoral election — but said he believes success is possible.
“It’s not over until it’s over,” he said.
Berkeley council may consider 2 campus district maps (09.12.13)
Redistricting meeting sheds light on past process (08.09.13)
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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