Redistricting opponents secure signatures to force vote

City council members Kriss Worthington, Jesse Arreguin and members  the Berkeley Referendum Campaign turn in signatures to the city clerk's office on Tuesday. Photo: Anthony Sanchez
City council members Kriss Worthington, Jesse Arreguin and members the Berkeley Referendum Campaign turn in signatures to the city clerk’s office on Tuesday. Photo: Anthony Sanchez

Opponents of a redistricting plan adopted by the City Council in December turned in 7,876 signatures to the City Clerk’s office on Tuesday that they hope will lead to a redrawing of District 7 boundaries.

Despite the fact that UC Berkeley students, who would be most affected by the changes, were on vacation during the 30 days opponents had to collect signatures, the Berkeley Referendum Campaign gathered more than the 5,275 necessary to reconsider the map, according to City Councilman Kriss Worthington. He led the drive along with City Councilman Jesse Arreguin. That response shows just how disenfranchised many Berkeley residents felt by the new redistricting lines, he said.

“Many progressives saw it (the redistricting plan adopted by the council) as classic gerrymandering for the advantage of a moderate candidate,” said Worthington.

The Alameda County registrar of voters will have 30 business days to examine the signatures and verify whether enough have been collected to place the issue on the ballot. Worthington said the campaign already sorted through the signatures and threw out hundreds of duplicates. He said he was confident the referendum would be validated.


If the signatures are valid, the boundaries adopted by the council will immediately be suspended, according to Matthai Chakko, Berkeley’s spokesman.

The Berkeley City Council can then either place the referendum on the June or November ballot so voters can decide if that action should be permanent, or withdraw the redistricting plan passed in December and start anew.

It’s clear, however, that Worthington and others are hoping to use the referendum as a negotiating point. They would prefer that the council rescind the redistricting plan it adopted and come up with a new plan that more closely resembles the one pushed by Worthington and others.

“Despite intentional timing to force a referendum in the dead of winter when most students and residents impacted by this map were out of town, I’m excited that Berkeley residents have risen to the occasion to say no to cynical power politics. Now Council will have an opportunity to do the right and pass a fair map,” said Arreguin in a statement.

It’s not yet clear what action the council majority will take. City Councilman Gordon Wozniak said he is not sure if a compromise is possible; the council already made a compromise when it adopted the December boundaries, he said. Worthington and others rejected that idea.

“I think we should do what the residents want — have an election,” said Wozniak. “The democratic thing to do is allow that election to go forward and let the voters decide whether the original map the council agreed on should go forward.”

If there is an election, city officials may ask the courts for clarity, said Mayor Tom Bates. Four city council seats are up for grabs in November. Which boundaries would the city clerk rely on? The ones drawn up by the council in December or the previous ones, adopted after the 2000 census came out? The court could provide guidance, an action called “declaratory relief,” he said.

“If we put it on the ballot, we would need to go to court to determine whether it’s the old or the new district lines” that would determine who can run, said Bates.

Alajawann Johnson collected signatures for the referendum drive. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
Alajawann Johnson collected signatures for the referendum drive. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

In December, the city council adopted a new redistricting map that included a student-majority map centered around Telegraph Avenue. The plan was known as the Berkeley Student District Campaign Map and it concentrated District 7 on the south side of campus. The map had first been submitted in April.

But Worthington, who represents District 7, and many of his supporters, viewed that plan as a thinly veiled attempt to unseat him. The BSDC map excluded the student co-ops and dorms on the north side of campus, groups that are generally regarded as politically progressive, and instead added fraternities and sororities on the south side of campus, groups that are generally regarded as more conservative.

A UC Berkeley student and intern in Worthington’s office, Stefan Elgstrand, then drew up a new map that shifted District 7 north to include the co-ops and dorms. He submitted the map, known as the United Student District Amendment, in July, after the redistricting process was concluding. The council did not adopt it, triggering the referendum drive.

The Berkeley Referendum Campaign raised about $10,000 which enabled it to hire paid signature gatherers, said Worthington. However, in the end, volunteers collected more signatures than the paid gatherers. Students from the co-ops and northside dorms hustled in the past few days, and their efforts made a huge difference, he said.

This article has been updated to correct and clarify two points: that the registrar of voters, not the city clerk, will count the signatures and the fact that the boundaries adopted by council in December will immediately be suspended if enough valid signatures have been gathered.

Related:
Tight deadline to get redistricting referendum on ballot (01.03.14)
Redistricting map splits council, community (12.18.13)
Redistricting map approved, referendum idea looms (12.04.13)
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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