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.

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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  • Mfox327

    …while the majority of Berkeley saw it as classic gerrymandering for the advantage of Worthington.

  • Completely_Serious

    If Kriss is so interested in a student-majority district, why doesn’t he just step aside so a student can run in District 7, however it is configured.

    I’m nostalgic for, well, anyone else.

  • guest

    $10,000? That’s amazing. Way more amazing than 7,8000 signatures. Have they disclosed the donor list yet? I think many of us would be keenly interested in seeing where that enormous sum of money came from.

  • serkes


  • Tizzielish

    I am glad the signature campaign got so many signatures with students out of town. This suggests to me that it’s not just students displeased with what city council backroom gerrymandering.

  • Doc

    We have the basic Berkeley problem here. Most residents of Berkeley, including students, want the same things: low crime, nicer community, good parks, good schools for local residents etc. But the “progressive” minority want People’s Park, Telegraph as a social problem, and Berkeley as a revolting place. The moderates are passive, the “progressives” are aggressive and more organized. So usually the “progressives” get their way and Telegraph, People’s Park, crime rate and schools all suffer.

  • guest

    If they put it on the June ballot, the students will be out of town and the electorate will be smaller and more conservative than in November. Most likely, the electorate will listen to the moderate faction and pass the redistricting.

  • guest

    What part of this three-year process do you think was “backroom gerrymandering”?

  • Rob Wrenn

    The same thing happened during redistricting following the 2000 Census. Supporters of then District 8 councilmember Polly Armstrong objected to the redistricting plan passed by the Council, which would have added some students to District 8. The Council had considered several plans including one submitted by UC students. (Their plan would have put Kriss Worthington into District 8.) So Armstrong’s supporters, with backing by other “moderates” on the Council, successfully collected signatures to force the Council to either withdraw the plan or put it on the ballot. The Council decided not to put it on the ballot and opted instead to come up with another plan.

    The plan finally adopted put part of northside into District 7; all of the Northside had, since 1986 when District elections replaced at-large elections, been in District 6.

    The context for this previous redistricting controversy was the Census Bureau’s failure to count all the students in 2000. City staff reports at the time estimated that 4200-4500 students weren’t counted, mostly those living in dorms. It made it seem that Districts 7 and 8 needed more residents to create council districts with roughly equal population. Had it not been for the Census undercount, the Northside coop precincts would never have been put in District 7.

    Measure R, a poorly thought-out measure, supported by everyone on the Council if I remember right, makes gerrymandering much easier. Whoever has a majority on the Council can more easily create districts that make re-election difficult for their opponents. You could have a situation here similar to what we have on the federal level where Republican gerrymandering based on Republican control of state legislatures has led to a Republican majority in the House, even though more people voted for Democratic house candidates.

    Maybe the City should follow the lead of the state of California and create some independent body to set Council districts. Otherwise we may have redistricting referendum petitions every ten years.

  • guest

    Is that surprising? The BSDC map that was selected last year was submitted by UC students and endorsed by the ASUC. The people who are upset about that are mostly not students. I encountered a half dozen signature gatherers for this referendum around town. None were students. Several Berkeley residents in this very forum have stated that they signed the petition precisely because they oppose a student district.

    This was not a pro-student referendum; it was a pro-Kriss Worthington referendum. As the article explains, the success of the referendum makes a student district *less* likely.

    And for the record, the word “backroom” is used so constantly and indiscriminately in this town that it has lost all meaning.

  • guest

    Or, the people who signed this petition and want to completely block a student district will be successful and students will continue to lack a voice in city politics.

    Sick how Worthington claiming to represent students and then is doing the work of those who want to completely block the formation of a student district.

  • guest

    Doing a little sleuthing to try to find our who was so generous to the referendum campaign. It appears they have not yet submitted their financials, but it’s fascinating to see the statement of organization for the Berkeley Referendum Coalition.

    The filing lists three officers: Lisa Stephens, Treasurer; Stefan Elgstrand, Assistant Treasurer; and Alejandro Soto-Vigil, Secretary.

    So two of the three officers work in Worthington’s office, and the third is a longtime Worthington ally who serves on the rent board in a political coalition that includes Worthington’s chief of staff.

    Seems as though, if this really were about students and not about protecting Worthington’s seat, the Coalition might include more students and fewer Worthington-allied politicians.

  • Guest

    Thanks for doing the sleuthing. The more information that comes out the more clear it becomes that the “Berkeley Referendum Campaign” that operated under the pretense of being a pro-student organization was in reality a Committee to Reelect Christ Worthington that used hired signature-gatherers paid by a secretive fund.


  • The committee does not have to file a campaign finance statement showing contributions until Jan. 31.And that will only cover until Dec 31. They have until April 30 to file statements showing donations from Jan 1-21.

  • Completely_Serious

    “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.”

    So might it be more accurate for the headline to state “Redistricting Fans Collect 7,000 Signatures; May be Able to Force Vote”? Because if 3000 of those signature are bad, there ain’t gonna be a vote.

  • Completely_Serious


    (Prize for the first Wayne’s World joke.)

  • Tizzielish

    for the record, anonyous guest, you don’t get to go on the record when anonymous

  • Tizzielish

    Can anyone imagine it would be constitutional to set out to create a Latino voter district? or an African American one? an Asian one? or, goddess forbid, a Caucasian one?

    Why does everyone tacitly accept that students have a special right to their own district and a seat on the council? I just don’t get why students should be given special consideration.

  • Tizzielish

    Just because you have a limited vocabulary does not mean everyone has to limit theirs. Gerrymandering is correctly applied in this discussion about gerrymandering voting districts. That’s what gerrymandering is: creating voting districts based on an agenda other than equally distributing voters.

  • Tizzielish

    Do you seriously think 3,000 signatures will be bad?

  • Hmmm

    Because they have been Berkeley’s actually discriminated against group. No one else’s neighborhood park is as trashy as People’s. No one else’s commercial district is as bad as Telegraph. They need housing, but their council person is always against development except to increase dependency. They designed an arch, but their own city council representitve blocked it. They are Berkeley’s unrepresented group.

  • Bishop George Berkeley

    Frances —
    Since Kriss is undoubtedly a supporter of transparent government, and his supporters no doubt share that progressive attitude, why don’t you/we just ask them who ponied up the 10K?
    How about it, Alejandro? You’re reading this, I’m sure. Why not just tell us now? The April 30 deadline is purely administrative–it’s not as if it’s a barrier to disclosure. I assume the money was legal and all, so let’s just clear the air about whose it was. Better than 3 months of rumors, I’d say.

  • guest

    Is Tizzielish your legal name?

  • guest

    The thing is, those who were happy with 2013’s redistricting pretty firmly believe that the USDA map is the gerrymandered one. Kriss and his supporters have stated explicitly that they want the “progressive” co-op residents from the Northside in District 7. That seems to fit your definition closely.

    But you say the BSDC is gerrymandering, while others say USDA is gerrymandering. Is there some process by which one side can show that its assessment is the correct one? Not really, since it’s a matter of opinion. So what we do is to institute formal and transparent bureaucratic processes to ensure the broadest consensus. But consensus wasn’t good enough for Kriss, so he and his followers went out and bought signatures from 7% of the city’s population. And now we’ll throw out the results of a careful and deliberative public process in favor of an expensive ad hoc mess.

  • guest

    LOL. OK “Tizzielish.” Touché. In order that we might understand your comment more completely, could you describe what part of 2013’s redistricting process occurred in a “back room” beyond public scrutiny? Could you identify a decision made by the Council that is demonstrably in opposition to the will of a majority of Berkeley voters?

  • guest

    Given that the provenance and finances of the Berkeley Referendum Coalition already look sketchy, it seems like anything is possible.

    “Worthington said the campaign already sorted through the signatures and threw out hundreds of duplicates.”

    Let’s be charitable and say “hundreds” is 200. So in the course of collecting signatures from 7% of the city’s population over just 30 days, at least 3% of those signing the petition signed it twice.


  • Watchman

    On January 15, at about 8:10am, city employee Alejandro Soto-Vigil was collecting signatures in the casual carpool line at North Berkeley BART. I wonder what time his official work day begins.

  • Just Sayin’

    The groups of “Berkeley city officials” and “people who do actual work” rarely overlap.

  • EBGuy

    Calm down Tizzie — think of it as a renter’s district, or a transient residents community of interest.

  • EBGuy

    And for completeness, Kriss and Jesse also wish to boot all the students in the blocks bordered by Bancroft, Fulton, Channing and Ellsworth out of D7. Doesn’t that block border the southern edge of the university? Yes it does, but they’d rather put northsiders in D7.

  • Completely_Serious

    Yes, I “seriously” think that. And I certainly can hope.