Berkeley redistricting maps to be on November ballot, judge to choose which lines to use

Council approved the "Berkeley Student District Campaign" map in December.
Council approved the “Berkeley Student District Campaign” map in December.

The Berkeley City Council voted 6-3 Tuesday night to let the voters decide which map of council districts will best represent the community’s interests moving forward.

In recent years, the city has struggled to come up with new district lines that would balance the city’s population across its eight existing council districts, which is required by law.

Last year, after a lengthy public process, council voted in December to approve the map it saw as the best option. But some community members — including council members Kriss Worthington, Jesse Arreguín and Max Anderson — have challenged that decision, which led to a successful referendum effort in January. That process forced the council either to rescind its December vote and adopt a new map, or put the issue to the voters. Tuesday night, they voted to take the latter approach.

Much of the conflict about the new map has revolved around the fate of District 7, which is closest to the Cal campus and represented by Worthington. The adopted map cuts out blocks north of campus that currently are included in the district, and pushes a portion of its population south of campus.


Worthington and others have said that will effectively split off and therefore silence many of the most “progressive” student voices by putting them into non-student-aged majority districts. Proponents of the new map say it makes sense to focus District 7 south of campus, due to the similarities in both interests and challenges of those who live there.

Read past Berkeleyside coverage of redistricting in Berkeley.

Shortly before 11 p.m. Tuesday, council members took up the redistricting issue, which they had continued from a session in late February. After a short period of public comment — which included discussion of at least one new redistricting map that was submitted by local community organizer George Beier — officials briefly debated how to proceed. At one point, there were two motions as well as a “friendly amendment” on the table, as the discussion veered among several possible options.

Council ultimately voted to put the redistricting maps before the voters to allow them to decide which lines to use. In the meantime, council plans to hire an outside attorney who would go before a judge to find out which lines will be used in November.

Council members Worthington, Arreguín and Anderson voted against the motion.

There hasn’t been a lot of information available about exactly how that legal action would work, but Mayor Tom Bates said the plan would be to hire “an outside attorney to argue the case we should hold the election in the new lines, not the old lines.”

It wasn’t immediately clear this week exactly which maps a judge might consider, or which maps would ultimately go before the voters. Berkeleyside has requested additional information from the city.

Worthington said he believes a judge is unlikely to approve the new lines because of the successful referendum, and the existence of other possible district maps, which he described as “multiple serious alternatives.”

Arreguín called the move to go before a judge “a real risk… because we don’t know what’s going to happen.” He said a judge could potentially approve any of the maps that have come up, including one put forward by the Berkeley Neighborhood Council that created a West Berkeley district. He also said the legal process would be problematic because it would create “a cloud of uncertainty” into November.

“Putting it on the ballot will further divide the community,” he said.

Separately, Arreguín submitted a proposed city charter amendment earlier this week that would create an independent redistricting commission to take redistricting decisions out of the council’s hands. To make it onto the November ballot, Arreguín would need to gather a sufficient number of signatures from voters in the coming months.

Councilman Laurie Capitelli said, despite all the rhetoric that’s been used related to “gerrymandering” and which student groups will be included or excluded in the new district, he sees the approved council map as a “compromise” that took a wide range of perspectives and interests into consideration. He also said he felt he believed “we shot ourselves in the foot” when council adopted the requirement that proposed districts would be legally required to include sitting council members.

In the end, he said, he thought putting the issue to the voters will provide the clearest direction forward.

“I do believe we should go to the voters and we should say, ‘Here are the proposals, vote ‘em up vote ‘em down,'” Capitelli said.

Related:
Council majority pushes redistricting decisions to March (02.26.14)
Berkeley redistricting referendum effort prevails (02.03.14)
Long-time Berkeley progressives back referendum drive (02.03.14)
Redistricting opponents secure signatures to secure vote (01.22.14)
Op-ed: We don’t need a redistricting referendum (01.10.14)
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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