By Camille Baptista
A new City Council redistricting plan was presented Tuesday during the second public hearing for redistricting proposals, but council members voted against considering it because of its last-minute introduction.
Despite the submittal of the new proposal, the council voted to make the Berkeley Student District Campaign (BSDC) map the preferred plan for council redistricting. The preferred map creates a student-majority district around the UC Berkeley campus and is scheduled to be adopted Sept. 10. The redistricting will correct for population changes recorded in the 2010 census, and will be the first since the passage of Measure R last November, which removes the severe geographic constraints mandated in Berkeley since 1986.
“Some people say there’s a perfect map out there, but I think this is pretty close,” council member Gordon Wozniak said at the hearing. Mayor Tom Bates said the BSDC map was superior to the other map under consideration, the Edge Simplicity map, because it didn’t divide the Willard district.
“I support the goal of having a district that has a supermajority of students,” council member Jesse Arreguín said. Although he supported the last-minute plan, called the United Student District Amendment (USDA), he agreed with the majority of the council about the importance of having a strong student district. “I think it would unify the voice of the students and make sure their needs and concerns are being addressed by city government,” he said.
“I like the student map. The lines are very clean,” council member Susan Wengraf said at the hearing.
Kriss Worthington, whose student interns designed the USDA map, said it would better represent the campus as a whole because it included more student housing in the Northside area.
“We could fix the flaws of what was left out and I think it would far more accurately reflect the concept of what is a student district,” Worthington said.
Bates and council member Linda Maio expressed concern that the proposal was submitted too late, since the council had already gone through a process of considering and narrowing down the seven maps submitted on May 7.
“It seems to me that to bring something up at the 11th hour, with none of that process, is wrong,” Maio said. “I think it actually dishonors the integrity of the process.”
According to Worthington, information on the number of dorms and cooperative houses, particularly in the Northside area, wasn’t available at previous council meetings. He said it was necessary for him to gather that data before he could draw up an amended plan that included more student housing.
Council member Max Anderson voted to consider the USDA plan, claiming that not doing so would be undemocratic.
“All of us on this council have introduced late items,” Anderson said. “We have an obligation to be democratic.”
“We can keep an open mind, use the new information and actually fix some of the flaws,” Worthington said.
The majority of comments during the public comment period focused on the two maps originally slated for consideration — the BSDC plan and the Edge Simplicity plan. The two plans are similar and only differ in their mapping of districts seven and eight; the campus district map extends district seven, the “campus district,” slightly farther east to encompass student housing there. One UC Berkeley student and fraternity member said that extension is important because it allows a number of Greek houses to be included in the student supermajority district.
Safeena Mecklai, ASUC external affairs vice president, stressed the importance of having a unified student voice in citywide decision-making.
“The only other map being discussed tonight, the Simplicity map, aims to draw the cleanest lines possible at the expense of communities of interest,” Mecklai told the council. “Student involvement will be essential to the success of any efforts to revitalize Telegraph Avenue, to provide affordable housing, and to reverse the crime rates that have made UC Berkeley the third most dangerous university campus in America.”
After the council voted to deny consideration of USDA plan, UC Berkeley student Stefan Elgstrand, who spoke in support of it, said it was “a disappointment, but at the same time, I’m not that surprised.”
“I still believe that this is the better alternative,” he said.
Sam Lai, who interns with Worthington, agreed.
“I want to credit it to the timing,” she said. “I don’t think there’s any question that this [plan] is an improvement.”
Editors’ Note: This story was updated shortly after press time to correct information regarding the designers of the USDA redistricting map.
Camille Baptista is a summer intern at Berkeleyside. She studies creative writing and human rights at Barnard in New York City, where she writes for the Columbia Daily Spectator.
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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