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City Council votes to delay redistricting in Berkeley

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Shahryar Abbasi and other members of the ASUC spoke at the Jan. 17 Berkeley City Council meeting.


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JANUARY 18, 2012

Berkeley City Council voted Tuesday in favor of deferring redistricting in Berkeley until after the November 2012 election, a decision that could eventually result in a student supermajority district.

By delaying redistricting, the City Council — which voted 7-2 in favor of the postponement — hopes to place a charter amendment on the November 2012 ballot that would, if approved by Berkeley voters, change the requirements for redistricting proposals.

Currently, voters in the city are divided into eight council districts, each with its own elected council member who resides in that district. The current, and controversial, boundaries divide the city in such a way that it has not been possible to create a supermajority district of UC Berkeley students since districts were drawn in 1986, despite repeated efforts over the years.

Several council members, as well as Mayor Tom Bates, said repeatedly that when the current district boundaries were drawn in 1986, the lines were drawn with the specific intention to split up the progressive and student votes in the city.

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Although Councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Jesse Arreguin argued that delaying redistricting would disenfranchise 4,300 voters by voting for council members who might end up being drawn out of their district later on, other council members contested that figure as misrepresenting the number of actual registered and eligible voters who would be affected, as well as their justification in using the word “disenfranchisement.”

“Let’s not cheapen it, because people died for it,” said Councilmember Darryl Moore, in reference to the historical struggles of blacks and women who fought for the right to vote. Moore insisted that delaying redistricting was not disenfranchisement but deferral.

Berkeley voters passed ballot Measure II in 2008, when approximately 78 percent of the electorate extended the deadline for redistricting to three years after the 2010 census. This means that redistricting is not required to take place now, despite the April 1 deadline set by the Alameda County Registrar of Voters to submit new boundary lines and maps for the November 2012 election.

“There are six viable proposals before us,” Worthington said. “I don’t care if you throw them up in the air and grab one … There’s nothing stopping a charter amendment, but that’s no reason to keep people from voting.”

The decision was welcomed by many UC Berkeley students and others who have advocated the creation of a student supermajority district. The restrictions presented by the current 1986 boundaries have thwarted the success of such an effort in the past, but the possibility of a charter amendment could make such a district a reality.

“Let’s redistrict after the charter makes sense,” said ASUC External Affairs Vice President Joey Freeman. “Let’s redistrict in a way that will give 35,000 students in Berkeley a fair voice.”

Freeman presented the Berkeley Student District Campaign’s proposal, which would create two separate student majority districts but is not compliant with the current city charter.

Authors of the six other charter-compliant proposals that the council was considering for redistricting presented their plans at the meeting as well. Now that the process has been delayed, their plans will be tabled until after the November election.

“I would just like to say that you have just wasted the time of everyone who created a proposal,” Jim Bullock — who presented the Bateman Neighborhood Association’s plan — said after the vote.

At the meeting, a representative from the office of Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, voiced Skinner’s support for the delay and hope that a student district could be possible. Skinner was the last UC Berkeley student to serve on the City Council before the 1986 boundaries were created.

For now, the exact date for when redistricting will resume is unknown. Council members who voted in favor of the delay were confident that the existing proposals provide a good outline for the future plans.

“I think we have the pieces of something that can work,” said Councilmember Linda Maio.

Adelyn Baxter is the lead city government reporter.

JANUARY 19, 2012