Op-ed: We don’t need a redistricting referendum

Xan Join collected a number of signatures in late December. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

There is a campaign afoot to waste Berkeleyans’ time and tax dollars.

On Dec. 17, 2013, the Berkeley City Council adopted a long-awaited redistricting map that rebalances population across Berkeley’s City Council Districts. The vote came after two rounds of redistricting over the last three years, including a total of 17 community forums, public hearings, and Council meetings, as well as a voter-approved amendment to the City Charter. But now, a vocal minority is spearheading a referendum effort that could send Berkeley back to redistricting square one.

This referendum campaign represents an effort to short-circuit the community redistricting process and delay implementation of new City Council districts. The main impetus for this referendum is Councilmember Kriss Worthington’s support for an eleventh-hour redistricting proposal that was crafted within his own Council office. Redistricting proposals were due to the City Clerk by March 15, 2013, but Worthington’s proposal was not introduced until Sept. 10, nearly six months later. Supporters of that map evaded the public scrutiny of the formal submission process and are now threatening to drag redistricting beyond the Charter-mandated three-year deadline for its completion.

This needless referendum would also waste your money. Despite the 17 community meetings, public hearings, and Council meetings between 2011 and 2013, referendum supporters are claiming that the Council-approved map was chosen without community input. If their referendum goes to the ballot, Berkeley will need to call an otherwise-unnecessary special election that will cost a quarter-million dollars of your money. Moreover, putting this referendum on the ballot would likely mean that the 2014 election would be conducted with the now-outdated and imbalanced districts adopted in 2000, a clear violation of the principle of “one person, one vote.”

Referendum supporters will tell you that they favor a referendum because the new map isn’t “progressive” enough, but this is misinformed at best and dishonest at worst. This is fundamentally a fight over the configuration of the new campus district. The open, transparent, democratically adopted map has a campus district that is approximately 86% student-aged, while the same district in the referendum-supporters’ map is 90% student-aged. For a difference of four percentage points, supporters of the referendum want to explode the community process of the last three years, revoke the democratically adopted map, drag redistricting beyond its Charter-mandated deadline, squander a quarter-million taxpayer dollars, and make sure that the 2014 election takes place using districts that are unconstitutionally imbalanced.

In the coming weeks, you may be asked to sign a petition to put a redistricting referendum on the ballot. Just say no. Do your part to reject political schemes: Don’t lift a finger. Don’t put pen to paper. Don’t sign any redistricting referendum petition.

Eric Panzer has been involved in redistricting efforts since 2011 and has submitted multiple maps over both the previous and current rounds of redistricting. Panzer publicly endorsed the Berkeley Student District Campaign map, which was adopted by the City Council and is the subject of the current referendum campaign.

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