Council majority pushes redistricting decisions to March

Many of the speakers who came to Tuesday night's council meeting oppose a redistricting ordinance adopted in December. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Many of the speakers who came to Tuesday night’s council meeting oppose a redistricting ordinance adopted in December. Photo: Emilie Raguso

In a 6-3 vote, a Berkeley City Council majority ruled Tuesday night to wait until at least March 11 to make a decision on whether to repeal the city’s recently adopted redistricting ordinance or put the new district lines to the voters in November.

Council members Kriss Worthington, Jesse Arreguín and Max Anderson pushed on Tuesday night for council to rescind the ordinance, which was approved in December, in favor of an alternative map. But others on the dais said they wanted more time before taking any additional steps.

Detractors of the new ordinance led a successful signature-gathering campaign in January to force council to repeal the ordinance and adopt a new map, or put it before the voters later this year. New district lines are required to balance the population as much as possible across the city’s eight council districts. The adopted map does that, but some say it unfairly cuts out many “progressive” voices from District 7, which is represented by Worthington. 

A push to include more student-aged voters in District 7 has galvanized the redistricting effort. The district has had a student super-majority for the past decade, and the adopted map increased that majority to 86%.

But many who oppose the new map, including Worthington, say it cuts out student co-ops and many Cal dorm residents, who represent a broader range of viewpoints and should be part of any student district in the city of Berkeley.

“I think the fact that about 15% of the voters of Berkeley signed these referendum petitions during the single month that’s the hardest to get signatures in Berkeley is an amazing testament to how bad of a plan this was,” said Worthington.

Community members have organized Berkeley's new redistricting ordinance, but whether they represent a majority of the city's voters has been contested by their opponents. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Community members have organized Berkeley’s new redistricting ordinance, but whether they represent a majority of the city’s voters has been contested by their opponents. Photo: Emilie Raguso

About 17 members of the public who spoke Tuesday night — along with Worthington, Arreguín and Anderson — took issue with the adopted map. Many said the successful referendum effort is a sign that Berkeley residents disapprove of the newly adopted district lines. Some called for the issue to come before the voters, while others supported the adoption by council of an alternative “compromise” redistricting map.

Some city officials, however, called into question exactly what the referendum meant. Councilwoman Linda Maio said the effort had been fraught with misleading information, and therefore wasn’t a true measure of a broad public will. Councilman Gordon Wozniak said the referendum was primarily a sign that the issue should come before all the city’s voters to get a true sense of what the community wants.

There was some concern expressed by members of the public that, if redistricting does come to a public vote, it would appear on the June ballot while many students are away. Mayor Tom Bates assured those in attendance that the ordinance would not come up until the November election, if a compromise cannot be reached before then.

Worthington said the easiest way forward would be for the council to rescind its earlier vote and approve a map created by an intern in his office, known as the United Student District Amendment, that includes Cal’s north-side co-ops, many dorms and International House.

Whether council will consider that map, or any others, will not be determined until at least March 11, however.

“We still have an opportunity for compromise between now and the 11th,” said Bates.

The mayor also said council may need to hold some of its discussions about redistricting during closed session due to the possibility of a lawsuit related to the redistricting ordinance. He said previously that council may need to take up the matter before a judge to determine which district lines would be used for elections later this year.

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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Emilie Raguso is Berkeleyside’s senior editor of news. Email: Twitter: emraguso. Phone: 510-459-8325.