Councilman Jesse Arreguin. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Councilman Jesse Arreguín believes an independent redistricting panel will better serve the Berkeley voters. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Berkeley Councilman Jesse Arreguín has launched a ballot initiative to change the city’s approach to redistricting, arguing that “partisan self interest” and a “broken” process have crippled recent efforts, as well as those during the last redistricting attempt more than a decade ago.

Arreguín wants the city to create an independent citizen redistricting commission “that will be insulated from political influence, represent the diversity of the community, and develop lines based on objective criteria that are also not bound by incumbency.”

Among the changes he would like to see is the removal of a current requirement that sitting council members must be included within any proposed district lines that are submitted. 

Arreguín plans to gather enough signatures to put a proposed city charter amendment before the Berkeley voters in November. According to his staffer Anthony Sanchez, Arreguín would need to collect signatures from 15% of Berkeley’s total population of registered voters to qualify for the ballot.

Though originally submitted to the city earlier this month, Arreguín submitted updated language to the city this week. It will need to be vetted by the city attorney before any signatures can be collected. Sanchez said he hopes to get the green light from the city next week. 

Sanchez said Wednesday that signatures would need to be collected and submitted by June for consideration for the November ballot.

If approved, Arreguín says the commission would be charged with adjusting district boundaries following the 2014 general election, then every 10 years after the new decennial census count.

Arreguín writes, in his “notice of intent” to circulate a petition, that voters established district elections in 1986, then voted via Measure R in 2012 to remove fixed boundaries to “give the City Council the flexibility to draw boundaries that reflect changes in population and protect communities of interest.”

According to Arreguín, however, council adopted in December 2013 “a controversial map which needlessly divided students and neighborhoods throughout our city, and was drawn for the main purpose of political advantage.”

Supporters of that map have said it represents a broad compromise across a range of positions, and best reflects attempts to rebalance the city’s population and respect neighborhoods of interest, while at the same time creating District 7 boundaries that include 86% student-aged residents. Cal student advocates hoping for a district made up mostly of students helped create that map and have been among its most vocal supporters in recent years.

But some community members — including council members Kriss Worthington (District 7), Max Anderson (District 3) and Jesse Arreguín (District 4) — have said the map removes the most “progressive” voices from District 7 by not including student co-ops, dorms and other group living accommodations. They have said students would be better served with an alternative map submitted by an intern in Worthington’s office at the tail end of the redistricting process last year. That map would include 90% student-aged residents. Since the alternative map was submitted, many students have come out in support of it during public meetings, saying it better represents a diverse group of student voices than the adopted map.

A successful referendum campaign earlier this year forced the City Council either to rescind the adopted map, or put it before the voters. A council majority voted last week to put the issue to the voters in November, rather than rescind the decision.

Arreguín writes that he believes there is a “clear conflict of interest” when council members have the “sole power” to choose district boundaries, and references state legislation from 2008 that led to the creation of an independent redistricting commission at the state level.

He said two successful referendum campaigns dating back to 2001 signal a broken process that can only be fixed by taking redistricting decisions away from the council.

Who would serve?

Arreguín’s proposal advocates for a commission composed of 11 registered Berkeley voters who apply for positions on the body, and would then be chosen at random by the city clerk.

Commissioners would collect community input during public meetings, and during three public hearings throughout the redistricting process. The council would not be allowed to revise the boundaries adopted by the commission.

Under Arreguín’s proposal, the final redistricting map would be chosen by majority vote, or six votes from the commission.

Commission members would not be allowed to run or be appointed to the City Council for 10 years from the date of their original appointment to the panel.

Some registered voters would be ineligible to participate: the mayor or current council members; any paid staff for or “immediate family members” of those officials; immediate family of council staff; any elected officers in Berkeley; anyone who has served as campaign staff, volunteers or consultants for council members or candidates within the past 10 years; and anyone who made a reportable monetary or non-monetary contribution to any council or mayoral candidate within the last 10 years.

The commission would include at least one person from each council district, one person drawn from a pool of UC Berkeley student names, and two additional names drawn at random from all the applicants.

To fund the commission’s efforts, the council would allocate “necessary funds to support the work of the commission, including funds necessary for community outreach, costs for city staff time associated with supporting the work of the commission, and the hiring of any necessary consultants or outside counsel.”

Arreguín has also submitted language that would allow sitting council members to be drawn out of their districts if keeping them in would conflict with the goals of the redistricting process, by dividing communities of interest, or resulting in “a significant population deviation,” for example.

The commission also would be required to issue a report about why the sitting council member had been drawn out, and that official would be allowed to finish his or her term. Those council members would not, however, be allowed to run again, except in the new district in which they reside.

Berkeleyside has posted Arreguín’s draft charter amendment on NewsGenius. Click the link to weigh in with your own annotations. 


Berkeley redistricting maps to be on November ballot, judge to choose which lines to use (03.12.14)
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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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...