More than 20 people attended a hearing Tuesday about contested redistricting lines in Berkeley. Photo: Emilie Raguso
More than 20 people attended a hearing Tuesday about contested redistricting lines in Berkeley. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Update, 4:30 p.m. The judge has ruled in favor of using the council-majority-approved district lines. See his ruling here. (A more in-depth Berkeleyside story on the decision is online here.)

Original post: An Alameda County Superior Court judge is expected to rule Wednesday, April 30, about which district lines the city of Berkeley should use in the November 2014 general election.

Judge Evelio Grillo heard arguments Tuesday from advocates of some kind of compromise map that is different from the map approved by a Berkeley City Council majority in December. The city of Berkeley sued the county registrar of voters and city clerk earlier this year to find out which lines to use after the council-approved map was suspended by a referendum drive.

More than 20 people — most of them in support of a compromise map, of which there are several — attended Tuesday’s hearing. They were represented primarily by Councilman Jesse Arreguín and Alejandro Soto-Vigil, along with attorneys for Councilman Kriss Worthington, Stefan Elgstrand and Phoebe Sorgen, all of whom have been named as “real parties of interest” in the lawsuit.

Attorney Margaret Prinzing, of Remcho, Johansen & Purcell, appeared for the city of Berkeley.

Attorneys for the city have asked the judge to order the use of the new boundaries, rather than the 2002 boundaries that would otherwise be in place due to the referendum.

Read more about the redistricting battle in past Berkeleyside coverage.

That map approved in December prompted pushback from three council members and many members of the public, who have focused most of their criticism on the new boundaries for District 7. The new boundaries increase the number of students in the district — a goal everyone had agreed on for the area — but cut out some blocks north of campus that some people think should be included.

Critics of the new map say it does not include a range of co-ops, dorms and other group-living situations, while incorporating too many fraternities and sororities, which they argue will decrease the diversity of District 7, and cut out many progressive student voices.

They argued Tuesday before Judge Grillo that the new map also cuts out some of Councilman Kriss Worthington’s key supporters, and that it would not be “politically fair to him” to do that.

Grillo responded only to say that the “map should not favor or disfavor any incumbent.”

Grillo said he was not likely to order the use of the 2002 district lines, due to too many problems with them, including significantly unbalanced populations in several districts. (The goal of redistricting, which follows after each 10-year census count, is to equalize the number of residents who live in each area.)

Grillo’s remaining options would be to order the use of the lines that were approved in December, or choose from three alternatives suggested by critics of those lines: the so-called USDA map, which includes the north-side co-ops, as well as other group-living accommodations, but has been rejected by the Berkeley City Council; a new “minimum deviation map,” which includes the smallest possible population differences, according to its creators; and the MAPMINDS plan, which was submitted as part of the 2011 redistricting process.

The city has argued that it would be unwise to use the “minimum deviation” map because it hasn’t gone through the proper public process, and that its numbers have not been verified or analyzed. The city has argued that MAPMINDS, too, is deficient, for the same reasons, and notes that it hasn’t come before the city since Measure R was passed and may not comply with the city charter. (See those maps here.)

All of the “real parties of interest” — the opponents of the city map who appeared in court Tuesday — said their preference is for the use of the USDA map, which they said is simply an amendment to the approved map. But they said they would support the other alternatives if the judge does not choose the USDA.

Tuesday, they criticized the city for what they said had been problems with the public process around redistricting, including the hiring of attorneys to handle the redistricting lawsuit before council had given approval, and the scheduling of the redistricting map to be on the November ballot rather than part of a special election in June. They said the city did not give proper advance notice via meeting agendas of those decisions.

Richard Miadich — the attorney for Worthington and Elgstrand — argued that, because of those alleged violations, the city began the lawsuit with “unclean hands,” and asked Judge Grillo to rule in favor of the USDA map. Miadich said that, if Grillo chose to go with the map adopted by the council in December, he would be entering the “political thicket.”

Prinzing, the lawyer representing the city, said hiring attorneys is allowed under the municipal code and does not need council approval. She said, too, that when council decided to put redistricting on the November ballot, it was because many members of the public had asked for that result, because too many students — who would be affected by the issue and want to vote — would be away in June.

Prinzing also said, to address the questions that had been raised about the alleged violations, the Berkeley City Council planned to vote Tuesday night to ratify its earlier actions. She said she would notify the court Wednesday morning that those actions had taken place.

(Council did vote to take that action Tuesday night. Council also considered a proposal by Worthington’s office to look at a variety of other compromise maps — including the USDA, minimum deviation and MAPMINDS proposals — but none of them were adopted.)

The attorney representing Phoebe Sorgen, Jose Luis Fuentes, asked the judge Tuesday afternoon to simply deny the city’s request altogether so that the issue could be sorted out at the local level rather than in the courts.

“There’s not enough evidence before you. You avoid partisan politics. You stay out of this. That’s what a government by the people for the people means,” said Fuentes. “Don’t get involved.”

Councilman Max Anderson, who also was named by the city in the lawsuit, told the judge he believed an order upholding the council-majority-approved lines would have a “chilling effect on citizen participation, and I think that is one of the goals of this lawsuit, actually. It denies the people their legal right to be heard and to be heard in terms of their ability to elect, through the democratic process, the people who govern them.”

Prinzing, representing the city, said the city does not believe it made the violations claimed by its opponents in the lawsuit. She asked the judge, at the time of his decision, also to issue an order that would limit the possibility of appeal so as to allow the registrar of voters and city clerk enough time to prepare for the November election.

Grillo said he did not plan to do that.

“I’m not going to do anything that assumes the inevitability or correctness of the result,” he said. “If this is appealed, the appellate court is going to look at this really, really carefully and really, really quick.”

He said his decision would be available in hardcopy by 4 p.m. Wednesday, but that it would potentially be posted online earlier in the day. Berkeleyside will report on that decision when it is available.

After the hearing, Councilman Arreguín said there had been no consensus or decision among those opposed to the new redistricting map about whether an appeal would be filed.

“We’ll have to see what the judge says,” he said. “We haven’t talked about it.”

Read the lawsuit filed by the city here. Plug in to more Election 2014 coverage in Berkeley on Berkeleyside.

Op-ed: How to see through the fog of redistricting (04.30.14)
Op-ed: It’s time to compromise on Berkeley redistricting (04.29.14)
City of Berkeley heads to court over redistricting lines (04.09.14)
Official pushes for independent redistricting panel (03.20.14)
Berkeley redistricting maps to be on November ballot, judge to choose which lines to use
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)
Berkeley redistricting map splits council, community (12.18.13)

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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...