ASUC pushes for student-majority district

redistricting.REMSBURG
Derek Remsburg/File

In an attempt to gain a stronger student presence on the Berkeley City Council by allowing for the creation of a student council member, the ASUC has asked the council to extend the deadline for public redistricting proposal submissions in a letter dated July 5.

Following a series of letters from the ASUC Office of External Affairs to the council, the office requested that the council push the deadline to Nov. 1 to provide enough time to create a proposal for a super-majority student district wherein students can elect their own student representative.

The council already voted on a one-month extension of the deadline from Aug. 19 to Sept. 16, but ASUC External Affairs Vice President Joey Freeman said he believes this date is still too early for students who will be just starting to settle back into school.

“The districts have been prone to spread students over several districts, and in fact, you dilute their impact,” said Councilmember Gordon Wozniak. “There should be enough time for students to engage among themselves and take control of their impact on politics.”

The city’s redistricting process — which redraws electoral district boundaries every 10 years to ensure balanced districts — will be adjusted according to 2010 census data, which shows a total population of 112,580, up 9 percent from a 2000 population count of 102,744. The final deadline to adjust the city’s boundaries is December 31, 2013, although council members would like to finish the plan by April 2012 in order to allow the new districts to be in place for the November 2012 municipal election, according to Councilmember Kriss Worthington.

“If we do need to go to ballot by November 2012, students won’t have the chance to vote for a district of their own,” Freeman said. “We want to make sure city council members don’t fast track this so students can vote on this proposal if need be. They should go by the normal deadline of December 2013.”

UC Berkeley students make up roughly one-fourth of the city’s population, with 35,838 students as of fall 2010. However, there has been no student representation on the council since the first district boundaries were drawn in 1986.

Worthington said an amendment needs to be made to the city’s charter for the super sizing of districts for students and would need to be voted on during the November 2012 elections.

“The city council can’t take half of one district and half of another district and put it together — they are not legally allowed to do that, but voters can do that,” Worthington said. “In the short term, we are trying to figure out how to keep or expand student majority in District 7. In the longer term it’s about how you put something on the ballot that can win.”

To encourage more student involvement and participation, the city will be hosting a community meeting about student redistricting this Thursday, and the ASUC will be sending student representatives to be involved in discussions. ASUC representatives were also present at the June 30 League of Women Voters of Berkeley, Albany and Emeryville’s public meeting about general council redistricting, as well as a city council meeting on June 28.

As a member of the Common Cause club on campus, ASUC Student Action Senator-elect Shahryar Abbasi said he began working on the redistricting issue to better represent students and became more actively involved this summer after becoming an ASUC senator this past spring.

“At the League of Women meeting … Wozniak explained a certain perspective that showed how students have been disenfranchised for many years and that they do care because it alienates the community and our population,” Abbasi said. “Once they understood that we were split between four or five districts, the adults were more understanding and willing to hear our concerns.”

The vote to extend the proposal submission deadline will be on the agenda for the July 19 council meeting — the last one before the council adjourns for summer recess until mid-September.