Student super-majority district would require charter amendment

The only way to create a student super-majority city council district, which would theoretically allow for the easy election of a student council member, is to amend Berkeley’s city charter, according to city staff.

At a small, student-oriented meeting on Thursday night, staff informed those in attendance that the redistricting process must follow three basic rules: No change in boundaries shall oust an elected council member, districts shall continue to be nearly equal in size and they shall preserve, to the extent possible, the original boundaries established when the Berkeley City Council districts were formed in 1986.

Because the creation of a student super-majority district would likely entail a major shift in the boundaries of Districts 7 and 8, located just south of the UC Berkeley campus where many students live, an amendment to the charter would have to appear before Berkeley voters on the November 2012 ballot.

But the district lines are slated to be readjusted before then, in time for voters to be placed in the updated districts when they head to the polls.

In the election, Districts 2, 3, 5 and 6 will hold city council races. Those districts are also scheduled to gain a total of 4,295 voters as a result of redistricting, which aims to adjust the boundaries such that each district contains about 14,073 people.

“These 4,295 residents have a right to participate in the 2012 election,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington at the meeting.

The city’s redistricting is being conducted to reflect data gathered in the 2010 census. Proposals must be submitted to the city clerk by Sept. 16 in order to have new boundary lines and maps submitted in time for the April 1 deadline mandated by the Alameda County Registrar of Voters if the adjusted districts are to be in effect for the election.

ASUC External Affairs Vice President Joey Freeman has encouraged the council to support Councilmember Gordon Wozniak’s motion to extend the deadline to Nov. 1, alleging that the current date does not provide enough time for a proposal to be drafted by students who will just be returning to the city. However, Deputy City Manager Christine Daniel said at the meeting that a November deadline would not give staff enough time to have the boundaries ready by April 1.

At the meeting, Worthington said it is possible for redistricting proposals to be drafted for the election in accordance with the city charter while a charter amendment is also proposed. In effect, this would result in redistricting occurring twice, should the charter amendment be approved.

“Those two things are in no way in conflict with each other,” Worthington said.

Complete redistricting packets containing further information such as public hearing dates, timelines, maps and data will be publicly available at the City Clerk Department and on the city’s website July 11.

J.D. Morris is an assistant news editor.