Students deserve to be represented on City Council

redistricting oped.illustration.nicole lim
Nicole Lim/Staff

This year, Californians have a lot on their plate. Zooming in on the map just a bit more, though, highlights a city with a hefty agenda of its own. The release of the 2010 census presents Berkeley with a revolutionary opportunity that comes along only once every ten years: redrawing its district boundaries and achieving even greater representation for Cal students.

After each census, districts must be adjusted in accordance with population changes. Ten years ago, minor shifts to the map were made which brought about minimal change. However, many in Berkeley claimed the process was finished in haste and deliberately organized to curb the voice of specific constituencies.

The voters learned from these failed opportunities and approved an amendment to the City Charter, ensuring redistricting proposals would be properly considered and deliberated, and set the redistricting completion date as December 2013. Many have argued, and rightfully so, that this affords all interest groups ample time to present a high-quality proposal.

Sadly, it appears as if history may be repeating itself. The Council is attempting to fast track the process and finish the new boundaries in time for the 2012 election. While this may be beneficial for some, it silences the voices of thousands more.

As students, we stand at the precipice of a monumental moment in history. Currently, the voices of 36,000 UC Berkeley students — also Berkeley residents — are effectively disenfranchised. Students in Berkeley have been the victims of a strategic political apportionment process; whereby students have been spread across four districts, inhibiting our collective voice.

As the group that makes up over 25 percent of Berkeley’s population, we have every right to express our interests within the city’s political process. We now have the opportunity to correct this wrong, create a student super-majority district and elect a student to the City Council. However, just as in the past, strong oppositional forces are arising to silence the outspoken voices of students.

Any member of the public can submit a redistricting proposal to be considered by the City Council. While we appreciate the Council’s extension of the deadline to Sept. 30, it still remains difficult to introduce a comprehensive proposal that adequately addresses the dynamic needs of the city.

Some argue that pushing the deadline further to our recommended date of Nov. 1 would prevent staff from meeting Alameda County’s reporting deadline of April 2012 to utilize the new districts in the November 2012 election. What we find interesting is the entire reason voters gave the city until December 2013 to finish redistricting was to avoid a rushed process and ensure all parties’ voices are heard.

Our opposition tells us that with the December 2013 deadline, a handful of Berkeley citizens will be unable to vote because their Councilmembers won’t be up for election in 2012 — and after redistricting, their new representatives might not be up for election until 2016. We have heard that this constitutes disenfranchisement of 4,000 individuals. The facts beg to differ. The term “disenfranchise” insinuates “the deprivation of certain rights.” These individuals are not losing a right to vote in any way, shape or form. All of them will still be able to cast a ballot — some just might not have a Councilmember running for election in that cycle.

Moreover, a deeper analysis of these figures reveals an extreme flaw. City statistics show that participation in elections for the City Council wavers around 50 percent, decreasing the number who some argue are at risk to 1,000 to 2,000. Given that most of these are not students, and some are shown to not even engage in the political process, it is an injustice to equate this small number with the likes of 35,000 students who would be deprived entirely of the chance to be adequately represented. Given that many of these same individuals may be forced to vote twice within two years, the argument should be nullified.

As student leaders, our foremost responsibility is to fight for increased representation for the student body at all levels of government. We therefore urge the City Council to extend the deadline — to an October date at the very least — to give students enough time to develop a comprehensive proposal. An overwhelming 78 percent of voters spoke loudly at the ballot box and approved an amendment to extend the final date for redistricting to December 2013. It is unfair to disregard the will of those voters, coupled with the disenfranchisement of some 35,000 students, simply because of one Councilmember’s unverified claims.

Those opposed to this plan make the case that come November 2012 voters could vote both for City Council based on the new boundaries and a charter amendment. However, it is imperative that redistricting only occurs once. It makes no sense to force the city to repeat the countless time and resources they would have already put in to complete redistricting the first time. This process must be comprehensive, all-inclusive and done right. That’s why it is critical for students to collectively compel the City Council to keep pushing for a deadline extension.

It is no longer a matter of student votes being counted. It is now a matter of student voices being heard. A numerical figure cannot, should not and will not upstage an audacious desire to bring change to Berkeley. The change must start from the bottom up and it must start with us. Just like the lines on Berkeley’s map, we must redraw and rethink the status-quo so we can truly make a difference.

Joey Freeman is the ASUC EAVP and Shahryar Abbasi is an ASUC senator for the 2011-2012 academic year.