Council members consider possibility of postponing redistricting decision

UC Berkeley student government leaders presented their redistricting proposal to the Berkeley City Council during a public hearing on the matter Tuesday night, garnering some support from certain council members who are considering delaying action on the proposals until after the 2012 election.

By postponing a redistricting decision, the council would allow the students to submit a charter amendment for the November 2012 ballot to make their proposal compliant with city code, and thus be considered among the five other proposals submitted to the council. The charter requires that proposals closely adhere to the 1986 district boundaries and that districts be drawn to result in a nearly equal population in each district.

The Student District proposal — submitted by members of the ASUC — purposefully does not comply with the city charter, with the intention to encourage discussion about the current constraints on district boundaries, which are re-evaluated every 10 years to accommodate changes in the city’s census data.

“For redistricting to be fair, we want to go to the ballot in 2012 to rework some of those rules, reverse the gerrymandering of the 1986 lines and allow for the creation of a student super majority district,” ASUC External Affairs Vice President Joey Freeman said at the meeting. “Over the past 25 years, demographics have changed, communities have changed, and we need to recognize that reality.”

Once the public hearing was closed, debate arose amongst council members as to when they should make their redistricting decision.

Councilmember Gordon Wozniak motioned to delay any decision until after the city’s November 2012 election, in order to allow for the charter amendment to be voted on.

Councilmembers Jesse Arreguin and Kriss Worthington vocally opposed the motion, which they said would disenfranchise thousands of voters who could be drawn out of their districts immediately after already electing a council member in their original district.

“It is critical that we redistrict in 2012,” said Arreguin, who said residents in his and Wozniak’s districts could experience this potential issue due to population changes.

In the end, the motion failed with Councilmembers Linda Maio, Max Anderson, Darryl Moore and  Susan Wengraf abstaining, Mayor Tom Bates, Councilmembers Laurie Capitelli and Wozniak voting yes and Worthington and Arreguin voting no.

After the meeting, Freeman said he and the other student district advocates were surprised that the council seriously discussed the possibility of holding off on redistricting until the charter amendment can be voted on.

“We’re glad to see that the council is talking about it,” Freeman said. “Now it seems likely that they’ll bring it up again at the next public hearing.”

The next step for redistricting will be for the proposal authors to hand in any technical corrections they have for their plan to city hall by Dec. 2, after which city staff will review the corrections and plans again before the next public hearing on Jan. 17.

“I don’t expect many people will come in with little changes to their plans,” Maio said after the meeting. “I think they know what they want.”

As of now, the final proposal is still set to be adopted by the council Feb. 28 and submitted to the Alameda County Registrar of Voters by April 1.

Adelyn Baxter covers city government.