Redistricting charter amendment approved for November ballot

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An amendment to the city of Berkeley charter to adjust the redistricting process set in 1986 was approved June 26 by the Berkeley City Council to appear on the November ballot for voter approval.

For more than three decades, Berkeley has kept roughly the same boundaries for its eight council districts, adjusting them only slightly every decade based on U.S. Census data. The proposed amendment would allow for significant changes to the shape of districts under guidelines that would ensure that major streets and natural geography be kept as borders, that incumbents would not be placed in the same district and that “communities of interest” would be kept intact.

“Communities of interest” are a focus for UC Berkeley students and supporters who have advocated for the creation of a student supermajority district — a City Council district that more directly represents the students of the campus. The council, however, has chosen not to use “students” under the definition of these communities in the charter amendment heading to the ballot.

A community of interest is defined in the California Constitution as “as a contiguous population which shares common social and economic interests that should be included within a single district for purpose of its effective and fair representation.”

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, who helped write the amendment, said the amendment will help consider communities such as neighborhoods or ethnic groups and prevent them from being broken up in the redistricting process. Nonetheless, he said he was “disappointed” that the majority of council members chose not to include students in the language.

“The fact that we are more strongly looking at communities of interest shows that we are reflecting the needs of the populations of Berkeley,” said Arreguin. “While we didn’t get them included, I think it’s an important population to consider. We will have the flexibility with this amendment to still include students.”

While the 1986 charter was being drafted, Arreguin said, authors specifically, and admittedly, outlined phrases that would break up the student body between districts.

ASUC External Affairs Vice President Shahryar Abbasi said he was satisfied with the amendment’s approval for the ballot and that the exclusion of students as a community of interest was not a great concern. He, along with a coalition of other advocates, will be leading a campaign in support of the amendment and will be drafting a proposal offering new boundaries.

“Students are 25 percent of the population of the city,” said Abbasi. “We contribute a lot to the city. There would not be a Berkeley without UC Berkeley.  It’s been impossible to get students on the City Council because our constituency is split up.”

If passed, the amendment would take effect immediately and the process of redistricting would start over. The council has until December 2013 to approve new district lines.