Referendum to overturn new district lines claims success, awaits official approval

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The referendum campaign aiming to overturn the district lines Berkeley City Council passed last month announced its success Tuesday, possibly complicating efforts to create a student district.

Referendum supporters have spent the past 30 days gathering signatures in opposition to the Berkeley Student District Campaign map, which creates a District 7 whose population is about 86 percent 18- to 29-year-olds. Although they also hope for a similarly sized student district, they criticize the BSDC map for excluding several Northside co-ops and residence halls.

According to Stefan Elgstrand — Councilmember Kriss Worthington’s intern and the creator of the United Student District Amendment map, which was proposed as an alternative to the BSDC map — the referendum campaign has verified it has roughly 5,400 signatures from city voters, exceeding the 5,275 needed to overturn the BSDC map, though the registrar of voters now has about 30 days to verify them.

“This referendum was designed by City Council to fail, but we defied expectations,” Elgstrand said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon.

Just before Tuesday’s 5 p.m. deadline, the referendum campaign submitted its petitions to the Berkeley city clerk after a jubilant gathering of more than a dozen supporters in front of the Berkeley Civic Center.

Worthington, who presides over District 7, said he hopes the council will rescind its decision on the BSDC map and create a new map. Aside from wanting to keep Northside co-ops and residence halls in District 7, referendum supporters argue the BSDC map did not do enough to benefit progressives and neighborhoods.

Berkeley began redistricting in 2011 and passed a 2012 measure for the purpose of creating a student-dominated district. BSDC proponents have accused the referendum campaign of jeopardizing what they consider the city’s best opportunity to have a student district.

“What (the referendum) is is basically creators of the other maps and disgruntled members of other interest groups saying it’s either their way or we can’t have the student district at all,” said ASUC External Affairs Vice President Safeena Mecklai, who has worked on redistricting since 2011, in an interview with The Daily Californian earlier this month.

Mecklai said that she does not want to see the work it took to persuade Berkeley residents to accept a student district unraveled and that a new compromise map would lack the public input invested in the BSDC map. But referendum supporters consider a compromise the ideal outcome of their campaign.

If the council reaches agreement before April 1, it will still meet the deadline for putting new district lines into effect by the November election. If the council decides not to create a new map, its other option is to put the BSDC map on the June or November ballot.

Melissa Wen covers city news. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @melissalwen.