While UC Berkeley students have been among the most outspoken advocates for the creation of a new student-majority district, it was community members who stepped up to foot the bill of a campaign seeking to overturn the city’s recently approved controversial district lines.
After Berkeley City Council approved a new redistricting map in late December, advocates of an alternative map began a referendum campaign to overturn the council’s decision. While both maps call for the creation of a student-majority district, the second map, called the United Student District Amendment, modeled itself after the first but altered its lines slightly to include the residence halls east of campus and the Northside co-ops.
The city manager’s office announced Monday night that the referendum campaign had officially succeeded. Now, the first map, created by the Berkeley Student District Campaign, must go on the ballot if the City Council is unable to compromise and draw a new one before April 1.
For some students who supported the referendum, the announcement comes as a surprise, because signatures in support of the referendum had to be gathered in a period that coincided with UC Berkeley’s winter break. Referendum signatures were due Jan. 21, the day the spring semester began.
“A lot of the support did not come from students because the City Council decided to pass the referendum the week students left school,” said James Chang, vice president of external affairs at the Berkeley Student Cooperative and a supporter of the referendum. “Because of that, it was tougher to gather signatures.”
Chang and the cooperative’s president, Michelle Nacouzi, estimate students may have provided about 1,000 to 2,000 of the total 7,867 signatures for the referendum, in part due to Chang’s efforts in organizing co-op signing parties and house-to-house signature-gathering.
Although Nacouzi attributes much of the referendum’s success to student involvement, financial backing largely came from some of Berkeley’s most progressive community members.
The Berkeley Referendum Coalition received financial contributions from several community members to help cover the more than $5,000 spent to hire signature-gatherers, according to the coalition’s December campaign statement.
Among the major sponsors was Michael O’Malley, co-owner of the Berkeley Daily Planet, who gave a $1,000 loan in support of the referendum, the largest single contribution to the coalition’s effort, according to the statement.
Although O’Malley was not involved with the referendum coalition, he chose to lend money to the cause to help secure a spot for a more progressive representative on the City Council.
“There’s a plan to use the student district to make the City Council more conservative than it already is,” O’Malley said. “I wanted to help keep not just a more liberal voice on the council but a student who’s aware and informed of all the issues going on.”
Other contributors included Lisa Stephens, the coalition’s treasurer, and Nancy Carleton, former chair of the city Zoning Adjustments Board.
Despite these donations, the campaign statement accounted for only $2,790 of the money spent on signature-gatherers, suggesting that more than $2,000 was left unfunded by campaign contributions after December.
Since then, however, coalition members have collected sufficient funds to pay off any remaining dues, according to Stefan Elgstrand, a UC Berkeley senior and the coalition’s vice treasurer.
None of the monetary contributions of more than $100 were made by students, and although the campaign statement lists $140 in unitemized contributions of less than $100 each, Chang said it is unlikely that any students donated.
“The coalition members have always been very sensitive to the needs of students,” Chang said. “They understand that students are students … so we’ve never been asked to pay for this.”
Moving forward, UC Berkeley student leaders in support of both the BSDC and USDA maps hope to compromise with one another and the City Council on a new map that addresses the concerns of all parties, according to both Elgstrand and ASUC Redistricting Director Noah Efron, who supports the BSDC map.
“There are very small blocks that are different between the two maps,” Efron said, “so any compromise would involve shifting two or three sections.”
Although BSDC and USDA map supporters have not planned a meeting to discuss a compromise, Elgstrand is optimistic that negotiations between the groups will take place in the next month.
“I haven’t heard anything from the supporters of BSDC yet, but I think it would be in their best interest to compromise,” Elgstrand said. “The alternative is that this goes on the ballot, in which case (the student district) would likely be voted down.”