City Council extends deadline for redistricting proposal

In an attempt to allow students more time to draft a redistricting proposal, the Berkeley City Council extended the submission deadline at its meeting Tuesday night, though the extension is about a month shorter than students had originally requested.

The council voted to push back the original Sept. 16 deadline to Sept. 30 after hearing from several students who spoke both for and against the proposed extension to Nov. 1. Previously, city staff had said a November proposal deadline would not allow enough time to meet the county’s deadline for having new districts in place by the November 2012 election.

“Students are disenfranchised currently in Berkeley,” said ASUC Senator-elect Shahryar Abbasi at the meeting. “It is unjust, it is unfair and it is unequal, and we urge the council to consider extending the deadline … Furthermore, rushing the deadline does not allow for students or for anyone in the city to come up with a comprehensive, all-encompassing proposal that will actually allow people to thoroughly think out what is best for the city.”

But one group of students has already submitted a redistricting proposal, about a week after packets were made available by the city clerk.

Drafted by a coalition of high school, community college and college students, the proposal would modify the boundary lines with the intent of ensuring that some 4,295 residents scheduled to move into districts with City Council races in 2012 will be able to vote.

When the election is held next November, council seats in Districts 2, 3, 5 and 6 are up for election. Due to the city’s redistricting — which aims to adjust the districts based on data gathered in the 2010 census so that each one contains about 14,073 people — those districts are also scheduled to gain a total of 4,295 people.

Though the residents who are supposed to move into new districts may be “disenfranchised” from voting in the City Council races next year, council members were quick to point out that certain changes in district boundaries may result in another inequity — residents voting twice after being moved from a district that had a City Council race in 2010 to another up for election in 2012.

Under the student proposal, the new districts would come about one-tenth of one percent from the goal population.

Furthermore, the current student proposal opts out of the effort to establish a student supermajority district and instead simply adheres to the three main rules of redistricting outlined by city staff: that districts shall be nearly equal in size, resemble — to the extent possible — the original 1986 district boundaries and not remove any existing council member from his or her district.

Ultimately, if students still wish to create a supermajority district, a charter amendment can be placed on the ballot to change the districts accordingly if approved by Berkeley voters.

“I’m wondering when the creation of a supermajority has ever served a democracy,” said Zoning Adjustments Board member Elisa Mikiten at the meeting. “It’s a way of winning an election before the race has been begun.”

J.D. Morris is an assistant news editor.