Though a majority of UC Berkeley students live in the areas surrounding the campus, there is currently no student super-majority city council district. While many have called for such a district — most notably ASUC External Affairs Vice President Joey Freeman — its creation would simply be gerrymandering. Creating a district for a specific political purpose does not broaden representation, but instead undermines other constituencies.
As residents of Berkeley, many students can already vote for city council representatives in standard elections. Our voices can be heard through the ballot box, but only if we actively participate. Voting and remaining aware is crucial to ensure that student interests are represented on the city council through the democratic process. Gerrymandering a student super-majority with the aim of always having a student on the city council circumvents democracy.
Though students are spread-out across four districts, the creation of a student super-majority district would effectively disenfranchise non-student residents in such a district.
There are also legal obstacles that such a move would encounter. Creating this new district would require more than a simple redistricting proposal; it would require amending the city’s charter through a ballot initiative in November 2012, more than a year away. Working to establish such a district is a waste of time and energy that could be directed elsewhere, such as working with council members to more directly engage the student population of Berkeley.
Students and residents who feel strongly about this issue can pursue creating more fair districts through pre-established guidelines. The deadline to submit redistricting proposals has already been extended from Sept. 16 to Sept. 30. Those who are serious about redistricting should work within this time frame and come up with a plan that does not compromise the spirit of fair representation.
While students certainly have unique interests and demands, a super-majority district would grant too much political weight to a dynamic and constantly changing demographic. For real change to be achieved, student leaders should work with the city council to create broader representation without compromising the democratic process.