Some in ASUC support creation of student supermajority

With the Sept. 30 deadline approaching, several ASUC officials who lead the push for the creation of a student super-majority district in the city of Berkeley through the city’s redistricting process are continuing to develop their proposal while gathering and incorporating student input.

In July, the city began accepting redistricting proposals — following the March release of the 2010 census data, which shows a 9 percent increase from the city’s population count of 102,743 in the year 2000 to a new total of 112,580 — for the purpose of rearranging the electoral district boundaries to preserve equal population distribution among its eight districts.

While students comprise a significant percentage of the total population, they are spread among four districts in the city without having a student representative sit on the Berkeley City Council.

“When you talk about redistricting on a national and state level, they always talk about putting a minority community together,” said Kristin Hunziker, a former UC Berkeley student who has been working with several ASUC officials on their campaign for a student-majority district. “They are very split up in Berkeley into four districts. By common sense and political progressive standards, they should be put together in few districts.”

ASUC Senator Shahryar Abbasi said that though students represent a significant portion of the city’s population, their voices have been spread out and consequently have been disenfranchised.

“I‘ve heard from a few residents, and I’ve talked to a few — I would say there is some ambivalence about having a student-majority district,” said Councilmember Gordon Wozniak. “Students tend to be different from the rest of the population, but they also have common interests like public safety, service projects and transits. They deserve to be considered for representation.”

Over the summer, the city council extended the deadline to Sept. 30 — which was already extended from its original deadline of Aug. 19 to Sept. 16 — after ASUC External Affairs Vice President Joey Freeman requested to move the date to November in order to make time for students who were away during the summer.

Though the November deadline was rejected, there are some who believe that an earlier deadline would allow sufficient time to engage with students and draft a proposal.

“There will be plenty of time for students to engage in the process and plenty of time to take part in what the final decision will look like,” said ASUC Senator Andrew Albright, mentioning that the city will still hold public hearings and discussions regarding the redistricting process.

In addition, a group called Maximum Participation Minimum Deviation — which is composed of college and high school students — submitted a proposal within a week following the city’s release of redistricting proposal applications. However, their proposal solely focused on the redistricting process rather than the creation of a student-majority district.

According to Freeman, they are on track to submit a proposal by Sept. 30 but will not be completely finished until they gather all student input by holding several informational events and workshops as students return for the start of the fall semester.

“We want to put together a plan that has student interest and suggestions,” he said. “We’re at the stage where we have been looking at maps, data and potential area on what (the district) would look like.”

In order for the city council to accept a proposal, it has to adhere to the city charter, which states that an elected council member cannot be ousted due to a change in boundaries, districts need to be of equal size and proposals are required to stay as close as possible to the 1986 district boundaries — a criteria that was not met by ASUC officials in 2001.

Freeman said that they are still uncertain if the final proposal that they will submit will be charter compliant. However, if it violates the charter, then the group’s next step would be voting for a charter amendment November 2012.

“I strongly support to increase influence of students on the city government through the redistricting process and to be represented in elected and appointed seats (so they can) have a direct role in issues that affect their daily lives,” said Councilmember Jesse Arreguin. “Whether that may be a student district, I have yet to form an opinion on that. I’m just waiting to see what the ASUC puts forward before making a decision.”

Karinina Cruz covers city government.