Students submit redistricting proposal to create student supermajority district

Brenna Alexander/Staff
Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, with ASUC members behind her, speaks on the steps of city hall.

UC Berkeley student leaders, Berkeley City Councilmember Gordon Wozniak and Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, gathered on the steps of city hall Friday morning to submit a redistricting proposal for the creation of two student super-majority districts.

Under overcast skies, ASUC External Affairs Vice President Joey Freeman, ASUC President Vishalli Loomba, ASUC Academic Affairs Vice President Julia Joung, ASUC Senator Shahryar Abbasi and Skinner spoke on the redistricting issue which has been a hot topic for the past few weeks as the Sept. 30 deadline to submit proposals approached.

The proposal submitted would redraw district lines, which come up for review every 10 years to comply with census data, to concentrate students into fewer voting districts and potentially allow for the election of a student to City Council for the first time since Skinner was elected in 1984 while a student at UC Berkeley.

According to ASUC Redistricting Director Michael Manset, the proposal would redraw the four districts currently most comprised of students into two student supermajority districts.

“One, District Four, encompasses Downtown, Northside, the Greek community, and Clark Kerr.” Manset said in an email. “The other, District Seven, is composed of the heavily student neighborhoods of Southside, including the Units.  The proposal recognizes students as a community of interest and ensures that we have a voice in local governance that reflects our large presence in the city.”

A similar proposal was denied in 2001. However, Freeman said that the new proposal’s insistence on charter reform makes it different.

“If the charter does change, the map can change as well,” Freeman said.

The charter defines and preserves district limits that were established in 1986 and stipulates that adjustments to the boundaries must not draw council members out of their district and that each district must contain approximately 14,703 persons.

“I think it’s intriguing to increase the percentage of students but it seems odd that they would submit something that is clearly in violation of multiple different components that are required,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington of District 7.  “It is enclosed in the 1986 boundaries, it moves council members out of their districts and it appears to be the least equal of any of the proposals submitted.”

Manset said that while the proposal is not compliant with the current charter, the group will work toward putting an amendment on the November 2012 ballot to allow for the creation of the student district.

Skinner, who has been the only student to ever serve on the council, said she came out to support the students’ proposal. She addressed what she said she feels is the unfairness of the current way districts are divided.

“I wanted to set the record straight about what the net effect of the districts has been in the community,” Skinner said. “You are basically diluting the ability of students to speak in a concentrated way. (The proposal) at least respects and recognizes that students are a vital part of the community.”

Wozniak, whose district includes several student neighborhoods, also commented on the current way in which districts are drawn and the impact it has on student representation.

“I think it’s one of those fundamental issues,” Wozniak said. “There’s not a level playing field for students.”

Also in attendance were students from the Berkeley Political Review, UC Berkeley Indus President Janki Patel and Berkeley Common Cause President Aryndel Lamb-Marsh.

“It is a matter of justice and fairness,” Freeman said. “It’s time for Berkeley to give silent communities like students a voice.”

Image Courtesy: Michael Manset, redistricting director for the ASUC