Future creation of student supermajority district rest on November ballot measure

Berkeley Student Redistricting Campaign/File

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After 26 years, Berkeley residents will have an opportunity this November to vote for a ballot measure that some hope would allow a student supermajority district to be established.

If passed, Measure R will amend the existing city charter to eliminate the 1986 boundary lines and instead use major traffic arteries, natural geography and communities of interest as boundaries to redefine Berkeley’s district lines.

Despite student efforts to create such a district in the past, the current — and controversial — boundaries divide the city in such a way that it has not been possible to create a supermajority district of UC Berkeley students since the redistricting rules were established in 1986.

The last time a UC Berkeley student served on Berkeley City Council was in 1984, when current state Assemblymember Nancy Skinner was elected.

“Students make up 25 percent of the city, yet we don’t have a voice on the City Council, so it just seems like a matter of fairness and representation … that their voices should be heard for decisions that affect everyday Berkeley residents,” said former ASUC external affairs vice president Joey Freeman.

Currently, voters in Berkeley are divided into eight council districts — each with its own elected council member who resides within that district — that comply with the 1986 district lines.

“Students have been one of my strongest support bases, and if students were taken out of my district, that would be harmful to me … but I look at it as a cause for the students in the city of Berkeley,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington, whose district contains the majority of the campus.

But city residents have expressed concern regarding the possible limitations of public input on Berkeley’s redistricting process if the measure is passed.

“It takes away the right from the voters to vote up or down where those boundaries are drawn and gives it to the whim of the council,” said Dave Blake, vice-chair of the Rent Stabilization Board. “People have a right to speak to it.”

Additionally, Blake said the 1986 lines were drawn up in a way to specifically prevent gerrymandering, but the passage of Measure R will undo the protections drawn into the original charter.

Mayoral candidate Jacquelyn McCormick agreed with Blake and said too much power would be given to the City Council in redrawing district lines. Although she expressed her support for student involvement in city politics, she said there was no guarantee that a student district may even be formed if the measure passes.

Councilmember Gordon Wozniak — whose district also contains a large number of students — said district lines would still have to ensure equal population distribution and that no two council members may be located in the same district, he said.

“It shouldn’t be controversial,” Wozniak said. “The process is no different in terms of the existing (charter) or now … There would be a public process to vet or allow the public to submit districting plans to the council and make the decision as they do now.”

If the measure is passed, new district lines would be drawn by the next election in 2014, according to Worthington.

“Hopefully, the measure passes — then we will resubmit our map,” Freeman said.

Daphne Chen covers city government. Contact her at [email protected]