District 7

Council Watch

For those of you who are tired of hearing about rambunctious old people waving their arms over city issues, worry not. Here’s a reprieve. This week, we’re focusing specifically on the creation of the “student supermajority district,” a district whose constituency would likely be more than 90 percent students.

Why would we want such a district to begin with? ASUC Redistricting Director Noah Efron said in an email, “If we have a district whose population is 90 percent student, any council member who has to run in election after election in such a district will be forced to be accountable to student issues.”

At face value, that sounds like something everyone can get on board with. Given the fact that students comprise a large portion of the city’s population, why wouldn’t we want more representation of student issues?

There are some problems to be contended with. Councilmember Laurie Capitelli, who supports the student district, questioned the prominence of student issues. He pointed out to me in an email that, “To some degree (student) issues are not completely known by the Council or the community. There has not been a venue for students to articulate their concerns.”

I don’t want to get into a debate over what is or is not a “student issue” or why the Berkeley community isn’t aware of them. Let’s say we’re able to clearly define them for Capitelli and the council. Even then, would one council member attuned to these issues be enough?

Philippe Marchand, the former assembly affairs vice president of the Graduate Assembly, stated in a comment on a Daily Cal article that “there has been very little discussion on how concentrating students in a single district would affect the overall support for students if none of the other council members have to really care about the student vote.”

There’s a reason that The Three Musketeers are never able to trump The Clique. It’s because there are only three of them. It’s cruel arithmetic at work.

Say an undergrad or grad student runs in the next election cycle and is able to oust Kriss Worthington. Will that solitary figure, working tirelessly to bring student issues to the forefront, be able to enact or solidify change without the support of the others? If he/she’s working alone, that’s a no. Cruel arithmetic.

I asked Efron what he thought about the idea that concentrating the student demographic into a single district could be counterproductive toward the end goal of increasing student representation. Efron said that when the old map was drawn in 1986, students were purposely split up to dilute the student voice. He said, “To suggest that having students in multiple districts means more councilmembers represent them is incorrect … (it) means that it’s not politically important for ANYONE to listen to students.”

Current ASUC External Affairs Vice President Shahryar Abbasi backs him up, telling me in an email that “having someone on council who walks and talks with students everyday will be far more significant vs. having scattered representation who are not solely focused on our interest.”

Not all students are united on this front. CalSERVE’s EAVP candidate, Spencer Pritchard, said in an email, “Overall … a student district does not tackle the problem of student under-representation in city affairs … The idea of a single student district does not go far enough. We need to be advocating for further representation for all of city government.”

One thing they can agree on is that the council hasn’t done enough for student matters. While all of the council members I interviewed last week expressed their support for students, Efron, Pritchard and Student Action EAVP candidate Safeena Mecklai believe the council hasn’t given student issues their due. “We’ve seen with the current city council that when students are divided, their voices are not heard and councilmembers are not responsive to their needs,” Mecklai said in an email. “One lone councilmember cannot pass something on the council, but it will allow us to raise our voices … That’s a huge step.”

Pause. That was a lot of quotes and perspectives I gave you just now. I’m sure there are many more I’m missing as well. Chew on  ’em, digest ’em and if after all this you’re concerned, show up when the redistricting maps are presented and have your say.

As for my opinion? I think one is a lonely number. I think the math is stacked against us. Then again, I’m not the one who needs to be convinced.

At the end of the day, it comes back to the core nine on the council. Don’t get tired of these rambunctious people — they’ll decide whether we get a student supermajority district or not.

Get loud. ’Cause the ball’s in their court now.

Contact Lynn Yu at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter: @lynnqyu.