Correcting Mecklai’s misleading claims

Charlotte Passot/Staff

After reading ASUC External Affairs Vice President Safeena Mecklai’s op-ed last Tuesday titled “USDA is a threat to a student district,” we, as members of the Berkeley Student Cooperative, feel compelled to respond.

We believe Mecklai deliberately misrepresented the facts about redistricting to advance her own political interests. Instead of using her platform to inform students of all potential outcomes from redistricting, she used scare tactics and misinformation to convince students of her position. We think this is wrong.

We want to tell students about the redistricting process and the potential outcomes as we see them. Tuesday night, Berkeley City Council will vote to approve one of two maps: the United Student District Amendment  map or the Berkeley Student District Campaign map. While both maps create a student district, the USDA map will create a district with students comprising 90 percent of its population, compared to 86 percent for the BSDC district.

Although we believe the ASUC and Berkeley City Council should support the USDA map exclusively on the basis that it includes more students, we believe there are other essential differences that make the USDA map a more inclusive and representative plan.The USDA map brings student housing communities into the student district that the BSDC plan excludes. The BSDC map, which is supported by Mecklai, will not include Foothill, Bowles or Stern residence halls; 11 of the 20 cooperatives in the Berkeley Student Cooperative; or International House and many greek houses. In short, the BSDC map leaves many organized student housing communities on the north and east sides of campus out of the student district altogether, but the USDA map does not.

Mecklai labels supporters of the USDA map as “irresponsible” and “reckless.” But what is irresponsible or reckless about supporting a map that includes more students and more student housing communities, especially if our goal is to create the nation’s first student district?

Mecklai’s labeling of our efforts to fight for the inclusion of our housing community as “selfish” is offensive and disrespectful. Redistricting has serious and long-lasting implications for all students, but especially for students who live on Northside, many of whom live in the BSC. Our engagement in the issue should not be trivialized, or worse, disparaged.

If the BSDC map moves forward, the BSC will be cut in half, leaving many of the BSC’s largest co-ops outside the student district, where they will have little political voice for the next 10 years, threatening the BSC’s ability to advance our mission to provide affordable housing to students.  The ASUC has worked for three years to create the BSDC map and to make redistricting possible — and we recognize that work. However, we also believe that at critical stages throughout the process, the BSC was not included in the “good-faith negotiations” Mecklai says defined the creation of the BSDC map.

The BSDC map was supported by last year’s ASUC Senate but only because it was framed as the only option for students to create a student district. Mecklai and others have claimed that the BSC was consulted throughout the creation of the BSDC map, but the map was not approved by the BSC in its final stages and, like other senators, the Cooperative Movement Party senator at the time was unaware of alternatives to the plan.

Students were presented with an alternative to the BSDC map this summer, however, when the USDA map was introduced. The USDA map is based on the BSDC map, but it amends the flaws of the BSDC map and improves it to create a more inclusive student district. We believe students should embrace these changes and the more student-friendly map, but Mecklai and others have remained opposed in part because they want to see their map approved by the city so that they can take political credit.

Mecklai cites the Sept. 11 ASUC Senate vote against a bill in support of the USDA map as evidence of the ASUC’s continued support of the BSDC map. But make no mistake about it: Mecklai played an active role in convincing senators to defeat the bill. Not a single senator represents the BSC this year, so when leaders of the BSC turned to Mecklai to gain her support for the USDA map prior to the senate vote, we were disappointed to be met with such active and enduring opposition.

Lastly, Mecklai attacks supporters of the USDA map for being open to a referendum. Let us be clear: We are reluctant to resort to a referendum. But we cannot support the flawed BSDC map that divides students and excludes Northside. Mecklai’s insistence on moving forward with the BSDC map in spite of legitimate objections from affected communities, and in spite of a politically viable and more student-friendly alternative, leaves us in a difficult position.

If we are going to do this, we need to do it right — and we will. We will not settle for the BSDC map when we have a better map, and if we have to push for the USDA map as a referendum, we will mobilize the students who want the most inclusive district possible to make sure that the final map is worthy of our student population.The choice for students and Berkeley City Council is clear. Support the most inclusive student district that encompasses the greatest number of residence halls, cooperatives, greek houses and students — support the USDA map.

We hope you spread the word about the importance of the USDA map, and we hope you join us at the Berkeley City Council meeting to speak out in favor of the USDA map. Redistricting will be considered Tuesday about 8 p.m. at the City Council Chambers.

Michelle Nacouzi IS president of the BSC James Chang is Vice President of External Affairs of the BSC, and Austin Pritzkat is a Councilmember at Fenwick for the BSC.