Berkeley City Council chooses map to establish new student supermajority district

Ariel Hayat/Staff
Students hold up signs supporting that ASUC proposed student district map. Berkeley City Council discussed the two student districts at Tuesday's meeting.

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After more than two years of discussing changes to the city’s district boundaries, Berkeley City Council finally selected a map that would establish a new student supermajority district at its meeting Tuesday night.

The City Council took the first of two votes to adopt the Berkeley Student District Campaign map, which will encompass areas including the entire UC Berkeley campus, fraternities and sororities and a large portion of residences on Southside in the amended district.

At the meeting, a crowd of more than 30 students filled the room, deeply divided between the BSDC map and its alternative, the United Student District Amendment map. The BSDC map excludes nine co-ops on Northside, International House and three residence halls on the east side of campus. The USDA map, which was proposed over the summer, would have included these areas.

“Northside, they have different views, (but) they still represent the campus community,” said creator of the USDA map Stefan Elgstrand, a UC Berkeley senior and intern for Councilmember Kriss Worthington. “Splitting apart Northside from Southside is splitting apart the student district.”

Additionally, in September, an ASUC Senate bill that supported the USDA map failed to pass in the senate, 11-9.

But it was not only the students who remained divided on the issue.

The City Council’s votes — 6-2 and one abstention from Councilmember Max Anderson — were split along ideological lines, with Mayor Tom Bates and other moderate council members voting for the BSDC map and progressives, such as Arreguin and Worthington, favoring the USDA map.

Councilmember Gordon Wozniak, who voted for the BSDC map, said about 30,000 students live in Berkeley, but each district can only accommodate about 14,000 people, making it difficult for all students to be in one district.

But Worthington, who represents District 7, which would be the new student supermajority district if the map is adopted, said the map did not have to exclude the co-ops.

“How can you say it’s a serious student district if you don’t have most of the co-ops and most of the dorms?” Worthington said.

Bates said he voted for the BSDC map because he wanted to create a district that would be heavily influenced by young people. He also said he wanted to keep communities together and “draw lines that were logical and natural divides,” such as the BSDC map’s border on Hearst Avenue.

“In the past, the (co-ops) were not together,” Bates said. “I’ve lived on the north side. It was like day and night between students on the north side and the south side — totally different environments.”

But the map can still be challenged. At Tuesday’s meeting, Worthington encouraged supporters of the USDA map to move forward with a referendum, which could prevent the council from adopting the district lines in time for the November election. A referendum requires a minimum of 5,275 signatures.

If the district is formed, it would increase chances of a student being elected to the council. The seat for District 7 will be up for re-election in November 2014.

“It is time for a student to take over on the council,” said Safeena Mecklai, ASUC external affairs vice president.

But according to James Chang, vice president of external affairs of the Berkeley Student Cooperative, by excluding the co-ops from the district, a member of the co-op community has a smaller chance of being elected to the City Council than a member of the Greek community, which is mostly included in the new student district.

The second reading of the ordinance is set to occur Dec. 17. If adopted, the ordinance would take effect Jan. 19, 2014.

Tara Hurley covers city news. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @tcchurley.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Berkeley City Councilmember Jesse Arreguin abstained from the council’s vote on a map to create a new student supermajority council district. In fact, Councilmember Max Anderson abstained.