City Council passes redistricting plan, referendum may follow

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Berkeley City Council faces a possible referendum after its decision Tuesday night to pass a controversial redistricting plan that would create a new student supermajority district.

Having approved the first reading of the redistricting ordinance earlier this month, the Council voted 6-3 at its meeting Tuesday to officially pass the Berkeley Student District Campaign map. The map includes the UC Berkeley campus, Greek housing and various Southside apartments in a newly formed District 7, where 18- to 29-year-olds comprise about 86 percent of the population. In the works since 2011, the BSDC plan has garnered criticism for its exclusion of Northside residences.

The United Student District Amendment, proposed this summer as an improvement to the BSDC plan, includes Northside student cooperatives, as well as the dorms on the northeast side of campus and International House. Both sides want a student district — some hope that new boundaries could put a student on the City Council — but proponents of the USDA plan have called the BSDC map unnecessarily exclusive.

“Why kick the (Northside) co-ops out? Why kick the dorms out?” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington, current representative for District 7 and a supporter of the USDA map. “There’s room for co-ops, dorms and Greeks to be one big, happy campus family.”

But supporters of the BSDC plan have argued that students on Southside and Northside have different interests, so they do not need to be in the same district. Voters on Southside, for example, might be more concerned about crime, according to Councilmember Laurie Capitelli.

“It’s virtually impossible to draw a map that doesn’t divide some community of interest in some way,” Capitelli said.

Stefan Elgstrand, a UC Berkeley senior and intern for Worthington, was in charge of drawing the USDA map and is now spearheading a referendum campaign. Supporters of the referendum need at least 5,275 signatures from registered voters to overturn the council’s decision. After the ordinance is verified by city staff this week, they will have 30 days to do so; otherwise, the BSDC plan will go into into effect around Jan. 18, Worthington said.

According to Worthington, a referendum regarding redistricting about 10 years ago led the City Council to rescind a controversial map and redraft a compromise. Elgstrand cited this example as evidence that a referendum now would likely result in a better plan for students.

Supporters of the BSDC map, however, have expressed concern that a referendum would not only obstruct the implementation of one particular plan but of a new student supermajority district completely.

“The referendum campaign is an incredibly dangerous strategy,” said ASUC External Affairs Vice President Safeena Mecklai, who has worked on the BSDC plan since 2011. “It’s a really irresponsible strategy in which proponents of this new map are forcing people to say either it’s our map or it’s no student district at all.”

According to Councilmember Gordon Wozniak, in a worst case scenario, the creation of a student supermajority district could be delayed until 2016.

Still, Councilmember Jesse Arreguin supports the referendum, saying that even without an agreement in January, the council would still have enough time to meet the April 1 deadline to submit new boundary lines in time for the November election.

At the meeting, Worthington also suggested that opponents of the USDA plan may have other political motivations for supporting the BSDC.

“Please don’t be a gerrymander grinch,” Worthington said at the meeting.

Vincent Casalaina, former president of the Willard Neighborhood Association, said he supports the BSDC plan because it keeps his neighborhood intact. Both sides have expressed a desire to not split communities, but there remains disagreement as to which plan does a better job at doing so.

George Beier, current president of the Willard Neighborhood Association, said he just wants a new student district, regardless of what form it takes.

“I think this is a lot of quibbling over something that is really a historic opportunity,” Beier said. “It’s fantastic, whether you go for the first map or the second.”

Melissa Wen covers city news. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @melissalwen.