On Tuesday, the realization of a long-sought-after student supermajority district in Berkeley was thrown back in doubt.
Proponents of a district map that would include student-populated parts of Northside said they gathered enough petition signatures for a referendum that would override Berkeley City Council’s adoption of a different map. That map, sponsored by the ASUC, excludes Northside and was approved by the council last month. The ongoing disagreement over the map’s boundaries reflects inherent problems with the way it is drawn.
If the referendum is placed before Berkeley voters, however, the new student district may not be up for grabs until 2018. The two sides should instead compromise so the student district will be in effect for the election this November.
Because a student district can only represent less than half of UC Berkeley’s students at most — each Berkeley district accommodates about 14,000 people, but Berkeley’s student population is closer to 30,000 — it needs to be as representative of the student body as possible. Without Northside — including most co-ops and the Foothill dorms — a representative elected from the council-approved Berkeley Student District Campaign map could be less accountable to the whole campus community.
Additionally, because the petition was circulated over winter break, it is possible a significant percentage of the signatures gathered were from nonstudent Berkeley residents. Students should decide which student district proposal is best. Hopefully, the alternate map championed by the United Student District Amendment campaign can become a bargaining chip to force BSDC supporters to compromise, creating a better student district in the process.
If student leaders advocating the BSDC map refuse to negotiate due to obstinance and pride, the referendum will delay the election of a student to the City Council for at least four years, which clearly does not reflect the best interests of the students either side claims to represent. BSDC supporters should incorporate student-populated areas of Northside essential to a diverse student district into their map.
A district that excludes a large swath of student communities cannot be deemed fair and especially not ideal. While we commend ASUC student leaders’ efforts to establish the currently approved district and believe that the opportunity for student representation on the City Council would not exist without them, they should still yield to a better alternative.
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that a new student supermajority city council district wouldn’t be up for grabs until 2018 if a referendum appears before Berkeley voters. In fact, if a referendum does get put to a vote, the council could still petition state courts to allow use of the previously approved boundaries this year.