Referendum to overturn Berkeley student district moves forward

Ariel Hayat/File

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A referendum to overturn the new student-majority district approved by Berkeley City Council in December was certified by the Alameda County registrar of voters Monday, according to the city manager’s office.

About 5 p.m., the city manager confirmed with the registrar of voters that the signatures submitted by the Berkeley Referendum Coalition to suspend the ordinance approving the Berkeley Student District Campaign map have been verified, said city spokesperson Matthai Chakko.

The coalition submitted 7,867 unverified signatures to the city clerk Jan. 21, of which a random sample of 429 was examined and confirmed, allowing the registrar to conclude there were enough signatures, according to Chakko. In order to succeed, the referendum needed 5,275 signatures from registered Berkeley voters.

“The incredible number of (people) who collected signatures was very impressive,” said District 7 Councilmember Kriss Worthington, a referendum proponent. “(Now we) need to coordinate how we should take all this hard work and translate it into … getting a fairer district.”

With the referendum approved — first reported by Berkeleyside — the council must decide whether to rescind the ordinance or put the issue before Berkeley voters. New district lines have to be selected by April 1 in order to get a new student district in effect by the November election. The city could also ask the state courts to decide on an interim map to use for November’s election if a map is not chosen by the April deadline.

ASUC External Affairs Vice President Safeena Mecklai, who spearheaded the BSDC map, expressed concern that the referendum “overturned all of the hard work” it took to pass the BSDC map in the City Council.

“The referendum puts us in a really interesting position — students against the student district,” Mecklai said. “The worst thing would be for this referendum to go on the ballot and for us to lose this district completely.”

Moving forward, referendum proponents are planning to hold town hall meetings with all community members to compromise on a map to present to the City Council once the ordinance is discussed. While a date has not yet been determined, the earliest date it could be put before the City Council is Feb. 25, according to Councilmember Jesse Arreguin.

News editor Sophie Ho contributed to this report.

Alison Fu is a news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @alisonfu_.

A previous version of the online headline may have implied that a referendum seeking to overturn recently approved city council district boundaries passed in a public vote. In fact, the city announced that the Alameda County registrar’s office indicated that the referendum had garnered enough signatures to be valid.