Berkeley Referendum Coalition celebrates success, plans to meet Sunday

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Members of the Berkeley Referendum Coalition gathered Thursday evening to celebrate the successful collection of enough community signatures to suspend a controversial redistricting plan passed by the Berkeley City Council late last year.

The council’s 6-3 approval of a new student-majority district in December triggered a successful referendum campaign from those who opposed the map. The campaign accrued more than the requisite number of signatures in a month’s time. Supporters and volunteers from Cal Berkeley Democrats, Berkeley Tenants Union and the Council of Neighborhood Associations, among several others, joined the three council members who were in the minority in celebration at PIQ Bakery and Cafe.

Councilmember Kriss Worthington expressed the difficulty of rallying a referendum during the holiday season, when UC Berkeley’s student community is normally away with family. Still, more than 150 coalition volunteers targeted farmers markets and BART stations and conducted community outreach during the 30-day window to gather the required number of signatures.

“The odds were stacked against any sane person getting signatures,” Worthington said to the group in attendance. “But all of you realized that the conventional wisdom does not always rule the day.”

Although 2,500 signatures were gathered by volunteers alone, the coalition relied on additional aid from Bay Area Petitions of Santa Cruz to gather paid signatures, according to Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board commissioner and coalition member Alejandro Soto-Vigil. Those present at the event also worked to collect additional donations to chip away at the remaining $5,000 to $6,000 worth of debt accrued from the cost of printing support materials, organizing events and mobilizing people to gather signatures.

“It’s amazing that this would happen in Berkeley, that we would have a Texas-style gerrymandering,” said Councilmember Jesse Arreguin at the party. “The good thing about this campaign is that we were able to talk to the community about what was going on.”

The success of the referendum means that the City Council will have two options at its meeting Feb. 25. It can either rescind the redistricting plan or place it on the Jun. 3 election ballot for Berkeley voters to decide on. If the redistricting plan is rescinded, the council will be able to consider adopting the referendum coalition-supported map, which was not chosen in December, or another map entirely.

“The proponents of the (student-majority) map took it as a foregone conclusion that they were safe,” said ASUC Executive Vice President Nolan Pack at the event. “They underestimated progressive organizing in the city of Berkeley and got far too comfortable in the structures of power that they are operating in.”

The next meeting of the Berkeley Referendum Coalition is scheduled for 4 p.m. Sunday at City Hall, and it welcomes community input on the issues surrounding the proposed redistricting map.

Jeff Landa covers city news. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JeffLanda.