City council member proposes ballot measures to reform redistricting process

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In response to the city’s extended difficulties in drawing a new council district, Berkeley City Councilmember Jesse Arreguin submitted on Monday proposed ballot measures to transfer the power of redistricting from the council to an independent commission.

Based on Arreguin’s proposal, which would amend the city charter in a way that could radically change the redistricting process, the commission would consist of 11 Berkeley residents who currently do not have political or familial affiliation with the council. This new process mirrors California’s method of redistricting, which uses a citizens commission.

“The state process has worked,” Arreguin said at a press conference after submitting the ballot measure to the city clerk.“We should try to implement it in Berkeley.”

The council has been in the process of redistricting since 2011, with the particular goal of creating a student supermajority district so that a student could be elected to the council. Such a map — the Berkeley Student District Campaign map — was passed in December, but those lines were criticized for excluding the Northside cooperatives and dorms, splitting neighborhoods and hurting progressives, who are said to be more concentrated in the co-ops. The map was officially suspended by a referendum in February.

On Tuesday, the City Council is slated to make one of its final decisions on redistricting. The council could finish the process once and for all if it chooses another map by April 1 — the Alameda County Registrar of Voters’ deadline to submit a district map in time for new lines to be implemented by this November election. Otherwise, the council will likely put the BSDC map on the November ballot for voters to decide on.

The two different ballot measures Arreguin submitted today address this specific situation as well as the redistricting process overall. If the council does put the BSDC map on the ballot, Arreguin plans to move forward with the measure that, in addition to creating the citizens commissions, will add a counterproposal to the suspended map.

The counterproposal, Arreguin said, is a cross between two previously proposed maps: one supported by the Berkeley Neighborhoods Council and one designed specifically to include Northside student residences.

In the case that the City Council does decide on another map by April 1, Arreguin will move forward with the second measure, which is essentially the same as the first but leaves out the counterproposal.

Arreguin’s idea to create an outside commission has support from students on both sides of the redistricting debate. Stefan Elgstrand, an intern in Kriss Worthington’s office who helped lead the referendum effort against the BSDC map, previously expressed support for a redistricting commission. ASUC redistricting director Noah Efron, who has long supported the BSDC map, called the commission a “fantastic idea.”

“When you take (redistricting) out of the hands of politicians, I think you end up getting a better policy,” Efron said.

These measures will not go on the ballot automatically; to put his plan on the ballot, Arreguin must gather signatures from 15 percent of Berkeley’s registered voters within 180 days.

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