The student district must not be defeated

CITY AFFAIRS: Divided supporters of a student supermajority district risk losing student representation if they don't unify for the November referenda.

As Berkeley inches toward the November election and grinds closer to the conclusion of a chaotic, years-long redistricting process, the realization of a student supermajority City Council district — which seemed within grasp earlier this year — is in peril.

The city was poised for a new student district after Berkeley City Council adopted district lines proposed by the Berkeley Student District Campaign in December. But last month, that map was suspended by a referendum campaign  from supporters of a different map, called the United Student District Amendment, that included key student-populated areas of Northside left out in the other map. So the council voted Tuesday to send the issue to city voters by putting the original map on the November ballot.

Now, what should have been a straightforward process is fraught with uncertainty. The student district has been a long time coming: Work began in 2011 and was accelerated by the passage of a 2012 ballot measure allowing district lines to be drawn in a way favorable to a student district. Because of the council’s vote, that progress will be subject to the competing interests of Berkeley voters at large.

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin announced a counterproposal Monday that reflects a compromise between the two student district maps, giving voters two options if placed on the ballot. Arreguin’s map provides voters a good second choice but also invites the possibility that supporters of a student district will remain divided.

If it appears on the ballot, Arreguin’s counterproposal might split support for a student district, allowing both options to be voted down and the student district to be lost. And if it does not appear on the ballot, student opponents of the Northside-inclusive map — a bloc of support likely integral to any student district’s passage — may vote against the only option for a student district.

Electing a student to the City Council should be the first priority for supporters of either map. To bolster their chances of success, advocates of opposing maps should look past their legitimate differences and present a united front of support. Although nonstudent Berkeley residents’ attitudes toward a student district obviously will be incredibly important to the election’s outcome, supporters of the student district cannot allow continued infighting to risk its realization more than it already has.

Students’ needs can best be met with a student representative on the City Council, and the ASUC can continue to play an integral role in making that happen. Although it has previously supporterd the map excluding Northside, it is the ASUC’s responsibility to rally support for whichever ballot measure has the best chance of winning. The ASUC, as the elected voice of the student body, is in a unique position to reconcile the student district’s divided supporters, and it must not let that opportunity pass it by.