Berkeley council member scraps counterproposal to student district map

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Despite threats to the contrary, the student district placed on the November ballot will not face a counterproposal map from Berkeley City Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, who is now only moving forward with his previously announced plan to establish an independent commission for the redistricting process.

Currently, the City Council decides on its own district lines and has spent the last three years trying to decide on an updated map. The Berkeley Student District Campaign map, which creates a district composed of 86 percent student-aged residents, passed in December. But some, including Arreguin, criticized the map for excluding Northside student residents, among other issues, and launched an ultimately successful referendum campaign to suspend it.

Consequently, the council decided at its March 11 meeting to let voters decide at the upcoming November election whether to implement the Berkeley Student District Campaign map. Previously, Arreguin had said that if the council did so, he would try to put a charter amendment on the ballot that, aside from transferring the power of redistricting to citizen’s commission, would give voters an alternative map to vote on.

Arreguin submitted such an amendment to the city clerk last week, which he withdrew and replaced Tuesday with a proposal that only creates the commission.

“Having two maps on the ballot would be confusing to voters and may result in both measures failing, which is not my intention at all,” Arreguin said.

California voters approved a similar change in 2008 when they passed an initiative to put the power of statewide redistricting into the hands of an independent commission.

The commission Arreguin proposes would consist of 11 Berkeley voters with no political or familial affiliation with council members or the mayor. Applicants would be separated into nine pools, with one for each of the eight districts and a special pool for UC Berkeley students. Then, in a public setting, the city clerk would randomly select one person from each group plus two from the full set of applicants to fill the 11 spots.

If the amendment goes on the ballot, one could vote in favor of both the redistricting commission and the Berkeley Student District Campaign map. But if they both pass, the amendment’s mandate that the commission convene immediately after the 2014 election to redraw district lines could overturn the map.

“My hope would be that BSDC fails, and this passes,” Arreguin said.

Berkeley Student District Campaign map supporters, however, including ASUC External Affairs Vice President Safeena Mecklai and ASUC redistricting director Noah Efron, have expressed agreement with the idea of an independent redistricting commission.

“It’s important to follow the state’s lead in taking redistricting out of the hands of politicians,” Mecklai said.

In order to put his amendment on the ballot, Arreguin needs signatures from at least 15 percent of the city’s registered voters. The recommended date to submit these signatures is May 8.

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