Judge grants city’s request to use suspended district lines in November city election

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A judge ruled Wednesday that a set of highly contested new district lines — which were suspended in February — will be temporarily used in Berkeley’s November election, pending a decision from voters on whether to implement them in the long term.

The judge’s decision grants a request the city made in a lawsuit filed in early April to implement the Berkeley Student District Campaign map, which creates a long-sought student-majority district of 86 percent student-aged residents, despite its suspension by a referendum. Passed by the majority of the council in December, the map was criticized for excluding Northside student cooperatives and residence halls and for splitting certain neighborhood groups.

Upon the BSDC map’s suspension, the City Council decided in March to put the map up for a vote in November. The purpose of the lawsuit was to determine which lines to use for the November election itself, because the current lines, established in 2002, are inconsistent with present population data.

At a hearing Tuesday, Judge Evelio Grillo heard arguments from the city’s representation, as well as from opponents of the BSDC — including Councilmembers Maxwell Anderson, Jesse Arreguin and Kriss Worthington — who urged him to consider other options. These alternatives included the United Student District Amendment map, which was created specifically to include the excluded Northside residences and which has been previously considered and voted down by the council.

According to court documents, Grillo chose the BSDC map over the USDA map because although both have been vetted and establish a student majority district, the BSDC has already been approved by a council vote.

ASUC redistricting director Noah Efron, who has consistently supported the BSDC map, believes these results benefit both students and the city.

“The goal for 2014 was to have a student district,” Efron said. “We’re certainly going to campaign to make sure the BSDC map isn’t voted down by the ballot.”

UC Berkeley senior Stefan Elgstrand, however, who authored the USDA map and was represented at the hearing, expressed disappointment that the judge chose to implement a map that has been suspended by voters, which he called a “betrayal of democracy.”

“The BSDC map does not represent the entire student community,” Elgstrand said. “It only represents one portion of it. The repercussions aren’t just about the students or redistricting but democracy as a whole.”

Grillo also addressed allegations that the city had violated the Brown Act. BSDC opponents alleged that when the council voted to hire legal representation and put the BSDC map on the ballot in November instead of in June, consideration of such actions ought to have been published on the agenda beforehand.

Because the city ratified the same actions at its Tuesday meeting — this time with proper notice to the public — it appears to have “timely and adequately addressed these issues,” the judge’s decision states.

Elgstrand said he and others have considered appealing the judge’s ruling but have not made a decision yet.

If voters approve the BSDC map in the November election, these lines will be set in place until the city changes its districts again, as it does every 10 years to account for population shifts. If the BSDC map is voted down on the ballot, however, the redistricting process will start up again.


Contact Jean Lee and Melissa Wen at [email protected].