Berkeley voters will decide the fate of highly contested district lines in Tuesday’s election.
The passage of Measure S would establish an ultraconcentrated student majority in District 7, which covers the bulk of Southside student residences, including units 1, 2 and 3 and most Greek houses. Efforts to create such a district took years of lobbying Berkeley City Council, resulting in a map drafted by the Berkeley Student District Campaign. The BSDC map, however, has been heavily criticized for excluding Northside cooperative houses from the student district.
Although City Council considered seven maps, including the United Student District Amendment, or USDA, map that would have incorporated Northside co-ops and the International House into District 7, it ultimately voted 6-3 in favor of the BSDC map in December of 2013. The result spurred a successful referendum to overturn the council’s vote and suspend the lines. In March, council members decided to defer the issue to voters.
In April, an Alameda County Superior Court judge ruled that the BSDC lines would be used in Tuesday’s general election because the pre-existing lines fail to account for population shifts in the area.
If passed, the current map will remain in use until City Council next redraws district lines, which is required within the three years after every decennial census. But should the measure fail, the map will return to 2002 lines, and redistricting efforts will begin again.
Zury Cendejas, vice president of external affairs at the Berkeley Student Cooperative, said students living in co-ops overwhelmingly oppose Measure S.
“It attempts to disenfranchise 50% of our low-income coop members,” she said in an email. “By excluding half of our population, and other student populations, it is strategically attempting to dilute the progressive voice of the city.”
Proponents of the USDA map are championing the “No on S” campaign, which aims to “take the politics out of redistricting,” according to Stefan Elgstrand, campaign president who authored the USDA map.
“Basically, it’s silencing the voices of students on Northside,” he said. “It’s designed to make certain districts more conservative, because Northside is more progressive. It creates gerrymandering. The USDA map was created more democratically.”
But former ASUC external affairs vice president Safeena Mecklai, who oversaw the drafting of the BSDC map during her time in student government, said the BSDC map has been more extensively tested and discussed than the USDA alternative.
“It was seen at 17 public meetings and forums before getting to its place,” she said, “whereas the USDA map didn’t go through any of that.”
The long-term plan for BSDC-map advocates, according to Mecklai, is to eventually create two separate student districts for Northside and Southside so that each can attain a seat on City Council. Students who are in favor of the USDA map, she said, should still vote yes on Measure S.
“I feel really strongly about the fact that anyone who has ever been for a student district should vote for S,” she said. “When you’re voting no on Measure S, you’re not voting for the USDA map. A lot of people who claim to be pro-USDA map are actually just trying to eliminate a student voice.”
Mecklai alleged that the USDA map, authored by interns in the office of District 7 incumbent Kriss Worthington, was an act of “political manipulation” at the prospect of losing the seat to a student representative.
ASUC External Affairs Vice President Caitlin Quinn doesn’t agree with her predecessor, saying that “gerrymandering on behalf of students is still gerrymandering.” She said the root of Measure S “drama” is students’ confusion and lack of awareness.
Unlike special tax measures, it will take a simple majority vote for Measure S to pass.