Independent Redistricting Commission discusses districts, future housing

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The Independent Redistricting Commission met Saturday for its first hearing and to hear public comment. Community members are encouraged to participate.

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The Independent Redistricting Commission explained its redistricting process and heard public comment during its first hearing Saturday.

The Independent Redistricting Commission is composed of eight district commissioners chosen via lottery as well as five additional at-large commissioners who are voted in by the district commissioners, all of whom must be Berkeley residents over the age of eighteen, according to a presentation made at the meeting.

The commission is in charge of producing a new district map that equally represents Berkeley voters using population data, geography, demographics and testimonies from community members, a city newsletter reads.

“Redistricting occurs after each decennial census, every ten years, because new population count requires districts to be adjusted to equalize the population in each district,” said city clerk Mark Numainville during the meeting.

Highlighting the importance of a thorough and fair redistricting process, Numainville explained that the redistricting maps must consider equal population, contiguous and compact districts, communities of interest and geography and topography.

Communities of interest are critical during the redistricting process because the process allows the public to give input and impacts a community’s access to political power through elections, the presentation reads.

According to the presentation, the maps must meet legal requirements of the U.S Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, ensuring that no voter is discriminated against based on race, color or spoken language.

“Redistricting maps cannot favor or discriminate against an incumbent or candidate and will not consider the residence of sitting councilmembers,” Numainville said during the meeting.

When deciding the final map boundaries, the presentation noted that the redistricting commission must draw boundaries without bias or discrimination and accept input from the public.

During public comment, former Berkeley mayor Shirley Dean referenced the 9,000 more housing units the city expects to be built over the next several years.

“How does that come into play in terms of making these maps?” Dean said during the meeting. “Where will you place the increased density in the city?”

In response, Numainville described the commission’s responsibility of adjusting the boundaries based on the 2010 census. The population and demographic data that the city will receive in September will be the data used in the redistricting process.

Future housing development will be considered during the next redistricting process, Numainville added.

Regarding a question about how redistricting will affect current city councilmembers, Numainville explained that the councilmembers would continue to serve the term they are elected to until its end.

The commission urged community members to participate with its ongoing process.

“This public input is critical to ensure that this is a fair and equal process,” said commission chair, Elisabeth Watson, during the meeting. “The only way we will learn about the rich and varied communities of interest in Berkeley is if you tell us.”

Contact Tanya Decendario at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @tdecendario.