At the beginning of this semester, the population of Berkeley swelled to new heights, with tens of thousands of students moving into the city to begin or resume their studies at the premier public university in the United States.
While the start of the fall semester is always an exciting moment on the UC Berkeley campus, it’s also an important time for the entire city of Berkeley because it marks the return of a student body comprising roughly one-third of the city’s total population. Whether they originally hail from the Bay Area or halfway around the world, students who reside in Berkeley are as much a part of the community as residents who have lived here for decades. Indeed, the student population of UC Berkeley makes vital contributions to our city’s economy, diversity and civic life.
But over the next six months, UC Berkeley students will have a rare opportunity to make an even greater impact on our city — by participating in the redraw of City Council districts that will set the course of Berkeley’s local government for the next decade.
Many students may be familiar with the concept of redistricting, whereby legislative bodies at the local, state and federal level redraw their electoral boundaries based on the results of the decennial census, the most recent of which occurred in 2020. This process often makes national headlines with regard to the partisan fights over federal congressional districts, with terms such as “gerrymandering” and “fair representation” becoming popular buzzwords in the political lexicon.
But what’s less commonly known is that redistricting also occurs at the local level, right down to City Council districts like the ones we have here in Berkeley. And the current student population at UC Berkeley has a unique opportunity to make its voice heard in this critically important process, an opportunity that will not come around for another ten years.
Very few current students were around during Berkeley’s last round of redistricting, which culminated in 2014 and was fraught by politically contentious debates among residents. These largely centered on a dispute about the boundaries of a new student-majority district, which is represented today on the City Council by a member of the Class of 2018.
Following that contested process, the citizens of Berkeley voted resoundingly to create an independent commission that would be charged with administering a nonpartisan, community-led process for all future redistricting cycles.
Berkeley’s inaugural Independent Redistricting Commission was convened earlier this year, made up of thirteen city residents who were selected in part by random draw to ensure a fair, unbiased process. We’re proud that one of our commissioners is a current UC Berkeley undergraduate, who is already bringing a vital student perspective to this important work.
But the participation of one student commissioner is not enough to ensure that UC Berkeley students are fully represented in the reshaping of Berkeley’s City Council district boundaries.
The Independent Redistricting Commission is not acting in a vacuum. It is charged with incorporating the input of current Berkeley residents in order to arrive at a final map that reflects as best as possible the interests of the city’s many communities. And there is no larger community currently residing in Berkeley than our student population, which, at more than 40,000 residents, is effectively our city’s single largest political constituency across any demographic.
When UC Berkeley students vote, they have the power to determine the outcome of our city’s elections. If UC Berkeley students make their voices heard in this year’s redistricting process, they will shape the outcome of many elections to come.
While many students pay more attention to federal and state representation, our city government has a huge impact on our day-to-day lives.
Students have an important stake in the work of our City Council, which shapes policy around land use, social and environmental justice, quality of life issues, and other areas that directly pertain to the campus community. The City Council is responsible for our streets, our parks, public safety and so much more.
In order for our city government to have fair and equitable representation, it’s imperative that students who reside in the city of Berkeley exercise their power by communicating to the Independent Redistricting Commission how the next round of City Council maps can best represent their interests. We need to hear from you.
Students can visit the Redistricting Hub (www.cityofberkeley.info/redistricting) to share their input with the Commission, review maps and data and create their own council district map to submit for consideration. The commission will review every map submitted to us as we develop our final map. Map submissions must be submitted by November 15 in order to be fully considered.
On behalf of Berkeley’s Independent Redistricting Commission, we urge UC Berkeley students to make your voices heard in this process, and we look forward to incorporating your input in reshaping Berkeley’s City Council districts. Your participation will make a meaningful impact on the political representation of current and future Berkeley residents — especially students — for many years to come.
The Berkeley Independent Redistricting Commission is a local public body created by voters.