Advocates allege proposed Berkeley City Council districts fail to represent renters

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Meghnath Dey/Staff
In response to Berkeley City Council's four potential maps for district rezoning, many advocates allege the proposed maps do not properly represent the city's students and renters.

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Berkeley City Council released four proposed district zoning maps Jan. 21. However, advocates allege that the proposed maps fail to adequately represent students and renters.

The proposed zones entail two that have a “high level of continuity with the existing council boundaries” and two that provide “variations on two student-focused districts,” according to a city of Berkeley press release. The maps, created by an independent commission, serve to redistrict the city of Berkeley based on the population in each district.

“Neither of these maps results in a substantial improvement in the representation of students and renters,” said Ben Gould, a member of the Berkeley Neighbors for Housing and Climate Action, or BNHCA, in an email. “Instead, they merely shift which students/renters get representation.”

The Independent Redistricting Commission was proposed by City Council and approved by voters in 2016 to ensure political neutrality regarding decisions on redistricting, according to Stefan Elgstrand, spokesperson for Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín.

Elgstrand said that the mayor’s office “looks forward” to the outcomes of the commission’s work, and added that they believe their work will be intentional in “taking politics out of redistricting.”

However, the BNHCA has proposed a map that would allegedly amount to a 91.2% and 93.1% renter population in Districts 4 and 7 respectively, according to Gould, by combining predominantly renter areas in Districts 4 and 7.

“In Berkeley, students and renters around campus have very low turnout especially in the off-cycle elections when these districts are elected,” Gould said in the email. “As a result, the districts that aim to ensure fair and effective representation of students and renters must have extremely high concentrations of students and renters.”

ASUC External Affairs Vice President Riya Master said in an email that student representation is crucial to ensure that student interests are addressed in local elections and legislation.

Master’s office recommends that one of the proposed maps be adjusted in a few ways, including adding more student housing in District 7 and moving the Northside neighborhood to District 5 in order to separate it from the “markedly different” perspectives of voters in District 6, Master said in the email.

The final commission vote on the proposed maps will take place March 16, according to the press release.

“Students make up 1/3 of the City of Berkeley population, but we only have one district majority,” Master said in the email. “Students should have a stake in city politics, so we can all rightfully be involved in the local community.”

Contact Molly Cochran at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @mollyacochran .

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Independent Redistricting Commission was created by City Council. In fact, the Independent Redistricting Commission was proposed by City Council and approved by voters.