Berkeley holds off on student council district

A Berkeley student expresses her support for a continuance on the redistricting ordinance at last week’s City Council meeting. (Photo: Elliot Owen)

By Elliot Owen
Bay Area Reporter

The Berkeley City Council has postponed a resolution that would adjust City Council district lines to reflect population changes documented in the 2010 census and include a district with a heavy population of UC Berkeley students.

Proponents for the redistricting ordinance support the idea of a student-majority District 7, currently represented by gay councilman Kriss Worthington, to more accurately integrate UC Berkeley student voices into city governance; a Cal student could represent the new district on the City Council.

During a 45-minute discussion on the matter at its September 10 meeting, council members heard nearly 20 students call for more time to create the most inclusive map possible. Proposed by the Berkeley Student District Campaign, a coalition of students brought together in 2011 to draw out a campus district, the map under consideration excludes Northside student housing and Unit 4 residence halls.

“The reason this is so important to us,” one student said during public comment, “is nine cooperative houses, which is about 50 percent of the student cooperative housing community, and three dorms, are currently excluded … ”

To address the omission, Berkeley students have been working since July on an amended option called the United Student District Amendment. While the USDA map addresses the issue of Northside exclusion, it comes with its own set of drawbacks.

“There’s a whole area … that’s being proposed to be in District 8, not in District 7, so we’re sacrificing one group of students for another group of students,” said Councilwoman Susan Wengraf. “I’m not very happy about this configuration.”

Both redistricting options cause concern among Berkeley residents who fear that historic neighborhood groups will be split across new district lines.

“Our City Council should have a representative for majority-student district,” said Berkeley resident Jacquelyn McCormick, “but the proposal by the students would divide many established neighborhood associations into different districts. … Neither of the student groups who are presenting maps tonight have attempted to collaborate with the neighbors in presenting an optimal map.”

Worthington, a progressive who has long supported student issues, told the East Bay Express this summer that he would step down only if he feels the student candidate is fully qualified for the job.

The move to create the district is driven by passage last year of Measure R, which gave the council the power to create a new student district, the Express noted.

The Berkeley city charter mandates that a redistricting ordinance must be in place 30 days before the redistricting deadline, which is December 31. The council will take additional time to analyze the USDA option and conclude if it’s a better choice than the BSDC option.

“In the interest of getting it done, I think we’re down to these two,” Mayor Tom Bates said during the meeting.

The exact timeline for the adoption of a redistricting map is dependent on how quickly the city clerk’s office can conclude that the USDA map is consistent with local and state regulations.

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