BERKELEY -- Following a successful referendum drive that saw supporters gather almost 7,900 signatures, the City Council had no choice Feb. 25, but to repeal the ordinance modifying council district boundaries that it approved in December.
But the council punted the hard work to its March 11 meeting, when members will consider how to put a new district map in place, whether through the ballot box, a judicial decision, or a new council vote. Redistricting is mandated after every decennial census to equalize the population in each of the city's eight districts.
"The fact that about 15 percent of the voters of Berkeley signed the referendum petition, during (December) the single month that is the hardest to get signatures in Berkeley is an amazing testament to how bad of a plan this was," said District 7 Councilman Kriss Worthington, whose district adjacent to the UC Berkeley campus would have been most impacted by the map targeted by the referendum, known as the Berkeley Student District Campaign map.
In its present iteration, District 7 encompasses about 16 blocks south of campus and a couple of blocks to the north. The BSDC map eliminated the blocks north of campus. This area includes several student cooperatives, whose residents traditionally support Worthington.
Worthington and his supporters -- there were more than two dozen in the audience at the council meeting -- claim the intent of the BSDC map was to remove north-of-campus voters from District 7 and unseat Worthington.
BSDC supporters say their objective is to elect a representative more sensitive to south-of-campus student needs, especially improving student safety by enhancing night lighting south of campus.
The council discussed various options at this week's meeting, quickly rejecting the idea submitted by the city clerk of putting the BSDC map before voters in June. That would have cost $250,000, as there are no other local issues before Berkeley voters in that election.
A group of about five students favoring the BSDC map urged the council to place the measure on the Nov. 4 ballot. "It's the right thing to do," said Safeena Mecklai, Associated Students of the University of California external affairs vice president. "Let the people vote."
Councilmen Worthington, Max Anderson and Jesse Arreguin, meanwhile, urged the council to accept the map that would include north-of-campus co-ops and dorms, known as the United Students District Amendment.
The council had voted this map down in December in favor of the BSDC map. It also offered several variants of that map as compromises.
Mayor Tom Bates created a stir when he proposed scheduling a closed-door session March 3 "to discuss legal ramifications" of adopting a map that would include a "friendly lawsuit" by the city against itself.
That proposal did not sit well with referendum supporters. "I'm troubled by the idea that we'd have this legal session in secret," Arreguin said. "Why can't the public know what the real questions are?"
Bates conceded the discussion could be held in public and dropped the closed-door session proposal. The idea of a lawsuit, according to Arreguin, is that the city sues itself over redistricting and the question is then turned over to a judge who considers the various redistricting proposals that have been made, and approves one as an interim measure that would be in place for the November election.
At the March 11 meeting, the council could vote to place the BSDC or another map on the November ballot, vote to adopt the map it rejected in December, consider other compromise maps, and consider whether they will involve the courts in making the decision.
If the council decides to put the BSDC map on the November ballot, Arreguin said he would submit a competing map through the initiative process.
He said he also is planning an initiative to change the city charter and create a redistricting commission that would be in place for elections after the 2020 census. The commission, similar to one created for statewide redistricting, would insulate the process against gerrymandering for political aims, Arreguin said.
Meanwhile, Bates did not close the door to new proposals. "We still have time to compromise between now and the 11th (of March)," he said.