Berkeley Neighborhoods Council

 

Dedicated to improving the quality of life for all
by creating a unified neighborhood voice
for promoting livability and resolving problems

 

What We're Thinking About

Redistricting - The Makings of a Perfect Storm for Neighborhoods.

There is no question, no matter where you live - hills, flats, north or south, near campus or far from it - we all want a livable city.  That's what zoning and land use, one of the core concerns of city government, is all about, providing places where different things can happen.  In a livable city, it means being as careful about what can happen in the Downtown as you would be in a single family neighborhood.  If a city wants to sustain itself as livable, it's a given, neighborhoods matter.  At one time - Berkeley proudly proclaimed itself to be a “City of Neighborhoods” - today, not so much.  Under the persistent practices of the present Mayor and Council, Berkeley has shifted away from caring about neighborhood well-being to facilitating the development of more, ever-denser buildings.

Combine this trend with the current statutory requirement to establish new Council Districts and you have the makings of a Perfect Neighborhood Storm.  By law, every 10 years when the census is done, Council Districts must be redrawn so that each has nearly the same number of people.  This is when those in power jump in to ensure that they (and like-minded people) stay in power.  Combine this predictable happening with the trend of caring more about development than about neighborhoods, color it green and call it economic development to lower taxes and provide jobs for residents and you have the makings of a Perfect Storm for Neighborhoods!

In November 2012, it was determined by Berkeley voters that existing Council District lines would no longer be just adjusted here and there along their original lines.  Instead, two new rules would be established:

  1. Council District lines would be redrawn by a minimum of 5 votes of the Council any way they wanted;
  2. No sitting Council Member could be in a District that contained another sitting Council Member.

Some had the nerve to call this gerrymandering, but no matter, the voters put the new rules in and these new rules can't be changed without another vote of the people.  So, that's the hand that's been dealt.

The new, voter-approved redistricting rules made no secret about increasing the odds that a student would be elected to the City Council.  No one, even the people who opposed establishing the new rules, opposed this happening.  The difference between the two groups was in how it would happen.  Actually one could reasonably argue that District 7 was a student district under the old district lines, but a student had never been elected to the Council from there, although several had tried.  If anyone wants to check it out, a prominent politician who was a leader in establishing the new rules in November, historically had opposed establishing any student district because such a move would dilute the student voice in Berkeley politics! Note:  the census doesn't define students, it only identifies age groups, so those in the 18 to 29 age range are assumed to be students.  It was immediately evident that creating any new Districts under the sitting Council Member rule would not result in nice, straight lines.  So be it, the voters spoke and it's now up to the Council to figure it all out.

State law regarding redistricting requires consideration of Communities of Interest and defines these as “a contiguous population which shares common social and economic interests that should be included within a single district for purposes of its effective and fair representation.”  Berkeley Neighborhoods Council (BNC) reasons that by anyone's logic, a student district is a Community of Interest AND a neighborhood is EQUALLY a Community of Interest.

Of the several maps submitted to the Council after the November election proposing new Council Districts, BNC's map was the only one that reflected the dual principals of creating a supermajority student district and keeping neighborhood groups together under one Council representative.  After all, keeping neighborhoods together strengthens their impact in working for the livable City that we all want; splitting neighborhoods between representatives results in holding no one accountable.

On May 7, 2013, on a motion by Wozniak, seconded by Moore, the Council selected the map submitted by the Berkeley Student District Campaign (BSDC) as the Council's preferred choice.  The BSDC map created one supermajority student Council District (7), one majority student District (4), and one almost a student majority District (8).

On May 7, 2013, the first public hearing regarding redistricting, BNC pointed out three major problems with the BSDC map:

  1. The supermajority student district proposed by BNC had more students in it by at least 640 students than does the BSDC map; and,
  2. The BSDC map violates the definition of Communities of Interest by dividing the LeConte, Willard, Dwight-Hillside, Live Oak/Codornices Creek, Spruce Street, Halcyon and Milvia Alliance Neighborhoods; and,
  3. The BSDC does not recognize the hundreds of residents of West Berkeley who have been struggling to gain recognition as a neighborhood and gain Council representation for over 50 years. 

Our remarks fell on deaf ears.

At the second public hearing on July 2, 2013, students who live in the Co-ops north of campus came to the Council saying they wanted to be in the new supermajority student district rather than have little voice in the north hills District 6.  They presented an alternative, new map which joined the Foothill Dorm, Stern Hall, I-House, and 10 coops north and west of campus with the students in the South Campus area into one new student supermajority district, and which re-united the North Berkeley neighborhood which the BSDC map splits into 3 separate districts.  The Council rejected considering this alternative for the curious reason that it had not been previously submitted back in March.  It's unclear why the Council was even holding a public hearing in July and scheduling another for September, if they don't want to hear about changes that the public might want to make.  At this meeting, Mayor Bates announced that the BSDC supermajority student district won't be called a “student district” - instead it will now be termed “The Campus District” apparently including only students south of campus while excluding other students.

On August 5, 2013, the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce held a Government Affairs Committee meeting to discuss redistricting and what they called a “student-oriented” district south of campus.  The only persons invited to speak were District 8 Council Member Gordon Wozniak, Kristin Hunziker who helped create the BSDC map and who is also Wozniak's aide, and Eric Panzer, described as an urban planner and GIS expert, who also helped create the BSDC map.  Panzer is also a Board Member and outspoken advocate for Livable Berkeley, a pro-development group headed by Erin Rhoades, wife of Mark Rhoades, former city of Berkeley planner and prominent private developer in Berkeley.

The next Council meeting regarding redistricting will be held on September 10, 2013.  Written comments from the public to be included in the packet must be submitted by August 29th.  Comments from the public will also be taken from the public at the meeting itself.  You will have 1 to 2 minutes, depending on how the Mayor is feeling that evening.

By law, the Council must complete the redistricting process by December 31, 2013.