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Proposed district boundary would exclude candidate

By Hank Sims Daily Planet Correspondent
Wednesday September 05, 2001

The race to succeed state Assemblymember Dion Aroner in 2002 was thrown into chaos on Friday, when an Assembly committee released its statewide proposal for new district boundaries.  

So far, Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington, Oakland Vice Mayor Jane Brunner and West Contra Costa School Board member Charles Ramsey have declared their candidacies for Aroner’s 14th District seat. But the proposed Assembly Redistricting Plan dramatically changes the dynamics of the race – it adds a large, traditionally conservative block to the district and it bumps the home of one current candidate out of the district entirely. 

The plan, which may still be revised, but whose broad recommendations are expected to be approved by the Assembly, calls for the 14th District – which already includes Berkeley, Richmond and parts of Oakland – to incorporate the communities of Pleasant Hill, Lafayette, Orinda and Moraga. And unless a complaint by Brunner is acted upon, the new district will not include her Rockridge home. 

The new plan proposes that the boundary between the 14th and 16th districts be drawn down Woolsey Street, a block and a half to the north of her residence.  

Brunner appeared before the Assembly’s Committee on Elections, Reapportionment and Constitutional Amendments Tuesday to ask that the proposed district line near the Oakland-Berkeley border be moved north two blocks. 

“A week ago, I was told that my house would be in (the district),” said Brunner in a telephone interview from Sacramento. “Then the map came out, and it wasn’t in.” 

“It shocked me. I’ve lived in the same house for 25 years, and it’s always been part of the 14th district.”  

Brunner said that over the weekend, members of state Sen. John Burton’s office told her that the line had been drawn specifically to exclude her. However, she says, she doesn’t know who on the committee would wish to harm her political career. 

“I think the circumstantial evidence would lead to the conclusion that someone wanted to keep her out,” said Bruce Cain, director of the Institute at Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley. “However, the committee has to make hundreds of these little decisions about where to place a line, and it’s possible that it wasn’t done on purpose.” 

Kam Kuwata, the spokesperson for the committee and for the entire state redistricting process, said that given the openness of the redistricting process, he did not believe that crass political moves were possible. 

“This has been the most open political process in California history,” he said. “The committee put in many, many hours on this. We have been working on it for months. We’ve been taking public testimony, we’ve gotten hundreds of comments over the Internet.” 

“It is still a work in progress, but in any redistricting process, you can never meet the expectations of every aspiring political candidate.”  

Brunner said that whether or not the committee acts on her request, she will live in the 14th District at the next Assembly elections in 2002. 

“If I can’t get the line moved, I will move myself,” she said. “My son is looking for a place right now. Either I will move in with him, or we will trade houses.” 

Over 90,000 people in the new 14th District – around a quarter of the total – will live east of the hills. According to Cain, that will hurt progressive candidates – especially since the newcomers have typically turned out at the polls in greater numbers.  

“It’s still an overwhelmingly Democratic district, but these new lines will help the moderates,” he said. “It’s a blow to Kriss Worthington.” 

Cain said that it was too early to prognosticate about the case, but that he expected that the more mainstream candidate Charles Ramsey, would benefit most by the redistricting plan.“Of course, you may see people from (east of the hills) jump in now,” he added. The deadline for candidates to declare their candidacy in time for the state primary election is Dec. 7. 

Worthington denied that his campaign would be hindered by the new boundaries. 

“I really think the idea that the Orinda-Moraga-Lafayette area is a bastion of conservatism is decades out of date,” he said. “I don’t think the people out there are living in some medieval fortress of right-wing ideals. They are actually far more intelligent and sophisticated than some people who live in Berkeley.” 

Asked to comment about his opponent’s dilemma, Worthington said: “That’s a non-issue. When corporations have contributed tens of thousands of dollars to your campaign, you can always get a new house.”  

“When you’re the corporate candidate, it doesn’t really matter where you live,” he added.  

Every 10 years, government bodies at the local, state and federal level must redraw their political maps in response to new census data. Since the population of the East Bay grew less than the state as a whole over the last decade, its state-level offices must cover a larger area.