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Council considers competing redistricting plans

By John Geluardi Daily Planet staff
Thursday September 27, 2001

Despite heavy UC Berkeley student lobbying for a student-majority council district at a public hearing Tuesday, the City Council focused mostly on two other proposals that adhered to charter guidelines. 

About 35 students spoke at the hearing calling for the council to choose a plan devised by the Associated Students of the University of California. The plan would create a council district in which 75 percent of the registered voters would be between the ages of 18 and 24. 

But City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque issued an opinion last week stating that the student plan violated the City Charter because it too drastically moved district boundary lines and shifted too many people into other districts. 

Councilmembers focused their attention mostly on two of the five plans that were submitted to the city. One was the David Blake and Michael O’Malley Plan and the other was the Mary Ann McCamant Plan, submitted by 25 residents, mostly belonging to District 8 neighborhood associations. 

The city is required to redraw the boundaries of its eight districts every 10 years according to population shifts recorded in the census. The council will hold another public hearing on redistricting on Oct. 2 and choose a plan no later than Oct. 9, according to City Clerk Sherry Kelly. 

Prior to opening the public hearing, Albuquerque advised the council that the plans should follow the charter requirement that “any redistricting shall preserve, to the extent possible, the council districts originally established in 1986.” 

But there was a difference of opinion on the council on how to interpret the requirement. The moderates interpreted the work “preserve” to mean that as few people as possible should be moved to other districts and the progressives argued “preserve” refereed to maintaining the geographical shape of the districts.  

Albuquerque advised the council that the charter did not specify which interpretation was more correct and said they could use either interpretation or both to judge the district proposals. 

The plan popular with the council’s progressive faction was the Blake-O’Malley plan, which shifted district lines by no more than one block to maintain their geographical shapes. But this plan also moved over 9,300 people into new districts. 

The council’s moderate faction appeared to lean toward the McCamant plan, which moved only 7,800 people into new districts but shifted the southern line of District 8, six blocks into District 7, thereby significantly altering the geographical shape of the two districts. 

Councilmember Miriam Hawley, who represents District 5, said she did not care for the Blake-O’Malley Plan because the population shift in her district was too large.  

Blake argued he was only “nibbling” at the borders of her district by shifting the boundary lines by only one block as opposed to the “gobbling” that was occurring in other plans. 

“District 5 had an average of only 118 people (according to the 2000 census) and in your plan, you move 1,200 people to other districts,” said a skeptical Hawley. “That certainly can qualify as a ‘gobble.’” 

Mayor Shirley Dean agreed, saying that the plan underestimated how much people identify with their council districts. “You have not only gobbled but destroyed whole neighborhoods with your plan,” she said.  

Councilmembers Linda Maio, Dona Spring and Kriss Worthington said they favored the Blake-O’Malley Plan because of the minor changes to district shapes. 

“The original intent of the City Charter was to stay as close to the boundaries laid out in 1986,” Spring said, “and if you look at the maps, the Blake-O’Malley Plan boundaries are the most similar.” 

Worthington said no matter which plan is approved, he intends to put a proposal on the council agenda that would create a student advisory seat. “They wouldn’t have voting power because of charter restrictions, but they would certainly be able to give us the student perspective,” he said.  

A plan submitted by Elliot Cohen as a representative of Nuclear Free Berkeley made some significant changes to district boundaries and moved 8,400 people into new districts.  

Of the 44 speakers who addressed the council, the majority were students. Approximately 75 students attended the meeting, some waiving placards reading “Cal students deserve a voice,” and “Where’s my representative?”  

ASUC representatives said they don’t accept Albuquerque’s opinion and argued the student district should be allowable under federal law because it creates a community of interest. 

“We make up 22 percent of this city,” said ASUC President Wally Adeyemo, “and we still don’t have a voice on this council.”