Citizens for Fair Representation held a press conference on the steps of the Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Wednesday to announce the newly formed group had collected more than 8,000 signatures during a petition drive to challenge a redistricting plan, which the City Council approved last month.
Following the press conference, CFR volunteers filed into the building to hand the petitions over to City Clerk Sherry Kelly, who said she will have a preliminary verification of the signatures in time for the City Council’s Nov. 27 meeting, during which the council will decide a course of action.
If a few more than half the signatures are verified as registered Berkeley voters, the council will have two choices: put the approved redistricting plan on the March 5 ballot or repeal it and select a new one.
Several councilmembers, of the moderate and progressive factions, have said it would be preferable to repeal the plan because of the $100,000 to $125,000 in Alameda County fees to put the issue on the ballot.
About 50 supporters attended the press conference, including Mayor Shirley Dean and moderate councilmembers Polly Armstrong, Betty Olds and Miriam Hawley. Standing amid placards that read: “Play it Fair,” “We won’t be ignored” and “This time do it right,” CFR Chair David Tabb pointed to four white cardboard boxes filled with petitions and announced a political revival.
“This means a renewed vision of Berkeley, which will once again be a progressive beacon of the West rather than a reactionary ghost of a disenchanted past,” he said.
Tabb’s comments were well received by supporters who cheered and applauded.
Progressive Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who also attended the press conference, said he was concerned about the new “vision” for Berkeley.
“Unless I missed something, I didn’t notice anything that was visionary or progressive in their rhetoric,” Worthington said. “I only saw one African-American, no Latinos, no Asians and very few tenants among their supporters.”
Instead, Worthington said he noticed many property owners, including Robert Cabrera, the president of the Berkeley Properties Owners Association and Jim Smith, former president of the Black Property Owners Association.
The CFR was formed after a controversial redistricting plan was initially approved by the City Council’s progressive, five-member faction on Oct. 2. Moderates charged that the plan took advantage of a Census Bureau undercount of 4,500 people, mostly students in districts 7 and 8, to weaken Councilmember Armstrong in District 8 while strengthening Councilmember Worthington in District 7.
The controversial plan
The redistricting plan, authored by residents Michael O’Malley and David Blake, put the majority of the undercounted residents in District 8, which according to the faulty census numbers, has 12,800 residents like the other seven district, but in real numbers has over 17,000 residents.
In addition they accused progressives of making last minute changes to the plan the day before it was voted on, which did not allow the entire council an opportunity to review the modified version. Moderates also charge that the changes were made during a “backroom” meeting between three progressive councilmembers and plan author David Blake.
Progressives have dismissed the accusations of a backroom meeting and argue that the changes that were made to the plan were minor.
Progressives also insist the approved plan best fits the City Charter that requires the districts be adjusted every 10 years to reflect population changes – according to the census numbers whether they are incorrect or not – and that the districts lines be changed as little as possible.
CFR quickly organized 100 volunteers shortly after the redistricting plan received final council approval on Oct. 16. They announced the drive a short time later and were able to collect nearly twice the required number of signatures in fewer than four weeks.
The volunteers, which included Dean, Armstrong, Olds and Hawley, collected signatures at locations all over town including supermarkets, the farmers’ markets and at playgrounds.
During the press conference Armstrong thanked the volunteers for their efforts. “It feels so good to be part of a bunch of people who have the spirit to work weekends to try and make this city sane again.”
Dean offered her appreciation to an unexpected group. “I want to thank the council majority,” she said. “We were just drifting along, we were cohesive, we weren’t organized and now we are.”
Dean went on to say that the CFR volunteers insured that a fair redistricting plan would be approved because “you cannot deny 8,000 signatures.”
If the council repeals the approved redistricting plan, it will have to reexamine the six plans that were originally submitted for consideration. Moderate councilmembers said they would prefer a plan similar to one drawn by city staff known as Scenario 5. This plan would distribute some of the undercount into District 7, which moderate councilmembers say is more fair.
Progressives have said they would like to further examine a Worthington proposal that would distribute the undercount throughout the entire city by allowing a population discrepancy of 640 people in each district instead of the 128, which the City Attorney has said is the legal margin according to the City Charter.
On Friday the Daily Planet will take a closer look a some of the redistricting options the council considered at its meeting Tuesday night.