The day before a citizen’s group submitted a petition with more than 8,000 signatures challenging a recently-approved redistricting plan, the City Council began considering options to prevent U.S. Census Bureau blunders from throwing a highly political process into chaos.
The city is required by the City Charter to redraw district lines every 10 years to assure that each of the city’s eight districts are as equal in population as possible. The redistricting process was complicated further by an inaccurate census count of 4,500 residents mostly in districts 7 and 8.
Despite factual evidence of the undercount, the council is bound by the City Charter to use census figures when drawing new district lines, even if they are incorrect.
Apparently the problem won’t be that east to fix.
A recommendation by Mayor Shirley Dean, designed to prevent census screw ups from aggravating already contentious Berkeley politics, failed to be approved during Tuesday’s City Council meeting. The recommendation lost by a 5-4 vote with the council’s progressive majority prevailing over the council moderates.
Instead the council adopted a subsequent motion by Councilmember Dona Spring that called for the issue to be further studied and discussed after the first of the year.
The recommendation was for an amendment to the City Charter that would have pushed back the city’s redistricting deadline by two years, allowing time for the census bureau to correct its mistakes. As an additional backup, in case the Census Bureau was unwilling to correct its mistake, the amendment would have given the city manager authority to verify disputed population counts.
But City Manager Weldon Rucker made it clear that he did not think it was a good idea to involve his office in such a political issue.
“I would not want to go into the realm of a population count,” Rucker said. “I understand the logic of the proposal but it would create a dicey situation that would make it very difficult for staff to remain objective, impartial and unbiased.”
Dean agreed to drop the portion of her recommendation authorizing the city manager to correct faulty population counts. But it was clear she was upset.
“I thought the city manager and his staff could handle it,” Dean said on Thursday. “But if he doesn’t think he can that’s fine, we’ll find some other way to solve the problem.”
Dean went on to say that unless something is done undercounts will keep occurring.
Spring said there were too many questions about Dean’s recommendation to go ahead and put it on the March ballot. She said it made more sense to take additional time to remedy the problem.
“There are council elections in 2002 that might have to use the old district boundaries and then another round of council elections in 2006, (where people would) vote according to new district lines.” Spring said. “We need to know exactly what that would mean to those voters.”