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Redistricting plan axed, process to start all over

By John Geluardi Daily Planet staff
Thursday November 29, 2001

Before a vocal audience Tuesday, the City Council scrapped a controversial, seven-week-old redistricting ordinance and decided to start the contentious process from scratch. 

Citizens for Fair Representation, a newly formed residents’ group, had rendered the ordinance invalid with a petition signed by about 7,000 registered Berkeley voters.  

The council could have put the ordinance before voters on March 5, but instead unanimously voted to repeal the new districts. The council then approved a new redistricting schedule, which will begin no later than Jan. 1 and end, with council approval, by March 12. Alameda County requires the council to submit newly approved districts no later than April 1 if they are going to be valid by the November 2002 elections. 

“It took a little prodding but the council did the right thing,” said CFR Chair David Tabb. “We don’t know what the new council districts will look like but people will definitely feel that the process is fair this time around.” 

About 100 CFR members, who celebrated when the council repealed the redistricting ordinance, were admonished at least three times by Mayor Shirley Dean after their boos and cat calls drowned out the comments of progressive councilmembers Dona Spring, Linda Maio and Kriss Worthington. 

Dean and moderate councilmembers Polly Armstrong, Betty Olds and Miriam Hawley are CFR members and helped collect petition signatures. 

The City Charter requires new council districts be drawn every 10 years after the release of the U.S. Census. Using census numbers, the council is required by charter to balance population shifts by equally distributing residents in each of the city’s eight districts. 

The redistricting process, which can be driven by political considerations, was made more difficult this year because of a census bureau undercount in districts 7 and 8. While none of the proposed redistricting plans was able to evenly distribute the city’s population, the plan that was approved put 17,000 residents in Councilmember Polly Armstrong’s District 8 and 13,000 in each of the other seven districts. 

After the ordinance was repealed Tuesday, Armstrong asked progressive councilmembers to include more public input in the process.  

“Please don’t rush this thing through,” she said. “Please let the people of Berkeley be part of the process.” 

Councilmember Dona Spring, a member of the council’s progressive majority, vigorously defended the earlier redistricting process saying there was ample opportunity for public participation. “There was nothing sneaky about this plan,” she said. “The plan is being challenged because certain members of the council weren’t happy with the results.” 

Spring also challenged the CFR’s petition. “I don’t believe an accurate story was put out to the people who signed that petition,” she said. 

Councilmember Linda Maio, who voted for the plan in October, said she was glad the process was starting over again. Maio said she was conflicted about the approved plan because of the number of residents in District 8. 

“It’s been very difficult because none of the proposals dealt with the undercount fairly,” she said. “I’m really glad we are revisiting this now.” 

The failed redistricting ordinance, backed by the progressive council majority, has been a source of controversy since it was narrowly approved by a 5-4 vote on Oct. 2. Prior to its approval, the council had considered the redistricting plan along with five others during a four-month process that included two public hearings. 

But last-minute changes to the controversial plan prior to the council’s Oct. 2 vote caused council moderates to accuse progressives of altering the plan in what they called a “backroom” meeting. 

The councilmembers that attended the meeting, Dona Spring, Maudelle Shirek and Margaret Breland, have said only minor changes were made to the plan. Spring said that moderate councilmembers were using the allegations as “smokescreen” to foil the new districts. 

After the council repealed the redistricting ordinance, Dean thanked CFR members for getting involved in an important issue “that’s not exciting, sexy or even very interesting.”