By Jia-Rui Chong
Special to the Daily Planet
Students at University of California, Berkeley were “disgusted and disappointed” by the rejection of their redistricting plan at last Tuesday’s city council meeting, said Josh Fryday, External Affairs Vice President of the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC).
The ASUC redistricting proposal, which would have made students 60 percent of the District 7 population, was part of the students’ long-term fight to elect one of their own to the Berkeley City Council.
“The thing is, this is the first opportunity that has come up in years–because redistricting only comes up every 10 years–for a student to be elected to city council,” said Fryday. “My first reaction was that they’re scared of having a student sitting on city council.” Berkeley citizens were invited to submit their own proposals after the Citizens for Fair Representation successfully challenged the accepted redistricting plan last October. On Feb. 19, the city council decided to approve two of the five plans for further consideration.
Modifications on the plans drawn up by Elliot Cohen of Nuclear Free Berkeley and Berkeley High School student Nick Rizzo will be heard tonight.
The proposal drafted by the ASUC would have increased the student population in District 7 by four percent by incorporating part of District 8. Fryday said that this plan represented the best attempt to bring as many students as possible into one district under the constraints of the city charter. Their first proposal was rejected because it did not follow the charter, which says that new district maps must follow established lines as closely as possible.
Fryday blasted the current plans for trying to divide and conquer students. “The simple truth is, students are just like any other Berkeley neighborhood. We want a chance to have our voice be heard. We want to be kept whole and united. We don’t want special treatment, but we do want fair treatment,” he said.
“Some people tell me it’s not good for students, but I don’t buy that,” he said. Of the 1000 people moved into District 8 under his plan, he said, only 675 are students. All the proposals except the ASUC’s would also have moved the student-populated Foothill Dormitories into District 8.
Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who represents District 7 and who is usually the most vocal in supporting student concerns, said that he did not support the ASUC proposal because it was not practical.
“Someone who is not a good student candidate won’t get elected by four percent,” he said. “A good student could win in District 7 now. A good student could win in District 8 now.”
Fryday, however, dismissed arguments that the ASUC plan was impractical.
“The plan submitted met every redistricting criteria established by the city. The only criteria it didn’t meet was that it didn’t continue to promote the current undemocratic, disenfranchising status quo.”
Mayor Shirley Dean, who said she thought the students’ plan was “fair” and voted for it last Tuesday, put the rejection down to politics.
“Kriss Worthington doesn’t want a student running against him despite his statements that he wants students to run for council.”
Worthington, however, defended his support of students and said that his opposition to the ASUC proposal had nothing to do with who would run against him.
“In one month and in this last year, I’ve involved more students in Berkeley government than she [Dean] has in several decades,” said Worthington. He rejected the ASUC plan, he said, because it made it hurt students who might want to run for office in District 8, where there is a significant student population.
Councilmember Linda Maio said politics had nothing to do with the way she voted. She abstained because she wanted to support the principle of student participation in local government without giving this particular plan the thumbs up.
“I didn’t want to discount the students and say, ‘No, you don’t have a role.’ I’m glad they’re coming in and talking and participating. But I knew there were other proposals that kept working constituencies and neighborhoods together.”
She said she did not like the way the ASUC plan split up the Bateman neighborhood in particular and supported the Nuclear Free Berkeley plan because it drew neater lines.
“Someone’s ox is going to get gored because we have to balance all of these different interests,” Maio said.
The ASUC is trying to roll with the punches. At tonight’s council meeting, it will propose revisions that bump up the number of students in District 7 while working within the basic accepted guidelines. It will also keep pushing for a ballot measure to amend the city charter so that completely new redistricting plans can be drawn.
“Frankly, the reforms that the students want are going to have to go through the charter amendment, not this process,” said Cohen. “It’s really sad that the students are being used as pawns in a political game.”