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Lawsuit challenges City Council districts

By Kurtis Alexander, Daily Planet Staff
Wednesday May 08, 2002

Who thought the voter redistricting process was over? Not Merrilie Mitchell. 

The Berkeley resident has filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging that boundaries set for City Council districts in March were unjustly established and thus should be reconsidered. 

The suit resurrects a debate argued earlier this year about how to best redraw council jurisdictions, given new census data, to equalize their size and protect political blocs within them. 

The new districts are slated to be put into effect for the first time this November, with four City Council positions up for vote. 

Mitchell argues, in her state Superior Court suit received by the city on Friday, that the newly-drawn districts are based on inaccurate census information. Furthermore, she contends that the City Council did not hold the legally-required public hearings before the new districts were approved. 

But City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque said Mitchell’s suit has “no merit.” She claimed the city redrew the districts in compliance with the law, and that the two public hearings held on the matter were a sufficient number. 

“[Mitchell] seems to be saying that because the council responded to the public and made changes [to the redistricting plan] that they should have had another hearing. I don’t read the law that way,” Albuquerque said. 

In regard to Mitchell’s claim that bad information was used to make the districts, Albuquerque said that the city had no choice. 

“The charter requires us to use the census numbers. We have no discretion,” she said. 

In the suit, Mitchell claims that census inaccuracies were “well known to the City of Berkeley since the City of Berkeley has filed a lawsuit to challenge the undercount,” estimated by some to be between 4,000 and 10,000 residents. Yet, the city proceeded to draw new districts despite bad information, she said. 

Councilmember Dona Spring, though the most outspoken critic of the redistricting process in March, said the “paths and battle scars” from the debate need to be left behind. 

“Holding it up in court is no solution,” she said. 

Spring acknowledged that the census numbers were probably inaccurate, but agreed with Albuquerque that nothing could be done about it at this point. 

“The census department is not going to give us new numbers,” she said. 

The city has 30 days after the April 26 filing to respond to Mitchell’s suit, and Albuquerque indicated every intention of fighting it. 

Mitchell was not available for comment yesterday. 


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