As part of his effort to wrest the District 7 City Council seat from Councilmember Kriss Worthington, challenger George Beier has pledged his efforts to create a student-controlled council district.
A large map depicting the proposal decorates the Telegraph Avenue door of the campaign office Beier shares with District 8 Councilmember Gordon Wozniak, who is running for re-election. It includes comments suggesting that the current district lines have deliberately disenfranchised students.
“The students have no voice,” Beier told the Planet. “If that were any other minority in town, we would be taking steps to correct that problem.”
However creating a new district would require citizens passing an initiative that would mandate a City Charter change. Such a change could not be made until the decennial redistricting process in 2011.
While Worthington acknowledged that student representation in city government is important, he characterized Beier’s plan as a campaign stunt.
The complex nature of carving out a student district was expressed in an Aug. 16, 2001 memo written by City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque in response to a similarly radically redrawn district proposed by students in 2001.
“The City Charter requires that the council districts be as nearly equal in population as possible, and that any redistricting ‘shall preserve, to the extent possible, the council districts originally established herein,’” she wrote, indicating that the 2001 effort to significantly redraw the boundaries by ordinance was illegal.
Beier’s proposal, which would seek a City Charter amendment rather than an ordinance, would redraw council districts 7 and 8, both of which are long, narrow strips, each with an approximate 50 percent student population. His proposal would radically change the configuration of both districts.
District 7 stretches from slightly north of campus south to the Oakland border. The district is bordered roughly on the west by Ellsworth Street and on the east by Benvenue Avenue. District 8, where Counclmember Gordon Wozniak faces a challenge from student and Rent Board Commissioner Jason Overman, comprises a similar long, narrow strip, running east of District 7.
This configuration doesn’t make sense to Beier.
“The southern end of the district doesn’t necessarily have any concern for the northern end because they are completely different in character,” he said. “The neighbors in the southern end of the district have more clout that the students in the northern end of the district.”
Beier’s proposal is based on his belief that a mostly-student district will bring more students into the local political arena. “The reason students aren’t involved in city politics is that they have no power,” Beier said.
The proposal would take the population comprised mostly of students that live above College Avenue and north of Dwight Way out of District 8 and place them in District 7, leaving District 8 as a mostly long-term resident district and District 7 a mostly student district.
Crediting Beier for the plan, which he calls a “good idea,” District 8 Councilmember Gordon Wozniak says it will benefit District 8 by creating a district in which the population is more homogenous by age, eliminating a large percentage of the students and gaining more long-term residents. Wozniak won his council seat four years ago in a run-off with then-student Andy Katz, who garnered 41 percent of the vote.
Wozniak challenger Overman says he doesn’t “know anyone against the creation of a district that would have student representation.”
He rejected Beier’s proposal and Wozniak’s support of it, however, as a campaign maneuver. “After three and one-half years of neglect, now (Wozniak) is making an attempt to appear appealing to the student community,” he said.
Similarly, Worthington called the proposal an “unlikely trick to get a lot of students voting for (Beier).” Still, Worthington said if the students showed through the initiative process that they wanted a student district, he would support it, adding that the creation of a student district should be up to the students.
Worthington pointed out that students have been voted into office as Rent Stabilization Board members and that he has appointed numerous students to commissions. He says he supports other ways of giving students more power in the electoral realm such as instant runoff voting: the clout of less-frequent voters, such as students, will grow under IRV, because they do not have to show up at the polls for a run off.
Further, the incumbent said he thinks a student can win in a non-student district. “A hardworking student can appeal to tenants and homeowners and get elected,” he said.
Rent Board member and student Jesse Arreguin opposes the creation of a student district, which he calls a “student ghetto.” The district could allow the other councilmembers to get away with ignoring student needs by saying the representative of the student district would take care of them, he said.