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Council and State Redistricting Changes Proposed for Berkeley (News Analysis)

By Steven Finacom
Tuesday June 14, 2011 - 09:35:00 PM

With the 2010 Census data in, it’s a year for political redistricting.

Last week I reported on Alameda County Supervisorial redistricting, apparently lackluster at least where Berkeley is concerned. This week, let’s take a look at other re-districting issues that affect Berkeley, especially since a process for Council redistricting is before the Berkeley City Council. 

Berkeley will probably see mainly minor changes to City Council District borders in 2012, with details decided in a City-run process starting this month. 

But the state legislative district boundaries may shift locally in a major way, influencing the fortunes and prospects of political office holders in Berkeley and neighboring communities, with implications that might extend down to the City Council level. 

Some of the key issues and questions: 

  • ·Berkeley City Council districts must be reapportioned, but will probably just be tweaked around the edges. Five will grow in size; three will shrink from their current configuration. Citizens have a small window of opportunity—now to August—to prepare and submit redistricting proposals.
  • The details of what is done in the Council re-districting process may not affect current Councilmembers, but may well influence who runs for Council in the future and how certain districts trend, demographically and politically.
  • Will Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, married to State Senator Loni Hancock, run for re-election in 2012? If he doesn’t, how might a Mayor’s race without an incumbent affect Council elections?
  • Will State Senator Loni Hancock, married to Bates, run for a last term in the Senate in 2012 in a substantially re-organized district, or will she retire?
  • Similarly, will Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner run for a final term in a significantly altered district in 2012, retire from elective office, or run for something different? Might she opt to pursue the office of Berkeley Mayor, or a State Senate seat?
  • If Hancock and/or Skinner decide not to run for re-election to the Legislature, who might contend for those open seats? And what might the reorganized state legislative districts mean for the future influence of Berkeley in Sacramento?
  • Finally, the United States Census came through again with an odd set of conclusions about Berkeley. Last time, it was a block of University housing that, according to the Census, had nearly no residents. This decade, it’s nearly 1,400 people reported to be permanently residing in the narrow central median strips of Berkeley streets—sort of.
City Council Seats 

Let’s start with the Council. Item #33, under New Business on the June 14, 2011 Council agenda presents the Council with staff recommendations on a process and timelines for revising Council district boundaries, including public input. 

The staff report notes that Berkeley’s population grew nine percent—a total of nearly 10,000 additional residents—between the 2000 and the 2010 Census. Because the population increase wasn’t spread evenly though the City, the balance of residents is now out of whack between Districts. 

In 2000, an exact eight-way division of Berkeley’s population resulted in 12,843 residents per Council district. (The Mayor serves as a ninth voting Councilmember, elected citywide). 

For 2010, that number has grown to 14,703 constituents per district. There’s currently a difference of nearly 4,000 residents between the smallest district population (District 5) and the largest (District 7). 

At the extremes, Councilmember Kriss Worthington currently represents 16,623 residents and Councilmember Laurie Capitelli represents only 12,709. Since they have equal votes on the City Council, the district lines must be adjusted to re-balance the representation. 

District 4 (Downtown and adjacent), District 7 (UC Berkeley campus environs, to the Oakland border), and District 8 (southeast Berkeley, and some areas adjacent to the campus) are now the largest, by far, with District 7 being up 2,550 residents over the 14,703 target figure. 

District 3 (southwest Berkeley), District 5 (north central Berkeley) and District 6 (northeast Berkeley hills) are well below the target number, with District 5 coming in 1,363 residents below 14,073. 

District 1 and District 2, both in West Berkeley, have the lowest deviations—under 1,000 residents each—from the target number. 

In sum, Districts 1, 2, 4, 7, and 8 will have to shrink a bit geographically and numerically, and Districts 3, 5, and 6 will have to have slightly enlarged new boundaries to re-balance the representation. 

The staff report suggests that there be “an opportunity for the public to create and submit redistricting plans.” The timeline is relatively short. August 19, 2011, two months hence, is proposed as a final deadline for public proposals. 

The staff report suggests that the City could supply “maps and Excel spreadsheets, both electronically and in hard copy, to the public…these files will include the data necessary for a community member to assess the population counts in each district…and prepare revised district boundaries.” 

It also notes“there are commercial options available to the City to provide an online redistricting tool for the public and community groups to redraw district boundaries. However, they are very costly (approximately $46,000) and there are no additional funds budgeted for the redistricting process. Staff believes that the data that the City can provide the public directly will enable the community to fully participate in the redistricting process.” 

Once plans are in and vetted by City staff, two public hearings—September 27 and November 8—are suggested, along with posting, by September 15, of “all completed proposals” on the City’s website. 

“The schedule anticipates that the Council would adopt the new boundaries” on December 13, have a second reading on January 17, 2012, and finalize everything by April 1, which is the “deadline set by the Registrar of Voters for the new districts to be in effect for the November 2012 municipal election.” 

The staff report presupposes no major changes in district boundaries. “The (City) Charter requires council district boundaries to be nearly equal in population, remain as close to the original 1986 boundaries as possible, and cannot result in the termination of the term of office of any Councilmember.” (Does that last item mean District boundaries cannot be redrawn to exclude the residence of a sitting Councilmember?) 

Impacts of Berkeley Redistricting for 2012 

It will be interesting to see who takes a hand in proposing changes to district boundaries, and where they might occur. One suspects that such changes won’t be openly proposed in a political sense, but offered by various “good government” groups (either co-opted or created for the occasion), with behind the scenes manipulation by political strategists. 

In some areas, demographically significant changes might take place. District 7, for example, will shrink a bit, and District 8 will need to grow. If that occurs along the long border between the two districts, should the shift in voters occur at the north end, from the dense student-populated blocks of the Southside, or at the south end, from the more upscale Elmwood and Bateman neighborhoods? 

Moving a block or two of student apartments and living groups from the Piedmont Avenue part of District 7 into District 8 would accomplish the rebalancing, as would moving perhaps four or five less densely populated blocks of the Willard or Bateman neighborhoods from 7 to 8. 

The demographic impact on future elections could be quite different from the different options. More student voters in District 8 would strengthen that voting bloc—if one truly exists—in contrast to the upscale homeowners of the Claremont neighborhoods. 

On the other hand, reducing the number of long-time homeowners and renters in District 7 would make that district, in the future, even more likely than it is now to be controlled by whoever can most successfully campaign as the “student friendly” candidate. 

More radically, should the student residences north of Hearst—and separated by the width of the UC campus from the rest of District 7—move to District 6, which would then require a western edge expansion of either District 4 or 5 into District 6? 

While the rules seem to ensure that no sitting Councilmember will be redistricted out of a seat, those who work behind the scenes in Berkeley politics projecting and trying to shape future political alliances to their best advantage are probably already thinking about other possibilities and people. 

For example, if a likely successor—or political opponent / challenger—to an existing Councilmember lives near a district border, it’s quite possible that there may be maneuvers to either retain them in a district, or shift the district lines around them. 

Someone with time and technology on their hands might do an interesting map of the residences of not only current Councilmembers but current School Board directors, Rent Board Commissioners, and influential City Commission appointees and known Council hopefuls to see who resides in which district, and near what boundaries. 

For example, long-time School Board director John Selawsky, a progressive favorite whose current (and third) term ends in 2012, lives almost athwart the border of District 4 (Arreguin) and District 3 (Anderson). 

In 2012, a majority of the Berkeley City Council will be up for election or re-election. Councilmembers Darryl Moore (District 2), Max Anderson (District 3), Laurie Capitelli (District 5), and Susan Wengraf (District 6) must all run for re-election, or retire. 

Berkeley voters will also elect a mayor in 2012. 

In the 2010 elections Councilmembers Kriss Worthington (District 7) and Jesse Arreguin (District 4) defeated challengers who were endorsed by Mayor Bates. The Bates endorsements—including BOTH challengers to Worthington—was seen by many as an effort to eliminate all substantial opposition to Bates policies at the Council dais. 

This time, however, the two dissident councilmembers are safe in their seats for another term (until 2014). 

So in 2012, will Bates endorse or, conversely, attempt to unseat the third (albeit periodic) member of the Council minority, Max Anderson (District 3)? And regardless of what Bates does, is Anderson secure in his district, or will some challenger emerge? 

And will Bates opponents try to mount an organized attack on the edges of his existing super-majority voting bloc on the Council, perhaps backing challengers to Darryl Moore (District 2) who has riled some constituents with support for West Berkeley re-zoning, or Laurie Capitelli (District 5) who faced a surprisingly strong challenge four years ago from political newcomer Sophie Hahn? 

How effectively will Bates critics—ranging from some of Berkeley’s furthest left-progressives, to fiscal policy dissidents from the more moderate neighborhoods, to some old guard Berkeley Democratic Club leaders—be in fielding and organizing support for unified “anybody but the Bates Machine” candidates? 

And will any of the current Councilmembers up for re-election—an increasingly aged group—choose to retire from office, regardless of their re-election prospects? 

The most important political question however, one having a bearing on all of these issues, is whether Bates will seek re-election as Mayor. 

If he doesn’t, that office is suddenly in play and might easily attract current Councilmembers to give up their seats. That would, in turn, create new opportunities for Council candidates looking to run for seats without an incumbent. 

A closely related question (discussed later in this article) is whether State Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner will run for re-election or look at a different office. 

Councilmember Capitelli, for instance, is an oft-rumored candidate for Mayor. He could run with the considerable financial backing of “business interests” already in his court and, if endorsed by Bates as a successor, would have an important progressive fig leaf to help cover his candidacy. 

If Bates retired and Capitelli decided to run for Mayor, that would leave District 5 with no incumbent advantage. 

But would Capitelli actually be acceptable as Mayor to the “Bates Machine” progressives? If not, whom would they seek to put forward in his stead? And does Bates have strong enough residual coattails to anoint any successor, regardless of who the chosen might be? 

Which brings us to another interesting issue, legislative redistricting. 

Legislative Redistricting 

Berkeley is currently represented in Sacramento by former City Councilmember and Bates ally Nancy Skinner (State Assembly, 14th District) and Bates spouse Loni Hancock (State Senate District 9). 

For you newcomers to Berkeley, Bates once held the Assembly seat before he ran for Mayor, and Hancock was once Mayor, before running for the Assembly, serving in the district once represented by Bates, before shifting to the Senate. You need a scorecard—or perhaps a political genealogy expert—to keep track of some of these tangled relationships that sometimes give Berkeley politics a dynastic (or even banana republic) feel. 

Skinner was elected to the State Assembly in District 14 in 2008. If Skinner successfully runs again for re-election in 2012, she will have only one term left—2012-14—before she will be termed out of the Assembly. 

Assembly District 14 currently encompasses portions of Richmond, Oakland and El Sobrante and all of Berkeley, Emeryville, Albany, El Cerrito, and San Pablo west of the Berkeley Hills, and Lafayette, Moraga, Pleasant Hill, and Orinda to the east. The district—shaped a bit like a chunky terrier dog with its nose in San Pablo and wagging tail in Pleasant Hill—combines part of the East Bay shore urban fringe of Alameda County with distinctly suburban enclaves east of the Hills. 

This is usually a safe district for Berkeley area progressives. In my time in Berkeley, east-of-the-hills moderates or conservatives have regularly put up candidates, who are just as regularly beaten by someone representing the more liberal and more densely populated precincts of Berkeley and its environs. 

Hancock was elected to the State Senate in 2008, replacing Don Perata who was termed-out. Hancock will be up for re-election in 2012. If she chooses to run again next year and wins, she will be termed out in 2016. 

Redistricting Commission Recommendations 

The Legislative redistricting plans released by the non-partisan California Citizens Redistricting Commission at the end of last week appear to propose major changes to the districts represented by both Hancock and Skinner. 

Although the on-line maps released last Friday are a bit hard to follow, I hope I have interpreted them correctly. 

In the Assembly, it looks like the territory east of the Berkeley Hills would be shifted into another district, while Skinner’s district would become entirely based on the east shore of the Bay, running from Martinez / Hercules to north Oakland. 

The new 14th Assembly District would essentially encompass the 80 Freeway corridor from the Bay Bridge to the Carquinez Straits, including parts of Oakland. To accomplish this It would transfer the western portion of Contra Costa County from the 11th District, currently represented by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla to the 14th District. Bonilla herself, a former Mayor of Concord, lives in the eastern half of the current 11th District that, shorn of its direct Bay shore connection, would be pushed much further eastwards into the area south of the Delta. 

Senate District 9, represented by Hancock, would also change considerably, in a similar direction to Assembly District 14. Right now, Hancock’s district looks a bit like a bent barbell or perhaps a fat-handled toilet plunger, with a stub end in the Berkeley and Oakland area, and a big chunk of central and eastern Alameda County including Livermore, extending to the county line. 

A tiny wasp’s waist of territory connects the two largely dissimilar geographies. 

The Commission revision of the boundaries would appear to snip the waist, entirely removing the eastern parts of the county from the district. Instead, the revised district would cover the entire East Bay shore from the Carquinez Straits to San Leandro, incorporating all of Oakland, Berkeley, Richmond, Alameda, and several smaller communities, into one district west of the hills. 

While geographically more rational, these plans, if adopted, might shift the electoral calculus considerably for Berkeley. 

In both Senate and Assembly districts, Richmond, with a population now over 100,000 (nearly the size of Berkeley) would seem to become a much bigger actor. It wouldn’t be split between two districts. And in the State Senate district, a consolidated Oakland might hold more power. 

With Oakland residents outnumbering Berkeley by nearly four to one in the new district, a popular Oakland political figure might easy defeat a Berkeley candidate for the Senate. 

Will Hancock run again, particularly in a district that may be that extensively reorganized? One imagines that partially depends on Bates. If one of the couple really wants to retire from office, might the other as well? 

Both are now in their 70s. Hancock, if she runs for re-election in 2012, would be 76 when her second and last term ends in 2016. Bates, if he chooses to run again for Mayor, would be 74 during the campaign and, if re-elected, 78 at the end of his third term, also in 2016. 

Neither age is especially extreme in modern American politics, but it will be an interesting question—presumably decided in the next several months—whether either or both of them wants to commit to another four years of elective office. 

And Skinner, if she wants to continue in higher elected office after being termed out of the Assembly in 2014, would face a possibly uncomfortable two year wait from 2014 to 2016 to run again—either for State Senate, or Berkeley Mayor. (It’s certainly conceivable she would leave elective politics, at least for a time. She voluntarily spent several years out of office between serving on the Berkeley City Council and being appointed to a vacant seat on the Regional Park District Board, which became a stepping stone to the Assembly.) 

It is hard to imagine that Skinner would challenge either Bates or Hancock if they run again. But if either or both decide not to run for re-election, it would not be shocking if Skinner gave up a 2012 run for re-election to the Assembly in a considerably reconfigured district, and ran for Mayor of Berkeley or State Senate instead. 

If either or both of them retired and Skinner waited, she would risk being termed out of the Assembly in 2014 and having to challenge a sitting incumbent in 2016. 

If Skinner doesn’t stay in the Assembly, it would entail a major shifting of pieces on the local electoral chessboard. The Assembly district would come into play, without an incumbent running for re-election. 

A Berkeley Councilmember might try for it. On the other hand, with the altered district lines, political leaders from Richmond and north might also feel emboldened to run, just as Skinner running for State Senate would presumably have competition from Oakland and southern Alameda County. 

So, while the action will continue to be in the Democratic primary in both districts, I don’t think it is by any means certain that Berkeley officials will be able to continue to advance as easily to the State Legislature as they have in recent years. 

It’s all speculation of course, at this point. But in coming months we should start to see indications and hear rumors of how the major current office holders will align in 2012, particularly as the State redistricting process resolves itself. 

Current Council District Boundaries 

Back to Berkeley for some more Council detail. 

Berkeley’s current City Council Districts seem generally rationally formed, usually employing major streets as dividing lines and avoiding the more extreme types of gerrymandering often seen in Congressional and State legislative districts. The boundaries have changed little since the 1980s. 

District One is northwest Berkeley, largely north of University Avenue west of Grant Street, and west of King Jr. High School. District Two is to the southwest, primarily south of University and west of Sacramento Street. 

District 3 is south central, mostly east of Sacramento, south of Dwight, and west of Ellsworth Street. District 4 in the center of town is a reverse “L” primarily north of Dwight, west of the UC campus and Oxford Street, and south of Vine. It protrudes to Sacramento Street on the southwest. 

District 5, north central, is mainly north of Vine and west of Spruce Street, while District 6, to the immediate east, takes in everything east of Spruce and most blocks north of the UC campus. 

District 7 is an oddly shaped linear enclave that extends from “Holy Hill” and the Euclid Avenue shopping district and south to the Oakland border. Its edges bump in and out on east and west, but generally lie within a block either way of Ellsworth Street or College Avenue. It takes in most of the Willard neighborhood, the densely populated Southside, the entire Berkeley length of Telegraph Avenue, and the Bateman and part of the Halcyon neighborhoods south of Ashby. 

It’s also the district whose Councilmember represents the Chancellor at UC Berkeley, since the Chancellor (and family members) are the only permanent residents on the UC Berkeley campus proper. 

District 8 covers the rest of southeast Berkeley, including the whole Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory campus in the hills, one Northside block (where the Foothill Residence Halls are located), Panoramic Hill, and the Claremont Elmwood. 

Redistricting in 1990 and 2000 bumped or shrunk the boundaries here and there (a comparison of the 1986 original district lines and the current lines is shown on the attached map, from the City). In most places the adjustments just moved the district lines a block or so in or out. For example, District 8 has, since 1986, pushed west across College Avenue in a three block long area. 

Demographic Ghosts from the Census 

Those who remember the aftermath of the 2000 Census will recall that Berkeley was shorted on population in part due to some weird undercounts, such as the assertion that there were almost no residents in one of the UC residence hall complexes. 

This time around, the odd Census error highlighted by the City staff report is the fact that the 2010 Census “erroneously assigned population to some of the median strips of several divided roads in Berkeley. There was a total of 1,392 people assigned to median strips, ranging from a single person in one median area to as many of 158 in another.” 

One is tempted to have some fun with this at the expense of the Census. Could those 1,392 people have been homeless residents living unobtrusively on the grassy medians? Or the “Arnieville” protestors who set up a tent encampment on Adeline Street for several weeks last year? Perhaps the Cheese Board pizza eaters who sit down illegally to eat on the narrow North Shattuck median? Maybe all three! 

Alas, the error seems to have been some sort of computational anomaly involving the location of addresses and GIS coordinates. “The Census Bureau confirmed that the total population count was accurate and that the methodology they provided would properly assign the populations to correct blocks and tracts” on either side of the street, not in the center, the staff report concludes. 

District Election History 

Berkeley’s City Council districts were established in the 1980s after a voter initiative. The proposal, initially spearheaded by neighborhood activists in northwest Berkeley, was in part a response to Berkeley’s “slate politics” system which had prevailed since the mid-1960s. 

Most City Council elections from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s saw a two-way competition between a “radical” (later, “progressive”) slate, usually under the auspices of Berkeley Citizens Action (BCA), and a “liberal” (later, “moderate”) slate, most often fielded or blessed by the Berkeley Democratic Club (BDC) and/or the All Berkeley Coalition (ABC). 

BCA, BDC and ABC had jockeyed for power with the advantages shifting between BCA (particularly when it could induce large numbers of UC students to vote), and BDC (when it could field a slate that had cross-over appeal to Berkeley’s minority of Republican voters, or to students on certain issues). 

The original district initiative was, depending on whom you talked to, either an effort to break the grip of the slates on the City Council and make individual Councilmembers directly accountable to actual neighborhoods, or an end-run by moderates who wanted a way to break the power BCA held in City-wide elections, and strategically aligned with un-aligned neighborhood activists angered by what they saw as high-handed BCA-led land use decisions. 

In any case, dividing Berkeley up into eight Council districts did decrease the high profile visibility of slate politics at election time, with the alphabet parties and coalitions fading from public prominence, but didn’t end factions on the City Council by any means. 


The Berkeley City staff proposal for Council redistricting process can be found here

The California Citizens Redistricting Commission, which is redrawing Congressional and State Legislative district boundaries, is here

To find the local information, go to “Maps”, and “First Draft”, then “Assembly”. 

Under “1st Draft, Assembly District Maps” you’ll find a map of the 2001 (and current) district lines, and a second set of maps apparently showing the new, proposed, district boundaries. If you scroll down to “Detailed Maps” and click on “Oakland”, you will find a map (also reproduced with this article) that seems to show the proposed new Assembly district containing Berkeley, described as “West Contra Costa”, with this web address

Back track to the “Maps / First Draft” page and follow the same process with “Senate”. In that case, the relevant map including Berkeley appears to be “Oakland Richmond” with this address

On both maps, the new proposed district lines are in purple. The dark black line that cuts across between Berkeley and El Cerrito is the county line.