Public Comment

The View from West Berkeley: Council Re-districting Embraces Dormies, Shuns West Berkeley

By Curtis Manning
Monday June 03, 2013 - 02:30:00 PM

In this age of diminishing expectations, alienation and cultural malaise, the ambitions of students, when they appear, are often encouraged regardless of their merit. And so it was when the Department of External Affairs of the Associated Students of UC (ASUC) decided that it wanted a student Council district because they really needed representation on the Council. Their concerns include crime and lighting. So the ASUC contacted the City Council and asked them to float Measure R, which would allow new district boundaries and a possible student district. 

The passage of Measure R enabled another group, the Berkeley Neighborhood Council (BNC), to produce a map of their own. The driving principle behind the BNC map was to leave established neighborhood associations undivided by district boundaries. Although the BNC included a student district, they also included the unification of West Berkeley into a single Council district. The purpose of this was to allow West Berkeley residents to have a majority district in the Ocean View area, which is basically west of San Pablo Ave., and centered near University Ave. West Berkeley has for 27 years been divided into two districts at University Ave., leaving both minority parts of their respective districts. 

The ASUC map reveals its student district to be dominated by dormitories. Compared to the average student, dormitory dwellers know little about Berkeley as a town, and have little connection to it. They come and go on time-scales of a few years. Are these the students we want represented on the Council? 

Dormitories are gated, so only well-financed campaigns that are able to do district-wide mailings will be able to access the students where they live. This makes the student district an easy win for those connected to money and power. 

It is undeniable that students constitute a significant fraction of the population of Berkeley – at least during the school term. But does the proposed student district rise to the level of a community of interest? 

To the Council majority, it apparently does. Following the April 30 public hearing on re-districting, the Council majority, led by Gordon Wozniak, chose two identical maps to define the range of the Council’s interests in re-districting. The maps in question are the student proposal, a product of the Associated Students of UC (ASUC), and a map by Eric Panzer, an ex-student and operative of the “smart-growth” clique. Both maps are the same. A tidal wave of blind support swept the Council majority and minority; neither Kriss, Max, nor Jesse spoke up for West Berkeley. Droves of finger-snapping students with signs will apparently do that.  

In making a student district, the Council is choosing the population least interested in Berkeley as a city. Why should students get preference for representation over West Berkeley? The Council’s action proves again that West Berkeley needs a voice on the Council, since they are otherwise not heard.  

The Council has shown contempt for those who live in West Berkeley by ignoring the outpourings from three continued public hearings on the City’s misguided West Berkeley Project, and by putting Measure T on the ballot. In fact, the Council majority has been trying to up-zone West Berkeley for some years, seeking to spark speculative land inflation that will lay West Berkeley open to corporate take-overs of industrial land. This would result in a wall of big box buildings along the shore, and in the loss of Berkeley’s “incubator” style of business development. The Council majority is working for the corporations and for UC/BP, not for Berkeley’s citizens or for businesses. The Council recognizes political expediency, but not principle. 

The students say they are interested in issues of crime and lighting, yet I don’t see how that differs from the views of the current Councilpersons of student areas. Why go to all this trouble when students, like spoiled children, are bringing nothing to the table but their desire to have a seat on the Council?  

The current Council feels that it can pick and choose which criteria it applies for re-districting. It thinks that it owes nothing to the principles of fair representation that underlie district elections, or to the wishes of its long-term residents. The Council majority has gone rogue. The student map is just a political instrument in their hands, to be employed in the continuing effort to control Berkeley for the smart growthers and for the UC/BP conglomerate. It should be quashed. 


  1. In effect, the student district is a dormitory district. Dorms are populated by students unlikely to be interested in, or knowledgeable about, the city of Berkeley. As a transient community, the students do not rise to the level of a legitimate community of interest.
  2. West Berkeley, descended from the pioneer town of Ocean View (1853), is a proper community of interest. There is great need for a West Berkeley Council district, but it will take a miracle to get it established because the Council majority wants to continue to exploit West Berkeley to the detriment of its residents.
  3. We conclude that the Council majority is using the student district as a way to produce a form of “safe” Council seat that is easily controlled. With their disrespectful treatment of West Berkeley, a West Berkeley district would not likely be a safe seat for them.