The progressive faction on the City Council prevailed Tuesday by approving a controversial redistricting plan that one moderate councilmember called “the most outrageous public policy” she had seen since being elected to the council.
After closing a public hearing and exchanging strong rhetoric, the council, which had six plans to choose from, approved the one designed by residents David Blake and Michael O’Malley by a vote of 5-4.
The vote fell exactly along party lines with council progressives Vice Mayor Maudelle Shirek and councilmembers Kriss Worthington, Dona Spring, Linda Maio and Margaret Breland voting for the plan.
While the plan was approved in concept by the council, the exact language will be voted on at the council’s Oct. 9 meeting.
Moderates were outraged at the approved plan, which they said was a thinly veiled attempt to weaken moderate Councilmember Polly Armstrong in District 8 by increasing the student population in her district from 40 percent to an estimated 52 percent.
They also said the Blake-O’Malley plan strengthened Councilmember Kriss Worthington’s district by maintaining neighborhood groups that support him and keeping just enough students to continue voting for him, but not enough for a student candidate to challenge his seat on the council.
Under the Blake-O’Malley plan, District 7 has approximately 62 percent students, according to Blake, a former part-time aide to Councilmember Linda Maio.
Moderates also said the plan was “railroaded” through the public process because last-minute changes were made during a Monday meeting with David Blake, Shirek, Breland and Spring. Worthington was also at the meeting but came after the alterations were made to the plan, according to Blake.
Progressives argued that moderates’ complaints were “sour grapes” and that overall the plan had changed little since it was submitted in August. They added that last minute changes were minor and the moderates weren’t going to like the plan no matter what. “It was pretty obvious we hit a nerve,” Councilmember Dona Spring said. “Councilmember Armstrong really didn’t want more students in her neighborhood and her colleagues defended her.”
The City Charter requires the city’s eight districts be re-drawn every 10 years according to population shifts reported by the United States census. The charter also requires the council to approve adjusted district boundaries by Dec. 31.
According to the 2000 Census, Berkeley’s population is 102,743, which requires the city to redraw district lines so that as close to 12,843 people are in each district.
The situation was made more complex by an inaccurate census undercount in districts 7 and 8. Despite the blunder, the council is bound by the charter to ignore the undercount and use the inaccurate numbers to redraw district lines, which caused the shifting of larger groups between districts than would have otherwise been necessary.
City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque advised the council the plan it chose should follow the charter requirement that “any redistricting shall preserve, to the extent possible, the council districts originally established in 1986.”
But Albuquerque said interpretation of the word “preserve” could mean preserving geographical shape or preserving residents.
The actual numbers of the amended Blake-O’Malley Plan were not available on Wednesday, but the original plan attempted to maintain the geographical shape of the existing districts according to the City Charter requirements, but shifted 9,322 people into different districts citywide including increasing the student population in District 8, which is currently dominated by homeowners.
The moderates favored a staff plan known as “Scenario 5,” which also maintained geographical lines and only shifted 7,838 residents into other districts citywide. But Scenario 5 moved greater numbers of students into Worthington’s district and more homeowners into District 8.
Prior to the council vote, Hawley, who had 1,195 constituents shifted in the Blake-O’Malley Plan, said she was amazed that the plan was changed at the last minute. She said last minute changes were a violation of public process.
“Adoption of this plan would be the most outrageous public policy I’ve seen since I’ve been on the council,” she said. “This is truly an outrage.”
Armstrong was clearly upset by the approval of a plan, which she said was fashioned behind closed doors.
“With the wave of a wand (the progressives) destroyed a district, that was created in 1986 as a largely homeowner district, by putting in significantly more students.”
Worthington said students deserve better representation and that Armstrong will have to pay closer attention to student issues.
“I believe that the students and neighbors will get a lot more attention this year in District 8 because having 10 percent more students means they can’t be totally ignored,” he said on Wednesday.
Mayor Shirley Dean said the approval of the Blake-O’Malley plan was at best a shrewd manipulation of public process and at worst a violation of it. “It’s about political protection and adding to the power of Kriss Worthington,” Dean said. “It is so nauseating.”
Spring said the heavy rhetoric was “the most acute case of sour grapes she’s ever seen.”