The latest round in the city’s redistricting battle came to a head on Friday, as five “citizens proposals” for new City Council districts were submitted for the council’s consideration.
The City Council revoked its approval of an earlier plan after a group calling itself “Citizens for Fair Representation” gathered about 7,000 signatures, threatening to scuttle the plan through a referendum.
CFR said the “Blake-O’Malley plan,” named after its authors, David Blake and Mike O’Malley, was a back-room deal designed to shift more students into District 8, and thus to hurt moderate Councilmember Polly Armstrong.
New district lines must be redrawn every 10 years, in response to population shifts as registered by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Complicating matters is the fact that there are several blocks in the city – mostly those with UC dormitories and known to be “undercounted” – that have a larger population than is reflected by the 2000 Census.
The Census Bureau has been promising to deliver corrected numbers to the city for the last month, in order to aid the redistricting effort. There was some confusion in city offices on Friday about whether the numbers had been received.
Pat DeTemple, the city’s Geographic Information Systems expert who has worked closely on redistricting, was out of his office on Friday, and so could not confirm whether or not the new numbers had been received.
While details of the new proposals are still sketchy, several authors spoke of their proposal plans in general terms on Friday.
All said their plans met the requirements laid down by the city charter, which states that new district lines must match old ones as closely as possible.
The Associated Students of the University of California submitted a plan designed expressly to create a student-dominated district, with the goal of electing a UC student to the City Council.
“Students are citizens of Berkeley,” said Josh Fryday, ASUC vice president for external affairs. “We have just as much stake as anyone else, and we care about this city as much as anyone else.”
“We would hope we will be elected to the City Council as soon as possible.”
Fryday said the ASUC plan would give students a 60 percent majority in District 7, which is currently represented by Councilmember Kriss Worthington.
Councilmember Dona Spring submitted another proposal. She said hers was designed to preserve the current district lines as much as possible,.
“I tried only to nibble at districts,” she said. “I didn’t move any district lines more than two blocks, and the majority of them are moved only one block.”
Nick Rizzo, a junior at Berkeley High School, drew a plan that shifts much of student-heavy Northside into District 7.
Rizzo wrote about his motivation to come up with a redistricting plan in an letter accompanying his application.
“The Ancient Greeks believed a person’s primary duty was civic participation, and I couldn’t agree with them more,” Rizzo wrote.
“Unfortunately, I am too young to join the marvelous, diverse people of Berkeley in that paramount act of civic participation, voting. I decided I needed another way to serve my city, to charge it for the better.”
Tim Hansen, a member of the fledgling Berkeley Party, submitted a plan he said was concerned with the integrity of communities.
“I submitted it trying not to worry so much about councilmembers, but about neighborhoods,” he said.
Nuclear Free Berkeley submitted a plan, which its author, Elliot Cohen, said was nonpartisan and left the disputed “undercount” blocks in their current district.
“I’m offering it as an option,” Cohen said. “I’m not saying it’s the best plan, since I haven’t seen the others yet – it’s just something I’m presenting to the council for their consideration.”
David Tabb, CFR chairman, said that his group did not submit their own plan, but would keep a watchful eye on the process.
“We plan to review the plans submitted to make sure they are truly not partisan,” he said.
Tabb said during the last redistricting round, he had favored the plan drawn up by the City Manager’s Office in response to direction from the City Council.
Phil Kamlarz, deputy city manager, said it was not the city manager’s function to submit a new proposal along with those drafted by citizens.
If the council requested, however, the city manager’s staff would perform the same function it had in the past – drawing up alternative maps in response to councilmembers’ concerns.
Hopefully, Kamlarz said, this round of citizen proposals will already have taken the council’s concerns into account.
“Ideally, the citizens’ proposals will address all the issues adequately,” he said.
Kamlarz said each proposal’s author will have a chance to sit down with DeTemple to further tweak their plans in response to the new census figures.
City staff will review the new proposals during the coming weeks to make sure they conform with both the city charter and a requirement that the population of all the districts are within 1 percent of each other.
The city hopes to publish the new proposals on its Web site by Feb. 13, so that interested citizens may read and review them in time for a City Council public hearing on Feb. 19.