Public Comment

Shock and Awe: Berkeley Mayor and Councilmembers attempt late-night switch in redistricting plans

By Jacquelyn McCormick
Wednesday November 16, 2011 - 01:06:00 PM

Shock and Awe is a good description of the mood in the late night hours of last night’s City Council Meeting as a play was made to postpone redistricting until after the November 2012 election. Whether it was a strategy to form two student districts in order to unseat councilmembers Arreguin and Worthingtonm, or an attempt to consolidate two existing districts into one in West Berkeley to leverage development, or some other goal, it was, as Councilmember Worthington stated: “possibly the most thoroughly undemocratic motion ever before Council”. 

The redistricting public hearing, while called prior to 10pm, was not heard until almost 11pm and then in a truncated, 1 minute per speaker/presenter manner. Following public comment, Mayor Bates determined that the matter before council was to either: 1)continue with the redistricting process, or 2) postpone it until after the 2012 election. A pending charter reform amendment proposed by student leadership and the creation of student districts was the impetus for the proposed postponement.  

Earlier this year the process for redistricting was addressed in great detail and a decision was made by Council to accept proposed redistricting plans from the public and to complete the redistricting process in time for the November 2012 election. All has proceeded according to plan until last night. 

Due to the very late hour, none of the plans were provided their 5 minute presentation and maps were not brought into Council Chambers for those watching the broadcast. The motion made by Councilmember Wozniak to postpone the redistricting process was supported by Mayor Bates and Councilmember Capitelli. Councilmembers Arreguin and Worthington voted against the motion and noted that, if tedistricting were postponed, almost 4,300 people would be disenfranchised – it would be stealing votes from the citizens of Berkeley. The remainder of the councilmembers abstained , with the only other comment coming from Councilmember Maio, “I am a supporter of the process. I am not prepared to make a decision tonight”. 

A second public hearing is scheduled for January, which gives plenty of time for those councilmembers supporting postponement to develop a new tactic or convince those who abstained to support it. The democratic process, voting and the right to free speech are the basis for this county’s founding. Actions as represented by these late night tactics and disenfranchising voters are in blatant opposition of the core values that define Berkeley.