ENDORSEMENT SPECIAL: Avoid R, and the Rest of the Story

By Becky O'Malley
Thursday October 04, 2012 - 12:30:00 PM

Sometimes you can’t tell the players without a scorecard. You probably wouldn’t know what’s wrong with Berkeley’s proposed Measure R if you didn’t recognize the names of those who signed the rebuttal to the ballot argument which pushed it.

No one who has been watching Berkeley politics as long as I have would ever have expected to see Shirley Dean, Dave Blake, Nancy Carleton and Jacquelyn McCormick singing the same tune in perfect harmony. Dean was a stalwart standard bearer of Berkeley’s moderate faction, while Blake and Carleton have always been outspoken progressives. What links them all together is that they genuinely care about what happens to Berkeley, even though they’ve seldom agreed on what the prescription should be.

The ballot question is couched in deliberately vague language, but in plain English what it does is transfer the power to draw council district boundaries from citizens to elected incumbents: in other words, it facilitates gerrymandering by self-interested parties. California just took this power away from the politicians and put it in the hands of a commission which was not only non-partisan, but more important, not politicians, and that’s what we need in Berkeley too. 

Citizens in Berkeley came up with at least six fair and equal plans which would work under the current law to correct population imbalances between existing districts, but the council refused to choose any one of them. The majority (which is controlled by the mayor) pushed for postponing the decision until after the election so that they could take a shot at seizing power for themselves by passing Measure R. 

A bit of fairy dust was sprinkled over the discussion by arguments which claimed that passing the measure would make it possible to design an all-student district, and some students,though by no means all, were suckered by it. Unwary students new to town are now being propositioned to vote for R under that pretext. 

There are two problems with these arguments: (1) there’s no guarantee that even if R passes it would take place. More likely than not, sitting councilmembers would adjust boundaries to suit themselves, particularly because R has a provision that no sitting member can be redistricted out of office; and (2) an all-student district would simply ghettoize the student vote. As it stands now, students are the important swing voters in at least three districts and their needs must be considered by six or more candidates at election time. With most of the student votes lumped into one district, candidates in the other seven districts could happily ignore students. 

And what about the rest of the ballot, just in case you plan to jump the gun and vote next week? Well, we might have more to say about it, but as a start we offer this handy matrix, created by Linda Franklin, to let you know what others think about other choices you'll have on your ballot.