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City's Redistricting Heats Up; Inspires a District 1 Challenge to Linda Maio

By Thomas Lord
Friday April 25, 2014 - 09:19:00 AM

Jesse Arreguin and Alejandro Soto-Vigil were guests on KPFA's "Morning Mix" yesterday morning (April 24) and they came out swinging. Allegations emerged of lawbreaking by councilmembers and city staff. The public heard for the first time of a district 1 challenge to Councilmember Linda Maio in this November's election. In the course of the radio discussion, Alejandro Soto-Vigil said that he will run this November in district 1 to unseat Linda Maio. His candidacy is partly in response to Maio's role in the redistricting crisis which Soto-Vigil describes as a threat to democracy in Berkeley. 

Mayor Tom Bates and Vice-Mayor Linda Maio declined an invitation to appear on the program. 

Arreguin and Soto-Vigil were there to discuss a lawsuit brought by the City against its own City Clerk, the County Registrar, three council members, two students, and a handful of Berkeley activists. 

The lawsuit asks the court to partially overturn a successful referendum petition against council district lines selected by the council's dominant faction last December. Controversial district lines known as the "BSDC map" won the votes of Mayor Tom Bates and Councilmembers Capitelli, Maio, Moore, Wengraf, and Wozniak. 

The map drew considerable criticism. Complaints arose that it divided neighborhoods and, significantly, excluded traditionally more progressive student voters from district 7. The map moved student coops and dorms on the north side of campus into district 6 whose voters are overwhelming homeowners with a reputation for being conservative (or, in Berkeley-speak, "moderate") voters. The map replaced students displaced from district 7 with an increase in the number of fraternities in district 7. Critics of the map have alleged that this is an attempt to dilute the vote of Berkeley progressives in a kind of divide and conquer gerrymandering strategy. 

Arreguin, Soto-Vigil and others responded to the new map by circulating a referendum petition against it. Within 30 days over the winter holidays, the petition was able to gather more than 7,800 signatures. Only 5,275 were needed for the petition to succeed. 

Berkeley's Charter requires that, because the petition was successful, the controversial district lines must be suspended from taking effect. The Charter offered the council two options: It could rescind the controversial lines and adopt a compromise map, as council had done in 2002 in an earlier referendum challenge. Or council could place the referendum up for a popular vote in June of 2014. 

Council chose neither option. Instead, the votes to rescind the map or schedule a June vote were delayed until it was too late to place the matter on the June ballot. In a surprise vote on matters not listed on the council agenda, the council's dominant faction voted instead to place the referendum on the November ballot and to hire an attorney to file the present lawsuit. 

If the city's lawsuit is successful, the BSDC map will be used in the November election in spite of the successful referendum petition against it. 

In materials submitted to the court, Soto-Vigil, Arreguin, Councilmember Kriss Worthington, and Cal Student and Council Intern Stefan Elgstrand allege that council's delayed vote violated the City Charter, that votes on matters not on the agenda violated the Brown Act by not allowing for public input, and that city staff unlawfully hired an attorney for the suit months before authorization was provided by council. They further allege that the City deliberately delayed filing the suit, forcing it to be heard on an expedited schedule that is unfair to defendants. 

For such reasons, defendants argue, the dominant faction's request to use the BSDC map in November must not be granted. Instead, defendants point out three alternative maps available for use as well as the possibility of using the 2002 lines, just as they were used in 2012. 

The court's decision is due on April 30th. Oral arguments, open to the public, will be heard the day prior, April 29th, at Department 31 in the Alameda Superior Court in Oakland at 1:30PM. 

Hear the Whole Program

For two weeks, a podcast of the radio show will be available from the Morning Mix Archives: