Public Comment

We Need The Redistricting Referendum

Laurie Chastain with Marcia Poole
Friday July 11, 2014 - 01:28:00 PM

Much pro and con has been written to date about the sad and threatening business of the recent Berkeley redistricting. From one District 7 resident’s vantage point, here is the view: 

Thanks to an unbelievable redistricting hoo-ha, carried out by Mayor Tom Bates, and a majority of five Council members that have been seen to often vote with him on City issues, some District 7 residents found ourselves suddenly inhabiting Districts 6 (Wengraf) and 8 (Wozniak). Our ongoing issues, which our longtime incumbent Councilmember Kriss Worthington is familiar and in process with, would have to be explained and started all over again from scratch, with who knows what results. Even worse, now that we’re no longer District 7, we can’t even vote for Mr. Worthington in the upcoming November elections! 

How did this come about, you may ask? I, for one, am not just sure. I hear people around me say the same: how did this happen? 

Especially considering that nearly 8000 Berkeley residents disliked this sudden change enough to sign a referendum to halt the newly proposed “BSDC” map until it could be publicly voted upon, or alternative maps could be considered. These nearly 8000 signatures were gathered over the Christmas holidays (2013) – not the easiest time for signature-gathering.  

It seems clear that there was a general assumption by the authors of and participators in this referendum that once legally validated, therefore successful, the district shift would be halted until it could be voted upon, or alternative district maps considered. The Berkeley City Charter has this to say about a successful referendum: “…such ordinance shall not go into effect or become operative unless a majority of the qualified electors voting on the same shall vote in favor thereof.” So it does not seem an unreasonable assumption. 

Mayor Bates ( flatly refused to consider alternative maps, despite an initial public process in which opposition from neighborhood groups, progressives and students was strongly voiced. The reason finally given for turning them all down was “lateness” in coming up with the alternatives. 

Instead of accepting any of the “late” alternatives (and how many times has the Council continued a question until some later date, again?), Mayor Bates and the Council majority had an alternative of their own. 

One thing that no-one was expecting was a lawsuit by the City against the referendum authors and “parties” to it, including the officials who in good faith validated the referendum, and more than one of the people who worked on and circulated the petitions, believing they were exercising their lawful right to protest a governing body’s decision, in the correctly mandated fashion. 

While it surely had its legal excuses, the suit’s biggest effect has been to chill dissent against Mayor Bates’s preferences for Berkeley. 

Many have objected to the suit as a violation of the Brown Act, citing the lack of public transparency required by the Brown Act. The Council’s decision to hire public attorneys to handle the City’s suit, and to put the referendum on the November ballot, said Attorney Richard Miadich ( of Olson, Hagel & Fishburn, attorneys concerned about the Brown Act violations of the Mayor and Council majority), “were never publicly identified” before the documents themselves abruptly appeared, thus violating both the Brown Act and the City Charter. 

I’m not an attorney, but I think this means that we, the public, are supposed to hear about these things before the rules change. 

When this suit went to the Alameda County Superior Court, presided over by Judge Evilio Grillo, it did so at the eleventh hour. Judge Grillo decided that the defendants were guilty AND that the BSDC map (which the electorate had not had a chance to vote on yet) would be the one used in the upcoming November elections. This decision was handed down on April 29th. The County Registrar had to know which map would be used in the election on April 30th

Finally, there will be no appeal to this decision. The defendants cannot afford the costs of appealing the decision. 

So, done deal, looks like, to me. 

So this is how it was managed that we District 7 residents can no longer vote back in our longtime incumbent, and he loses much of his voting block right before the election. 

What we can still do is refuse this cutting a legal wheedle around due process that Berkeley seems to be suffering from lately, by voting against the “BSDC” map in November. 

Please just say no to gerrymandering, cherry picking the law, and the evading of due process in Berkeley. Let’s have an honest look at our proposed changes and their real consequences, before we accept a redistricting proposal that will change our realities so radically. Vote the BSDC map down. 

We don’t want the illusion of democracy, in this home of the Free Speech Movement. 

We want the real thing. 

Writer Laurie Chastain is now a former District 7 resident, as is Marcia Poole, who contributed to this piece.