Why Berkeley Voters Should Say "No" to Measure S

Becky O'Malley
Friday October 24, 2014 - 10:02:00 AM

Today I’m back on the same topic I ranted on briefly last Sunday. That would be Berkeley ballot Measure S, the one that asks you if you support the outrageous gerrymander that Mayor Bates and his docile council majority foisted on the city at the last possible moment to fulfill their decennial obligation to create new boundaries for the council districts. The answer, of course, is No, No, a thousand times NO.

If you hadn’t figured that out already the bad behavior of the scheme’s supporters should be enough to make up your mind. On Sunday I pointed out that in flagrant violation of the applicable law they’d paid some idiot to staple a whole bunch of “Yes” signs on every telephone pole for many blocks along Ashby/Tunnel. They’re probably elsewhere as well.

Two points:

(1) It’s illegal to nail signs to wooden telephone poles.

(2) Even if it were legal, it would be annoying. We had six (6) plasticized signs in front of our house alone, four on one pole and two on the other. Ugly.

This is no way to make friends. I strongly suspect that some flunky was hired to post X number of signs, and no one bothered to tell him where he should put them. (Prejudice admission: I generally use the male pronoun when clueless errors are involved.) I’ve seen not a single pro-S sign posted in anyone’s home yard.

And now the Yes-on-S gang has been caught in another egregious mistake: claiming participation from the League of Women Voters in their ballot arguments. Wrong. Didn't happen. 

You just never mess with the LWV unless you want your hat handed to you. They don’t fool around.  

We haven’t even gotten to what’s wrong with the measure itself. It’s in the form of a referendum, which means it takes an ordinance passed by the council and asks if voters think it should become law. This is a confusing process, so if you’re confused yourself it’s no surprise. In order to get this question on the ballot, citizens had to get thousands of signatures of registered voters.  

It is generally conceded that the motivation for the lines as drawn was Mayor Bates’s blatant dislike of District 7 Councilmember Kriss Worthington. The smokescreen for this maneuver was the assertively supported theory that a district should be created where students would have a majority, not just the 80+% that they already commanded, but 90% and more.  

There are a couple of problems with this logic. In the first place, District 7 already had a strong student majority, and the students there have consistently supported Worthington, who has appointed many students to city boards and commissions. And also, conveniently enough, the new district boundaries excise the left-leaning student co-ops and dorms, leaving the rowdily conservative fraternities as the dominant student residences in the new configuration. 

City officials (using your tax money for an outside lawyer, thank you very much) took the case to court after the requisite number of signatures had been filed. Councilmembers could have withdrawn the disputed ordinance, but instead they ignored compromise overtures from referendum backers and filed a suit against the process. They got a preliminary trial court ruling that the new district lines could be used at least through the November election, so even if the redistricting ordinance is eventually overturned at the polls, Worthington has been forced to run in the new district. Referendum proponents didn’t have the money for the appeal which they probably would have won.  

But guess what? After all the Sturm-und-Drang about the pressing need for a 90+% student district, no student bothered to run against Worthington in the revised District 7. It’s likely that one reason no student filed in this race is because the areas where most student activists actually live were gerrymandered out of the district.  

The best candidate the Mayor’s faction could come up with was a guy who had been a student once upon a time (but weren’t we all?). Now he’s the PR spokesman for the Blue Shield health insurance corporation, not a popular institution with anyone who’s tangled with them. 

If Measure S is defeated, the Council gets a do-over, a chance to adopt a fairer plan. It’s just possible they will reach a more sensible conclusion when District 8 Councilmember Gordon Wozniak has retired, as he plans to do after this term.  

The only two major contributors to the Yes-on-S campaign war chest reported on the Berkeley City Clerk’s website as of October 18 were Wozniak at $1000 and Kristin Hunziker, his niece and longtime aide, a major architect of the council-passed redistricting, at $1600. She now lists her own occupation as “student” on the campaign finance report—could that be a hint about some future plans to run for office in a revamped District 7?  

Will November voters (many of whom have already started voting by mail though it’s only October) have the sense to vote down the unfair district lines proposed in Measure S? It’s a city-wide vote, not limited to affected District 7 residents. Can city voters remember that if you don’t like what’s offered in the ballot measure you should vote “no”? 

The juvenile mnemonic I came up with last week should help, though I’m a bit embarrassed to repeat it: S stands for “Stupid”—vote “No” on “Stupidity”, No on S. Cheesy, maybe, but at least I can remember it myself.