With less than a week left, the Berkeley Referendum Coalition has been working tirelessly to gather the 5275 signatures needed in order to put a ballot measure up for vote to decide on Berkeley’s controversial redistricting map adopted last December. The map adopted in December incorporates new boundaries for District 7 that includes a student majority, a measure that would allow a student to possibly be elected to the city council. However, the map leaves out student co-ops, some dorms, and seminaries.
An alternative map called the United Student District Amendment that includes these constituents was brought forth late in the proceedings last year, but the City Council ultimately approved the original Berkeley Student District Campaign map.
The January 21st deadline is just days away, and those working on the referendum campaign has faced a difficult road over the past month. The Council approved of the redistricting just before the holidays and student break, which made it even harder to get the needed signatures. Stefan Elgstand, a UC Berkeley senior and creator of the USDA map, says he worked through his winter break in order to push this referendum through. Even with many folk away, volunteers like Elgstand have turned up in large numbers. This past weekend, dozens of people were out on the streets in the morning and afternoon canvassing.
Those organizing on the referendum campaign primarily feel that redistricting map approved does not truly fairly address the need to create a student majority district. The effort is backed by Berkeley’s leading progressives on the Council, Jesse Arreguin and Chris Worthington.
Elgstrand said, “They increased the amount of fraternities and sororities in the student district which tend to be more conservative students. Virtually ninety-nine percent of them are in there. By doing that, they kicked out the Northside area which has co-ops, dorms, more progressive students.”
The approved plan has been called a blatant effort at gerrymandering, a political tool used to create political boundaries that favor a certain sect of voters. This point has been made clear by the opposition who believe that a student majority can still be obtained without neglecting co-op and dorms.
Should the redistricting map approved stand, it would have profound effects for the future of Berkeley politics, likely creating a more conservative City Council.
With so much at stake, the referendum has garnered widespread support. Groups like SEIU Local 1021 and Veterans for Peace Chapter 162 offered their endorsements over the weekend, joining others such as Cal Dems and Berkeley Tenants Union.
Elgstrand says that he is hopeful that the referendum will reach the threshold needed, although only a little over 3000 signatures had been collected through last weekend. He expects more to arrive closer to the deadline, but time is running short.