Berkeley redistricting commission picks new city council map

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On Monday, the Berkeley Independent Redistricting Commission selected this map for the new city council districts. It keeps the district borders that Berkeley has since 2014 largely intact, with some tweaks meant to smooth out the sometimes awkward boundary lines of the current map. Credit: City of Berkeley

Voters who live aboard houseboats in the Berkeley Marina will have a new representative on the city council. So will those in a few corners of South and North Berkeley, and parts of the Willard and LeConte neighborhoods.

For most residents, however, the decade-long effort to redraw the lines of Berkeley City Council districts will not change how they are represented in local government.

The Independent Commission for Redistricting the city on Monday unanimously selected a new municipal map which essentially keeps the neighborhoods that Berkeley has been using since 2014 intact, with some tweaks to simplify their borders. Although the commission considered making more significant changes earlier in its process, members said they heard little public interest in these options.

“While no map is perfect, the final map complies with all applicable laws and reflects the many contributions we received,” the commission wrote in a draft report it is expected to send to city council later. this month. “We are grateful to all Berkeley residents who took the time to understand and contribute to the process.”

This round of redistricting, which is based on the 2020 census, marked the first time an independent commission — rather than city council members — decided on the boundaries. Voters overwhelmingly approved a move to create the commission in 2016, after a years-long battle over the previous redistricting effort.

The municipal council is required to adopt the plan chosen by the commission. Unless the process is unexpectedly derailed, the new boundaries will go into effect in November, when seats representing Districts 1, 4, 7 and 8 are on the ballot.

Map of Berkeley City Council wards
Berkeley City Council’s current districts include several oddly shaped borders, particularly in Districts 4 and 7, due to rules from the latest redistricting process prohibiting changes that would “attract” incumbent council members. The new boundaries aim to iron out those awkward dividing lines. Credit: City of Berkeley

The new map’s most apparent change from the current one is in its use of major streets and census tracts as district boundaries in an effort to make those boundaries more logical. The rules of the earlier redistricting process required that sitting council members could not be “removed” from the areas they represented, leading to oddly shaped borders drawn to ensure that the homes of those members were still part of their districts. Although the commissioners were instructed to disregard council member addresses this time around, the map they chose does not cut off any current members from their districts.

Dubbed the “Amber Map” in the color-coded set of drafts the commission unveiled earlier this year, commissioner Sherry Smith told a meeting in January that public comments were “overwhelmingly” in favor of design.

Although this redistricting process was much less controversial than the previous one, it is end in disappointment for some supporters who hoped the new map would create a second neighborhood where the vast majority of residents are renters.

Ben Gould, former candidate for city council and member of the group Berkeley Neighbors for Housing and Climate Action, lobbied the commission to redesign District 4, which includes downtown, to add the student-heavy Northside neighborhood near UC Berkeley. Gould argues that current neighborhood boundaries limit the power of tenants and students in these neighborhoods by dividing them into two neighborhoods, each comprising areas with a high concentration of older homeowners. Northside’s tenant power is diluted, he argued, by the fact that District 6 also covers much of the Berkeley Hills. And downtown Berkeley landlords, he said, tend to wield more power in District 4 than downtown tenants thanks to their higher turnout in local elections.

Gould ran twice to represent District 4 against Councilwoman Kate Harrison, with housing policy a key issue in each race, and his proposal could have reshaped the district politically. Supporters who want Berkeley to dramatically increase production of new homes, often referred to by the acronym YIMBY, or “Yes In My Back Yard,” have criticized Harrison for voting against some development proposals and argue that she sought to block the construction of necessary housing. ; Harrison denies the charge, saying during the campaign that Gould would be too lenient with developers. Gould acknowledged that the new design he proposed for the neighborhood could benefit someone of his political allegiance – conventional wisdom holds that renters are more likely than owners to support efforts to stimulate housing construction.

“I was trying to draw a neighborhood that represented a community of interest that was divided,” Gould wrote in a text message. “While I anticipated this would likely result in a (more) YIMBY neighborhood, I honestly just wanted better representation for downtown and other younger tenants.”

Harrison declined to comment on Gould’s efforts. She pointed to the fact that nearly 80% of residents in the current iteration of District 4 are renters – second only to District 7, which was established as a student-majority headquarters and covers neighborhoods south of UC. Berkeley.

“I have the most mixed neighborhood in the whole city,” Harrison said, in terms of housing stock and share of renters and owners.

A handful of speakers at a redistricting committee in January backed plans for a second tenant district, although other members of the public said they were against it. Gould argues that the commission’s map projects never effectively visualized his proposal, leading to lukewarm support.

Elisabeth Watson, the chair of the commission, declined to comment for this story. But in its draft report, the commissioners wrote that “a significant majority of community input” favored maps with a single, majority student district.

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