BERKELEY -- On Nov. 6 residents will vote on a measure allowing the City Council to redraw districts for its eight members, which could result in the future election of a UC Berkeley student.
If Measure R passes, the process of drawing districts would change from a template drawn in 1986 to one that allows for "cohesiveness" of neighborhoods and "communities of interest."
Some of the most vocal backers of Measure R are UC Berkeley students, whose neighborhoods around the university are broken into four separate council districts.
Students have said that situation has prohibited them from getting enough votes to elect one of their own to the council.
The city is required by its charter to redraw the lines in 2013 regardless of whether the measure passes.
The last time a student was elected to City Council was when state Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner got a seat in 1984. At that time there were no districts in the city and she garnered enough student support to get elected.
After the districts were redrawn in 1986, the area around the university was broken into four districts, which diluted their voting power.
"I think students are a legitimate part of the community," Skinner said, addressing the issue a year ago in September when students brought a plan to the city to redraw the districts. "As it is now, students can't unite as a force to influence outcomes."
Aryndel Lamb-Marsh, 22, president of the student group Berkeley Common Cause, agreed with Skinner and is listed in campaign materials as being in favor of the measure.
He said the south side of the UC Berkeley campus where most of the students live, which is broken into two council districts, could be made into one student-dominated council district.
"Right now the downtown area south of campus is generally considered its own neighborhood, but it is split between two districts," Lamb-Marsh said. "(The measure) could affect voters positively in the sense that districts will be more logical by better representing local group cohesion."
But mayoral candidate Jacquelyn McCormick, who is listed in campaign materials as being against the measure, said the problem with Measure R is that "the City Council can draw the lines wherever they damn well please. Sure they can say we're going to invite the public in for comment, but it's still not a community process."
McCormick said another problem is that some City Council members in a majority could conspire to draw another out of a districtwhere he or she lives, and put that person out of office. Or, she argued, council members could redraw lines that put two current council members in one district and make them run against each other in the next election.
"Something could happen so that the majority on council could be maintained to the current leadership's liking or they could put the students in three or four different districts as they are now," McCormick said.
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.