City Council Turns Attention to Redistricting and General Plan, Again





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Although the Berkeley City Council is no stranger to controversy, the last four months have been turbulent-even by Berkeley standards.

The symbolic measure regarding the U.S. bombing in Afghanistan, passed by the council in October, exposed the city, yet again to a scornful national audience.

Approved solely by the council's slim left-leaning majority, the actual resolution simply asked for a swift conclusion to the bombing.

But at the same time, a more substantial game of redrawing the city's council districts was being bitterly played out by the left wing progressives and the more centrist moderates.

Mandated by the city's charter, the districts must be adjusted to reflect population shifts reflected in the 2000 census.

Under normal circumstances, the redistricting would have concluded last Fall, but the reapportionment process last year was far from typical. New boundaries that had been passed by the council were only a month later nullified by a successful signature drive sparked by the controversial redistricting plan.

"I feel really excited that we were able to work with a bunch of Berkeley people to stop an unfair redistricting plan," said centrist Councilmember Polly Armstrong who helped organize the signature drive. "That was the highlight of the fall for me."

With four council members up for re-election in November, both sides have a lot riding on the way the districts are reshaped.

The now obsolete boundaries, like the Afghanistan resolution, were approved only by the left-leaning faction of the council, with the centrists all voting against it. The centrists claimed the plan was the result of devious, possibly illegal, closed-door deals.

The left-leaning council members, however, have said the opposition was simply an effort to preserve antiquated boundaries, which they say favor the centrists.

The council is now new seeking redistricting plan submissions, and is gearing up for another round of lengthy hearings as the entire process begins again this spring.

But in essence, redistricting has become a battle over who gets stuck with several thousand uncounted, politically active UC Berkeley students in their districts.

Although students have traditionally supported left-leaning Councilmember Kriss Worthington, students tend to be more pro-development than progressives-giving both council factions reason to resist the addition of the uncounted student voters to their districts.

In the next month, the U.S. Census Bureau is slated to issue a revised census count. It is doubtful that any people will be added to the count, however, there may be significant changes to the distribution.

Redistricting may take a back seat to the city's financial welfare, however, when the results of a budget review are released in February. City officials fear that because of the economic slowdown, the city may be faced with having to make budget cuts.

"I am concerned that we have some economic stability as we pay for the very high level of (city) services," said Mayor Shirley Dean.

Economic woes may not bode well for a push to bolster Berkeley's police force, which is gaining momentum following a rash of robberies last fall.

Dean said she had been told many "stories from residents about their fears about being assaulted on city streets."

Even if money is available, the push to add more police officers is likely to face strong resistance from longtime residents wary of bolstering the force because of past indiscretions by the department.

The council will also continue approving parts of the General Plan, a document three years in the making that outlines city growth for at least the next ten years.

The City Council approved in December three sections of the plan that address housing, transportation, and land use.

The housing part of the plan was a particularly divisive issue, as the council's two factions clashed over the amount of development that should be permitted in the city. Both sides, however, agreed on the need for more affordable housing.

"In spite of enormous resistance and stalling tactics we succeeded in passing the first three elements," said Councilmember Kriss Worthington.

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