By Julia Hannafin
As the school year winds down and the temperature rises, some members of the Berkeley City Council are setting up shop in popular spots around town to ensure they’re accessible to city residents.
Earlier this month, Councilman Jesse Arreguín hosted his first summer “office hours” at Berkeley’s North Shattuck farmers market, a public meeting he plans to continue to host monthly through the summer.
“Every time I have visited the farmers market in the past I run into many constituents. So I thought, rather than having people come to City Hall to meet me, it would be better to go to a place where people are,” said Arreguín. “I really enjoy the farmers market office hours because I hear from people firsthand who otherwise do not have an opportunity to interact with their representatives.”
Councilman Laurie Capitelli has a similar approach. For years he has hosted a regular event, “Coffee with the Councilmember,” at various locations around his district in North Berkeley. He has held open discussions for constituents at Café Roma, on Hopkins at Monterey, and at neighborhood parks, including the Thousand Oaks Tot Lot, Dorothy Bolte Park and King Park.
According to his aide Pam Gray, Capitelli typically schedules the events every six weeks, and they tend to draw about 20 people. Similar to farmers markets, these locations allow residents a chance to talk one-on-one with their representative in a relaxed atmosphere. According to Gray, it’s also a great venue to get a good group together and spark a spirited conversation.
Councilwoman Susan Wengraf said she has an “open door policy” — she welcomes anyone to come see her at her office whenever they want to discuss any issue or any concerns. Councilwoman Linda Maio said she doesn’t hold office hours; instead, she organizes meetings for specific neighborhoods about four times a year.
“My office identifies a location, develops a draft agenda which we send to our neighborhood lists, and holds the meeting,” said Maio via email. She added, “What Jesse Arreguín did was a good idea. The market is in his district. It’s an idea to think about for a place where many district residents gather.”
Councilman Max Anderson said he and his aide, Charlene Washington, are available any time for office hours; however, he has surgery planned toward the end of the summer and will not be available while recovering. Councilman Darryl Moore said his constituents are welcome to call his office to set up time to meet with him anytime.
Councilman Kriss Worthington said the work comes to him. He said via email, “All year round, a majority of my work is brought to me because I attend many community events most evenings and weekends. At these events people ask us to do things including policy ideas for City Council items and constituent services requests.”
Councilman Gordon Wozniak’s constituents reach him in a variety of ways, whether it be by email, phone or face-to-face meetings. “I typically meet residents at local coffee shops and sometimes at their homes, since it’s easier for residents to meet in the district than to come to City Hall, where they may get a parking ticket,” said Wozniak in a written statement. He also noted he was thinking about beginning “Coffee with the Councilmember” meetings in the fall similar to Capitelli’s.
As for Mayor Bates? He said he frequently attends community events so he’s available for discourse.
Laurie Capitelli’s next “Coffee with the Councilmember” is scheduled to take place June 28 at Café Roma at 1549 Hopkins St. from 8:30-9:30 a.m. Jesse Arreguín is hosting summer “office hours” July 13, at the Downtown Berkeley farmers market on Center and Milvia from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Aug. 8 at the North Shattuck farmers market, on Shattuck and Rose, from 3-6 p.m.
Julia Hannafin is a summer intern at Berkeleyside and a student at Columbia University studying creative writing and American studies. She writes for the music blog The Metropolitan Jolt.
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