Alejandro Soto-Vigil, city Rent Board commissioner and aide to Councilman Kriss Worthington, has filed to run for Berkeley City Council in District 1. He is the sole challenger to incumbent Linda Maio, who has occupied the seat since 1992.
Soto-Vigil said he is running to burst what he calls the “bubble” of the current council.
“I think I could take the bubble out, and bridge people who are on the ground to council,” said Soto-Vigil, who grew up in Richmond and graduated from UC Berkeley and the UDC David A. Clarke School of Law in Washington, D.C. “I want to know what the pulse is of the people.”
If elected, Soto-Vigil said he would continue to advocate for the policies he has supported as a member of the Rent Board’s tenant slate for two years — a “Robin Hood” tax on landlords’ gross rent to boost the Housing Trust Fund, and an increase of the affordable housing mitigation fee — but would have a better chance of realizing them at the dais, he said.
“You have a limited scope of power to do things” on the Rent Board, he said.
Soto-Vigil’s platform also emphasizes environmental responsibility. In June he worked with a group of West Berkeley homeowners who claim the Berkeley Asphalt & Ready Mix plant has violated its use permit by emitting excess odors and noise. If elected to council, he would advocate for the installation of air monitoring stations throughout the city.
“We talk about the Climate Action Plan. What are we really doing with that?” said Soto-Vigil, who co-founded the environmental advocacy organization Richmond Progressive Alliance. “Why don’t we have solar panels on our city buildings? Come on. Do we have charging stations for electric vehicles all over town? No. My kids are going to grow up in an environment where our resources are scarce.”
Soto-Vigil lives with his wife and their two young children. His son is a student at Malcolm X Elementary School.
“One of the unique perspectives I’ll bring to the council is of the family,” he said. “I think they’re so disconnected from the daily grind of what parents go through.”
2020 Vision, the city’s plan to address racial inequity in the school system, is not sufficiently effective because the council is not “in the trenches, in the schools, talking to school teachers, talking to the classified staff and saying, ‘What is it that you really need from the city?’” Soto-Vigil said.
The candidate said he — like many parents of young kids — moved to Berkeley for the good schools and beautiful parks.
He condemned the council for failing to put a Mello-Roos combined bond and tax measure on the November ballot, which would have dedicated $19 million to park improvements. Maio initially supported the combined measure, which would have given $1.5 million to James Kenney Park in District 1, but voted later for a tax only.
Soto-Vigil’s election would end his five-year stint working for Worthington.
“What I’ve learned from Kriss is how to fight for people who haven’t been allowed to walk through the door,” said Soto-Vigil, who would work full-time as a council member if elected. Council members earn about $30,000 a year. (If he loses, he has another two years on his term on the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board.) “And how to keep our door open and foster leadership. When I’m sitting there every day, [Maio’s] door is shut 80% of the time every day. That’s the kind of fiscal responsibility I think is lacking.”
Like Worthington, Soto-Vigil said he would run a robust internship program for local students, and would like to see something similar instated throughout city government.
“It doesn’t make sense that we have all these young folks that don’t have opportunities,” he said. “It really pisses me off. We have a city bureaucracy here that needs help.”
Soto-Vigil insists that he never aspired to run for office. He said the final push came from two 2012 ballot measures he adamantly opposed — Measure T, which would have changed zoning in West Berkeley to allow construction of large developments, and Measure S, which would have banned sitting on the sidewalk in Berkeley’s commercial districts.
“Both of those really affected me personally, in my heart,” Soto-Vigil said.
Referring to Measure S, he said, “I don’t think we should create any policies that are targeted toward poor people, and cite them. That’s completely out of bounds from my values and, I think, the values of Berkeley, and I think the voters showed that. When I heard Linda Maio saying, ‘I support this’ — living in her district, I said, ‘That’s not who I want representing me.’ I said, ‘Maybe I should run for council.’”
Maio said she is not yet familiar with Soto-Vigil’s platform, but said her history on the council speaks for itself.
“What I have is a track record,” she said. “I have a track record on the environment, on neighborhoods, on safety, on parks, on gun dealers. I have a long track record of actually performing, so that’s what I run on.”
The incumbent’s immediate priorities this term would be implementing a sugar-sweetened beverage tax, which will be on the November ballot, and continuing to work with other cities to prevent the shipment of crude oil on Union Pacific on railway tracks through Berkeley. Maio said she would also focus on watershed improvements and preserving the habitat at Aquatic Park.
District 1 includes part of the West Berkeley “flatlands,” stretching from the Albany border to University Avenue, and encompasses the waterfront.
Among his other work, Soto-Vigil was also integral in the drive for a referendum to fight redistricting lines adopted by the Berkeley City Council in December. In April, a judge ruled against alternatives Soto-Vigil favored, and in favor of the council-majority-approved map, which had been suspended by the referendum. In November, the lines adopted by council will be used by voters, who will have a chance to decide whether that map will be used going forward, or whether the process will have to begin again.
Berkeley asphalt plant emissions dangerous say residents (06.12.14)
Sid Lakireddy sues rent board candidates for libel (05.30.13)
Rent Board candidate accuses Capitelli aide of trespassing (11.06.12)
Two slates fight for seats on the Rent Stabilization board (10.22.12)
Berkeleyside publishes many articles every day. To see all our stories in chronological order, and read ones you may have missed, check out our All the News grid.