Name: Deborah Matthews
Job: Educator, real estate broker
What office are you are running for? Berkeley City Council, District 3
What is the main reason you are running? I am a mother, educator & realtor who has lived and worked in South and West Berkeley for over 30 years. As a proud, long-time resident, I have seen first-hand the immense transformation Berkeley has undergone over the past several decades. I am acutely aware of the issues our community faces, the dire need for low & middle income housing, workforce and inclusionary housing city wide- without displacement, ending gun violence, creating jobs and ending human trafficking. That’s what motivates me to wade into the sometimes contentious work of city government. The change we need. The leadership we deserve.
Why are you qualified for the position? For more than 24 years, I have overseen many of Berkeley’s housing and commercial projects focused in south and west Berkeley and am currently the Vice Chair of the Planning Commission. I have served as the Chair of the Zoning Adjustment Board, Chair of the Housing Commission and on the Board of Directors of the Downtown Berkeley YMCA and U.C. Berkeley Wesley House Board of Directors. As a commissioner I championed the Ed Roberts Campus, Tarea Hall Pittman South Berkeley Library, Bio Fuel Oasis, rid drugs and loitering in front of liquor store locations along South Shattuck Ave and Sacramento Street…are important successful improvements for our community and for our safety.
I also hold a Board of Directors’ seat on Oakland and The World Enterprises a non profit organization located in West Oakland, where my team is currently serving as the Project Development Lead for approximately 55 units of 100% low income housing for the formerly incarcerated and the working poor. We have also created a flourishing organic garden that sells produce to area businesses called “”West Oakland Farms”” which employs those most in need of income, work and acknowledgement for their positive effort to become responsible community members.
What sets you apart from other candidates? My commission accomplishments show that I am not here to make empty promises but that I have a proven track record of success and the tools necessary to achieve the goals I have set out. I will work hard to create more affordable housing, to keep and retain long-term residents of our community, to get more police on the beat in South Berkeley. I will fight to end violence against women and provide greater focus on protection! We must address our homeless community with compassion. I have prepared meals to feed 30 -50 homeless people from my own kitchen for 30 years, I believe in providing housing first, no one can heal on the street. Instead of making the housing dependent on work training or getting into a treatment program let’s offer shelter. Too often, homeless people have to “earn” their way into housing, when it’s so hard to make progress on mental health or addiction or employment issues without stable housing. I have reached out to Lava Mae, a San Francisco–based nonprofit that re-purposes buses into showers and toilets for the homeless. It doesn’t address the need for housing, but it gives dignity as well as hygiene.
How did you end up in Berkeley? At the age of 25 I made the decision I wanted to leave the severe climate of frigid winters often experienced in my midwest home. It was with mixed feelings that I left my entire family of loving relatives who had embraced and provided me with guiding light since birth, as I headed west to explore sunny warm California. However one day in the San Francisco Bay Area was enough to win my heart, the amazing ocean coastline of natural beauty, diversity of people, creativity and artistic expression interwoven with academic brilliance and “How Berkeley Can You Be.”
What are the three biggest challenges Berkeley faces in the near future?
Housing: In the past several decades, we’ve seen striking transformation of neighborhoods in Berkeley, but South Berkeley has not shared in that prosperity. We have an opportunity to build new housing stock and revitalize the Adeline Corridor, supporting greater economic prosperity for small businesses and creating new job opportunities for local residents; but we must do so without displacing long-term residents or threatening the diversity and cultural history of the community. I’m thrilled that, after 20 years of delays, we recently broke ground on Harper Crossing, which will provide 42 homes for low-income seniors.
Crime: Crime continues to be a pressing concern for South Berkeley. Too many community members don’t feel safe in their neighborhood. The recent shootings in South Berkeley make that clear. We must provide services to at-risk youth before they become involved with the criminal justice system. It is demonstrably more cost-effective and efficient to engage in prevention, and in intervention, than to wait until youth have begun to offend.
Police/community relations: I want to acknowledge the progress that the Berkeley Police Department has made on diversity, and on training more officers in crisis intervention. Yet there continues to be an uneasy relationship between communities of color and the police. We can do more. The young civil rights leaders of this moment are speaking out–Black Lives Matter. We have a responsibility here in Berkeley, as the city whose hallmark is diversity, to address these issues. I support bringing back the beat cop, walking neighborhood streets. Police officers who walk a regular beat have a greater opportunity to build rapport and trust in the community.
What are your ideas to solve them?
Housing: Berkeley is making huge strides in building new housing downtown and along transit corridors. But we still aren’t keeping pace with our growth in population, or with the need for affordable housing. We’re experiencing a rare moment in Berkeley politics — everyone agrees we need more affordable housing. The issue is how and where. I support the broad focus of the city’s Housing Action Plan to make it less expensive to add “in-law units” and to create incentives for landlords who rent to Section-8 tenants. Current housing policy would increase the percentage of affordable units in new projects from 10 percent to 20 percent, or allow developers to pay a mitigation fee of $34,000 into the Housing Trust Fund. I support increasing that percentage of affordable housing to 30 percent citywide over the next 10 to 15 years and requiring affordable housing in every new development. That’s ambitious, but possible.
Hand in hand with development of affordable housing is minimizing home displacement. We need to address displacement as we approach any new project. I support making inclusionary housing a requirement of every new development until significant progress is made. Another key is developing jobs and economic opportunities in Berkeley, so the people can afford to live near where they work.
Crime and police/community relations: The Richmond Police reduced crime by 30 percent over 10 years. Some of their strategies can inform our work here in Berkeley.
Their approach is to involve all the police officers in community policing — taking steps so officers get to know residents and participate in school and other community events. They’ve retrained officers in communications skills and effectively interacting with people of different cultures. The force there is now 60 percent people of color, much closer to reflecting the community they serve.
What is your most inspired/unique idea for Berkeley? To address homelessness with compassion. I have reached out to Lava Mae, a San Francisco–based nonprofit that re-purposes buses into showers and toilets for the homeless. It doesn’t address the need for housing, but it gives dignity as well as hygiene to people in need.
How will you be accessible to constituents? I brought to my commission and board work an ability to listen, to stay focused on solutions, and to welcome participation of people with different viewpoints. I will bring that civil, solution-focused approach to the city council. That includes always being accessible to my constituents – through neighborhood meetings, email, and social media. Communication with the residents of South Berkeley will be a two-way street. I want to hear from them, and I will keep them apprised of my activities on the council. When constituents contact me, I will be responsive to their requests, suggestions, and concerns.
How much money do you expect to spend on your campaign? $25,000, a grassroots campaign
A final thought? Berkeley has transformed over the last 20 years, however our South Berkeley community has not always shared in that growth. Nor have the changes always created sustainable, equitable living for all Berkeley residents.
On November 8, 2016, we will vote in a crucial election for our city’s future. It’s time for a new vision and community experience to lead south Berkeley. I will bring a forward-thinking inclusive, equitable, sustainable and diverse vision to the city council; providing greater economic growth for all and a better future in our community. I would be honored to have your vote.