Election 2016: Who is Susan Wengraf?

Photo: Courtesy of Susan Wengraf
Photo: Courtesy of Susan Wengraf

Name: Susan Wengraf

Age: 71

Job: Berkeley City Council, District 6

What office are you are running for? Berkeley City Council, District 6


What is the main reason you are running? I want to continue to represent the needs and concerns of District 6 residents and to bring a rational and civil approach to our city’s governance. I really care about our community and I want District 6 to continue to have strong, progressive representation. The hills have very specific needs that must be addressed. I will advocate for more hills’ police patrols, stronger view protections, more aggressive vegetation management, better emergency vehicle access, safer evacuation routes, improved drainage, and repaved streets. My initiative to underground utility wires must move forward for the safety of our entire city.

Why are you qualified for the position?

Experience: I know District 6. I work with hundreds of district residents responding to their needs and trying to solve their individual and collective neighborhood problems. Some solutions come about quickly; others take years of dedicated attention, such as the undergrounding of utilities.

Temperament: I have a proven record of being a problem solver, consensus builder and a sane, rational and civil voice on the City Council. The reason I am running for re-election is to provide strong representation for the residents of District 6. My reputation speaks to my dedication and commitment. I am patient and respectful, yet persistent in pursuing my goals.

Knowledge: My 18 years serving on the Planning Commission gave me an extensive and comprehensive background on land use law, issues, and tensions and conflicts in our city. I brought to the council a wealth of knowledge about the General Plan, the Zoning Ordinance, and Development Agreements.


Respect: My approach to serving the citizens of the district has earned the respect of my colleagues, organizations, and policy makers throughout the Bay Area. My many, diverse endorsements are evidence of my broad-based support.

What sets you apart from other candidates? Experience, knowledge, commitment, dedication, integrity, and character set me apart from my opponents. I cut my teeth on local politics through more than 30 years of citizen engagement, neighborhood activism, city commissions, and most recently as District Six City Council representative. Because of this broad experience, I am respected for my ability to partner with my colleagues on the City Council, and am known for my effectiveness in accomplishing improvements to our civic life. I ask the hard questions, and am deliberative in my decision making. I am an honest and ethical person. Unlike my opponents, who have knee-jerk, ideological responses to issues, I insist on real data to make fact-based decisions. Unlike my opponents, who try to dupe voters with apocalyptic fictions and have a tenuous relationship with the facts, I don’t lie and do not make promises that I cannot keep. Getting things done at City Hall is a challenge, but I know how to chip away at the bureaucratic resistance to change, and to persevere until I get a desired response. I have learned that change takes time. I try to examine the big picture and I am always considering unintended consequences.

How did you end up in Berkeley? I came to Berkeley in 1969 on a mission to teach deaf children how to express themselves through photography. I accepted a position at a school in El Cerrito teaching children with multiple physical and developmental challenges. I lived in Berkeley on Northside, a few blocks from campus. After awhile, I started teaching gifted children filmmaking. This led to me write a book about films about women, which led me to make a documentary film about folksinger Malvina Reynolds. At that point I met my husband and we settled in North Berkeley, where we raised our two children.

What are the three biggest challenges Berkeley faces in the near future? 

Homelessness: The number of people living on the streets is overwhelming. Berkeley is compassionate and generous and does more for the homeless population than many neighboring cities, but it seems that we are not making progress solving the problem, despite the fact that we fund mental health services, medications, shelters, etc. Many of our chronically homeless are suffering from drug and alcohol addiction; others are suffering from mental illness; others have made a lifestyle decision to live on the street. Whatever the cause, having so many people without shelter who need help in our city is problematic. Our businesses are struggling with the impacts, resulting in people avoiding the commercial areas.


Housing Affordability: The region is struggling with very high housing costs. California’s population is increasing. Supply cannot keep up with demand. People cannot afford to live near their work, and young families cannot afford to purchase homes. High rents, and houses selling for millions, threaten the essence of what we want Berkeley to be… culturally, ethnically and economically diverse. In addition, the University is increasing their enrollment and not providing housing for their incoming freshmen. The demand for housing needs to be addressed in a comprehensive and thoughtful way.

Fiscal Management: Berkeley’s unfunded liabilities are a serious issue. In the1990’s, when California was experiencing economic prosperity, local governments, including Berkeley’s, authorized very generous retirement and health benefits for their employees. This was a near-sighted approach that did not consider the long term liabilities that were being created for future generations. When the Great Recession hit in 2008-2009, every major revenue source declined. CALPERS’ retirement investments suffered serious losses, and unfunded liabilities increased dramatically. That was the legacy that I inherited when I was elected to the City Council at the end of 2008.

What are your ideas to solve them? 

Homelessness: Sustainable, lasting solutions to homelessness take time and resources. A short term and a long term strategy are necessary. Short term, we need to provide adequate shelter beds, hygiene facilities, and social services. By partnering with other cities and pooling resources, we can get this done. Long term, we need to build cost-effective housing and provide support services for those in need. National, state, and county agencies, as well as regional neighbors, need to collaborate to get this accomplished.

Housing: Constructing housing near transit while protecting neighborhoods is my goal. Our zoning needs to provide for transition zones so neighborhood impacts are minimized. With careful and sensitive planning, both goals can be achieved. We need to ensure that new buildings provide at least 20% of their units at below market rents, or that they pay a fee into the Housing Trust Fund to build low income units. In addition, the University needs to be held accountable for providing decent housing for all their freshmen. Admission levels should be based on available UC provided beds. If re-elected, I will insist this be included in the next agreement between UC and the City.

Fiscal Management
• Make cost reductions that won’t impact core services or diminish our quality of life.
• Establish a committee to review the budget from top to bottom.
• Review staffing levels and benefits so we are competitive and appropriately staffed for the services we provide.
• Explore ways to increase revenues without raising taxes. Invest in economic development. Require the University to pay their fair share of services provided.
• Create a dedicated fund for paying down unfunded liabilities. Every million paid off is 5 million less in debt.

Our unfunded liabilities are out of proportion to our revenues. Reducing the long term burden to future generations is a priority.

What is your most inspired/unique idea for Berkeley? My most inspired idea is to create affordable housing for seniors on top of Berkeley’s three low-rise senior centers. Since the City already owns the land, this idea is financially feasible and will allow our valued older adults to stay in Berkeley rather than having to move elsewhere.

How will you be accessible to constituents? I am a full-time representative. If citizens call my office, I will return the call in a timely manner. Residents can also make an appointment to meet with me. I host frequent Town Hall meetings on important issues. I also publish a newsletter with useful information every month. Neighbors invite me to their homes. My office is open and staffed every day when City Hall is open, except for vacation. My job is to serve the residents who elected me to office. That is how I define my position. I take pride in responding to my constituents.

How much money do you expect to spend on your campaign? $40,000

A final thought? Berkeley has many challenges ahead. My experience, my commitment to our community, and my comprehensive and rational understanding of how to get things done are vital to Berkeley’s future. With your collaboration, we can address our city’s most pressing issues. Voters in Berkeley are intelligent and discerning. Don’t be deceived – evaluate the candidates on their proven merits. I ask for your support to continue my work for a better Berkeley.

Ranked choice voting can result in unintended consequences, so mark your ballot for Susan Wengraf only. For more information, please visit my website at wengraf4council.com.

Campaign information

Website: wengraf4council.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/wengraf4council

See past Berkeleyside coverage related to Susan Wengraf. See complete 2016 election coverage on Berkeleyside.