Early voting began Monday, Feb. 6, for downtown Berkeley residents who want a say in who will represent them on the City Council.
Former district Councilman Jesse Arreguín was elected mayor of the city in November after longtime Mayor Tom Bates stepped down, leaving an open seat on council until the election takes place. The two candidates on the ballot are Kate Harrison and Ben Gould.
In January, candidates faced off in a televised forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Berkeley Albany and Emeryville. In response to questions from moderator Preston Jordan, a member of the league board, they shared views on development, homelessness, infrastructure, Alta Bates and more.
Harrison said she wants to see “balanced development in Berkeley,” do more to protect the environment, and believes the city can “do better” in terms of the building that does happen. She said she thinks the city can also provide the services it offers at lower costs.
Gould say his focus would be to help create a “vibrant walkable city with access to abundant transit and biking infrastructure,” and is concerned about housing availability. He said he’d like to get more of the homeless into shelters, and wants to increase the city’s resilience to natural disasters.
Moderator Jordan asked both candidates to say more about their positions on housing. Gould said he wants to see housing with more transit access through the city and downtown. Harrison said, though she is “not against market-rate housing,” she has concerns about the impacts of development on neighbors, and that the city should pay close attention to setbacks, light and noise, and architectural integrity for all proposed projects.
Harrison said, though she herself was able to live near campus when she studied at UC Berkeley, more should be done now “to limit some of the growth from the university.” She also said she is concerned about some of the “large-scale” development happening “in our neighborhoods.”
Gould took a different approach, and said the city of Berkeley will benefit as the university grows. The real question, he added, is how the city can help UC grow, and work to shape that growth, and how UC expansion will impact the city in return. Gould said there should be more housing downtown and in the Northside neighborhood to ensure university growth happens “in a way that works best for everybody.”
Gould said there won’t be enough housing in Berkeley if the city only focuses on affordable housing, and that market-rate housing must have a place, too.
Harrison talked about protections for rent control, and the need to limit short-term rentals such AirBNB properties.
Moving on to homelessness, Harrison said the way to fix it is to provide more housing. She said, regarding those experiencing homelessness, for “many of them, that is the entire problem they face.” She said, too, she is not in favor of building “extreme tall buildings” at BART, though some housing at the stations would be good.
Gould said addressing homelessness needs a regional approach, in which Berkeley must take a leadership role, and that he is in favor of “across the board all-income housing.”
On the question of infrastructure, in relation to the recently approved T1 bond measure, Gould said he’d like to see Civic Center Park revitalized, including improvements to the fountain and an extension of the farmers market into the park.
Harrison said she’d like to see more permeable paving in the city to improve impacts of wastewater run-off on the city’s aging sewers.
On the question of what distinguishes the candidates from each other, Gould, 25, said he has had a life-long commitment to the city. He grew up in Berkeley and went to Berkeley schools.
“I take a really strong approach to using data, and reality-based information,” he said.
Harrison, 58, said what sets her apart is “a sense of empathy for the people who are here today,” adding: “It’s not all about the big ideas.”
The candidates also spoke briefly about the closure of Alta Bates hospital.
Harrison said she would like the city to approve a zoning overlay that would limit the types of uses on site.
“Alta Bates is not yet closing,” she said. “We cannot allow this hospital to leave.”
Gould said he is not in favor of the overlay because that could open the city up to a lawsuit.
“I don’t think the answer is necessarily picking a fight with Sutter,” Gould said, adding that a different medical organization might be a better fit for Berkeley in the end anyway. He said, he does, however, want to see the city with robust medical services.
Harrison said she is in favor of the “deep green” building standards put forward by Mayor Jesse Arreguín and District 5 Councilwoman Sophie Hahn. She said the city must focus on environmental growth, and add more staff to help with those issues.
“This is not a challenge we can put off. Our planet is dying,” she said.
She said she would not support the sidewalk ordinances approved by council last year, and that the city needs to help the homeless on a case-by-case basis: “I want to separate problematic street behavior from homelessness,” she said, adding that the city already has adequate rules on the books to address any problems that occur. She also made a point to say she does not support “early morning raids” on homeless camps.
Gould said his focus would be to “make sure our public services are welcoming and accessible to everybody,” as far as parks, sidewalks and other public spaces. Everybody should follow the same rules, he said, noting that he can’t set up a tent on public land, and others shouldn’t be able to either.
Last week, the Progressive Student Association — founded in 2015 as “UC Berkeley Students for Bernie Sanders” — filed a complaint with the city alleging campaign violations on Gould’s part. They said he failed to include “Ben Gould for Council 2017” on electronic advertisements, which is required by law. The group said Gould also failed, during his 2016 mayoral run, to list himself among donors on his campaign materials: “Violating either one of these is a disqualifiable offenses [sic] (including a prohibition on running for four years) under the law.”
Gould replied that he is “proud to be running an all-volunteer grassroots campaign, supported by over 60 small donors and hundreds of District 4 residents,” adding, “If my campaign made any mistake, it was in good faith, and we will work diligently with the Fair Campaign Political Practices Commission to address it.”
He called the demand that he be disqualified from the race “a shocking departure from progressive principles”: “Berkeley’s election laws are intended to encourage democratic participation by everyday people — not suppress it. I’m appalled that the Progressive Student Alliance would seek to disenfranchise the hundreds of Berkeley neighbors that support my vision by attempting to bully a fellow progressive student out of the race.”
In January, Gould received about $4,000 contributions from 31 people, including former West Berkeley Councilman Darryl Moore, former Berkeley Councilman Gordon Wozniak, and sitting North Berkeley Councilwoman Susan Wengraf. He’d already collected about $8,500 in donations, in 2016, from more than 30 people, including sitting Berkeley Councilwoman Lori Droste. Some donors gave to the campaign in both 2016 and 2017. Nearly $3,000 of his 2016 fundraising came through an allocation from his 2016 mayoral campaign coffer.
Harrison — outpacing Gould on the fundraising front by a factor of nearly 2 — raised about $15,400 in contributions last year from about 100 people, and another $7,000 from 54 or so people in 2017, as of Jan. 21. Many names on her donor list are frequent public speakers at city hearings related to development. They also include Berkeley Councilwoman Sophie Hahn, former Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, former Berkeley mayoral candidate and current advisor to the mayor Jacquelyn McCormick, recent council hopeful Fred Dodsworth, and Austene Hall, who has fought development hard in Berkeley on numerous occasions, including with the failed 2014 Measure R initiative focused on downtown development, which Hall helped craft alongside Hahn and Mayor Arreguín.
See complete endorsement information for both candidates on their websites, which appear at the bottom of this story. According to a Dec. 8 council item, the special election is set to cost $158,500. Conducting the election by mail reduces the cost by 40%, according to the council item.
Learn more about Ben Gould and Kate Harrison on their websites. Voters may return their ballot by mail or drop them off in the permanent ballot box in front of 2180 Milvia St. Voters have until Feb. 20 to register, in person or online. Residents who don’t know which district they are in can use a district locator provided by the city of Berkeley. No postage is necessary to return the ballot.