District 4 candidate: Kate Harrison

Photo: Courtesy of Kate Harrison

Name: Kate Harrison

Age: 58

Job: International Justice Advisor

What is the main reason you are running? I care profoundly about Berkeley and the people who live here. I look forward to giving back to the community that has given me so much. As is true for all cities, Berkeley is on the brink of major change. Greater housing density paired with less reliance on the personal automobile will change the way our city looks and feels. At the same time, we are suffering increasing economic and racial inequality and environmental challenges. I want to bring my extensive experience to help craft sustainable, equitable and effective solutions to these challenges while enhancing the quality of our daily lives.


Why are you qualified for the position? My qualifications for City Council include over three decades as a small business owner, public sector manager and community activist. This council seat needs an experienced voice. My years of developing and prioritizing budgets will allow me to balance government effectiveness, access and protection for the most vulnerable. I worked in policy and executive positions in San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos’ Office, on the redesign of the Embarcadero Waterfront and at the California Administrative Office of the Courts, where I helped develop the budget and policies for and enhance access to California’s $1.7 billion-a-year court system. I have a long history of activism in Berkeley and service on non-profit boards. I serve on Berkeley’s Parks and Waterfront Commission, chairing its Sustainability Subcommittee, and the Housing Advisory Commission, reflecting my years of experience in funding and advocacy for affordable housing in Berkeley, San Francisco and the State of California. I also have specific knowledge and experience of issues of the Downtown – a vital part of District 4 – having served on the Downtown Streets and Open Space Advisory Committee. As a Board member for Berkeley Food and Housing, I have specific ideas for addressing the challenges of homelessness.

What sets you apart from other candidates? My extensive professional, community and political experience and a track record of advancing progressive policy ideas within the fiscal and management constraints faced by cities. I have tackled hard issues head on, keeping in mind the residents for whom services are intended and those for whom government is a lifeline. My service on several City commissions and non-profit boards and involvement in community activities has given me a deep understanding of many of the most salient issues in the City. As a long-term resident of District 4, I also know the particular concerns of the District’s constituents. I am proud to have the enthusiastic support of a diverse group of elected officials, environmental groups, labor unions and community leaders, including Assembly member Tony Thurmond, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin, former Mayors Gus Newport and Shirley Dean, the Sierra Club, the Alameda County Labor Council, the Alameda County Green Party, the Berkeley Firefighters’ Association, BART Director Lateefah Simon, the Berkeley Tenants’ Union, Berkeley Progressive Alliance, Berkeley Citizens Action and the Progressive Student Association.

How did you end up in Berkeley? I came to Berkeley as an undergraduate, was elected to the Associated Student Senate, worked on the initial rent control measure here, stayed through my first job analyzing disparate impacts of the Alameda County criminal justice system and then attended the Goldman School of Public Policy. While my work has taken me all over the world (to 14 countries) and throughout the U.S., I have always called Berkeley home. I love our community and its racial and economic diversity and intellectual, political and cultural vibrancy.

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

1. Expanding and Protecting Affordable Housing/Preventing Displacement: Housing affordability is key to maintaining the ethnic, economic and cultural diversity and intellectual vibrancy that make Berkeley what it is. Our greatest housing need is for low and moderate income housing, where we are far below regional standards. Rents have risen over 50% since 2000. Having served on the Measure U1 campaign committee, I am proud that Berkeley voters approved $4 million/year for affordable housing. Market rate housing developments also provide funds for affordable housing. However, much more needs to be done.

2. Preserving Our Environment: Buildings, agriculture and transportation are the biggest contributors to climate change. Berkeley has to address each of these areas through specific proposals while simultaneously improving our quality of life. We also need to tackle local environmental issues related to Bay and creek protection, reducing waste and increasing recycling/reuse, and combating pollutants from some of our factories.

3. Revitalizing Our Downtown and Economic Development: A vibrant downtown will help the City meet its housing goals, mitigate climate impacts and promote economic development and continued cultural vitality. We need to encourage business and cultural amenities in the Downtown, but with sensitivity to a vibrant streetscape, light and open space, residential neighborhood setbacks and aesthetically compatible architecture. Our Downtown Streets and Open Space Plan (SOSIP) needs to be updated, developers asked to include its features in their projects, and funding sought for its elements. Small, local-serving businesses, our greatest economic engine, need planning and development support. Community policing, better lighting and sidewalks would make our commercial districts more inviting.

These challenges exist simultaneously with the imperative to manage the City budget and effectively and efficiently deliver services. We will likely need to manage funding reductions from the Federal government and methodically reduce unfunded liabilities while advancing our priorities.

What are your ideas to solve them?

1. Expanding Affordable Housing/Preventing Displacement: I support 1) funding affordable housing through short-term rental taxes, regular adjustments to the affordable housing fee and some transfer tax funds and 2) measures to prevent displacement. We nimbly identify/approve affordable housing projects, particularly along transit corridors. As on the Housing Advisory Commission , I will work to streamline permitting and provide seed money for affordable housing projects; purchase existing rental housing to maintain affordability; evaluate publicly owned sites for housing; and build more student housing close to campus.

2. Preserving our Environment. My priorities include:
• Reducing emissions through Zero Net Energy standards and Community Green Energy; incentivizing urban agriculture, green roofs and water savings; a transportation services fee and using funds from PG&E and the Volkswagen settlement for alternatives like a Downtown shuttle and electric vehicle charging.
• Keeping our Bay, creeks and parks clean through permeable surfaces, improved street drains, street cleaning, swales and cisterns.
• Expanding parks and public open space, including parklets, community gardens, a reopened Willard Pool and the proposed Center Street Plaza.
• Requiring new development to pay open space fees to reflect the additional density created.

3. Revitalizing Our Downtown/Economic Development: The City should proactively plan for the Downtown it wants and invite businesses and the community to help us achieve that vision. I do not support overly-prescriptive ballot measures limiting development but we also shouldn’t passively accept whatever occurs. Instead, t Better use of public space (including the redesigned BART plaza) and under-used commercial spaces could be made. To mitigate the impact of development on city services and existing residents and businesses, I support assessing housing, transportation and open space fees. I propose a vacancy tax on long-term vacant commercial properties and a legacy business program providing grants and assistance to unique, local-serving businesses.

What is your most inspired/unique idea for Berkeley? I would like to expand the current program helping building owners pay for energy improvements through their property taxes to include safety improvements for artists’ live/work spaces to avoid repeating the tragedy at the Oakland Ghost Ship. We cannot afford to lose our creative community either through disaster or displacement.

How will you be accessible to constituents? I will proactively reach out to constituents through community issue forums, on-line forums, neighborhood gatherings, appointment of diverse people to Commissions, and ongoing consultation with commissioners to insure I am hearing all perspectives.

How much money do you expect to spend on your campaign? $35,000 from a wide variety of donors.

A final thought? I am the most qualified, experienced candidate running for District 4. It will be my pleasure to serve the city of Berkeley as a Council member and believe I will do an excellent job. I ask for your support and that you join me in making our City the best it can be.

Learn more about Kate Harrison on her website. 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.