Opinion: Appointing commissioners who reflect my commitment to equity and justice

I was elected to carry out a social-justice platform and I have made — and will continue to make — changes in commission appointments where I see the need for change.

I am a strong believer in Berkeley’s system of city commissions that provide valuable expertise and input to our City Council. Appointing commissioners with the needed talents and perspectives is an important responsibility of each city councilmember.

A recent article on this site chronicled the unhappiness of a commissioner, appointed by my predecessor, who I recently removed from the Transportation Commission. While I am thankful to everyone who dedicates their time to a volunteer commissionership, I was elected to carry out a social-justice platform and I have made – and will continue to make – changes in commission appointments where I see the need for change.

Throughout my campaign, one message was loud and clear: the constituents of District 2 wanted change. I am bringing that change, and I am committed to building a team of appointed commissioners who I can count on to stand for policies that prioritize social and environmental justice, as well as the poor and oppressed.

I’ve worked hard in this first year on the council to appoint excellent commissioners who center the needs of Berkeley’s most marginalized communities. In the case of the Transportation Commission, I was not confident that my predecessor’s appointee would uphold these values, so I replaced him with an excellent candidate who will help shepherd our transportation policy in the right direction.

In my path to the City Council, I’ve done my best to heed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s essential lesson: that oppression anywhere affects everyone. I’ve been shut down by those in power, but I’ve also been lifted up by the support of many. I’ve stood back up, gained courage, and am proud to bring a powerful black woman’s voice to Berkeley’s leadership.

Before I ran for District 2’s City Council office, I served as a city commissioner for nearly seven years. Over the years I worked on many projects, including administering block grants for housing programs and overseeing the Community Action Program, always with a focus on the needs of the poor and dispossessed.

In 2014, in light of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza resulting from the brutal Israeli military assault, and in conversation with the vibrant local Palestinian-American community and progressive Jewish communities, I proposed a recommendation that the city divest from “companies complicit in violations of human rights and international law in Occupied Palestinian territories.” The proposal focused on several military contractors who have supplied weapons that have been turned against innocents during Israel’s brutal occupation in Gaza and the West Bank.

In order to prevent the proposal from coming to City Council, and thereby avoid having to discuss it, the Councilman then representing District 2 quickly removed me from the commission. It disgusted me that my elected representative was unwilling to even entertain debate on an issue so dear to so many of his constituents, and I decided to run for City Council.

After living in the neighborhood for 35 years, raising two wonderful children to adulthood, and attending countless PTA meetings, commission meetings, block parties and neighborhood gatherings, I felt it was time to make change from the City Council itself, and I embarked on my campaign.

Partly because of this experience, I’m particularly sensitive to the process of replacing commissioners, and have taken care to meet and interview the commissioners that I inherited from my predecessor. I have carefully replaced commissioners when I felt I had a candidate that better represented the shared values of District 2.

When I met with my predecessor’s appointee to the Transportation Commission, I asked him about his priorities, told him the story of how I came to run against his appointer, and gave him an opportunity to voice thoughts or concerns. He expressed his interest in cycling and Berkeley’s Bike Plan, and we had a brief discussion. As a bicyclist, I’m also committed to making sure that Berkeley is safe and welcoming for bike commuters. Since the bus system in the East Bay is critical to people of color and poor people, I am concerned that the commission’s bike plan did not adequately take into account the effects the plan would have on bus service, unfairly prioritizing the desires of bicyclists over the needs of public-transit riders. In speaking with my predecessor’s appointee, it was not clear to me that he would represent the needs of those who are most marginalized in Berkeley’s gentrification crisis.

During the course of our discussion, I shared my commitment to the rights of Palestinians, to get a sense of whether he shared my commitment to international human rights. I let the commissioner know that I was replacing most of the existing commissioners and that I would likely be seeking a replacement, but I allowed him to remain on the commission for nearly a year, until I was introduced to a UC Berkeley planning student with a focus on transportation policy. I am confident he will consider the needs of all people, including people of color and the poor. He will bring the expertise of his studies and a helpful perspective, and I happily made the appointment.

Throughout my campaign, I was clear that I stand for human rights; for equity; for racial, social and environmental justice. I’ve done my very best to center these values: I’ve worked hard to end Berkeley’s participation in the militarized police training program, Urban Shield; to release the Center for Policing Equity Draft Report; to rework the Police Review Commission to provide real police accountability for our community. I’ve worked with the homeless community; I’ve used my position on the council to stand up for people with disabilities, and to stand in solidarity with people who the United States targets all over the world. I expect my appointed commissioners to share District 2’s commitment to equity and justice so that together we can make sure that our city has principled and accountable leadership.

In honor of the Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday holiday on Monday, I continue to be inspired by his words: “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”

Cheryl Davila represents District 2 on the Berkeley City Council.