Opinion: Let Berkeley City Councilwoman Cheryl Davila do her job

Davila had every right to replace a transportation commissioner who wouldn’t reveal his attitude about divestment in Israel with someone who supported her views on that issue.

A vocal minority has been working overtime to manufacture a scandal out of what would otherwise be the routine replacement of a Berkeley Commissioner to the Transportation Commission.

As is her right and responsibility, Councilmember Cheryl Davila recently replaced a commissioner who was appointed by her predecessor, Darryl Moore, to serve on the Transportation Commission. The new Transportation Commissioner is a person of color, someone who aligns more closely with the values and priorities of Davila. So, what’s the big deal?

Well, some folks remember that Cheryl Davila protested when she was removed from her commission seat on the Human Welfare and Community Action Commission in 2015, but please recall that the situation was very different. Davila was removed before a major vote on an Israeli apartheid divestment resolution and in response to pressure from pro-Israel groups. Moore replaced Davila as a way to interfere in a particular vote and it was a capitulation to specific political pressure.

Davila is not folding under pressure. She is creating a network of commissioners who have already demonstrated particular concern for the people of Berkeley and are aware of oppressed and poor people around the world. It is her right to do so. In fact, Mr. Gerhardstein was notified that he, as the vast majority of Moore’s appointees, would be replaced months ago. He can believe that he is being replaced because of his lack of a position on the boycott of Israel, or he can believe that his lack of analysis on this issue raised red flags for Davila about his overall commitment to anti-racism and human rights. Either way, it is her right to replace her own commissioners.

I am a city commissioner on the Police Review Commission. I was never asked about my position on Palestine, so I don’t know about any “litmus test”.  However, I did make it clear to Cheryl that I, like her, am committed to seeing issues in terms of how they impact the dispossessed, poor, and marginalized people of Berkeley and elsewhere. The issues that Davila ran and won on and is committed to, no matter whether one is on the Police Review Commission or the Transportation Commission, ultimately require a commissioner to decide issues that impact the rights and well-being of oppressed people. If someone does not want to connect issues to a larger context or is fearful of the backlash that comes from taking principled positions, they may not be who Davila is looking for. And yes, this is Berkeley, which has a proud history of speaking up for people around the world from South Africa to El Salvador so no one needs to be surprised about a Berkeley City Council member who remembers that we are part of a global system and seeks to make those connections.

In his opinion piece, Alex Sharenko accuses Davila and her commissioners of empty rhetoric. Cheryl is not one for grandstanding. She works quietly behind the scenes. In her first year in office, Cheryl organized a series of responses to gun violence in District 2, including a session on prevention. Following this, she has worked with youth programs across Berkeley to ensure that they survive and grow so that we can engage young people in prevention, intervene when they are caught up in or experiencing violence and increase the community resources available for all young people.

She has been involved in support for public health and safety at the homeless encampments; in developing a citywide housing plan for people who are homeless across Berkeley and in designs for a tiny home community in District 2 to house homeless women and women with children. She has worked to increase training in first aid, CPR and emergency response for all Berkeley employees so that they can be useful in emergencies and provide civil support that is not militaristic. She participated in a delegation to Urban Shield this year to see what trainings are being provided and is part of a sub-committee to develop a proposal for alternative trainings that do not simply treat Berkeley residents as enemy combatants in the case of an emergency. Instead, she is looking for training for police, training for other city of Berkeley employees and community members that supports us in coming together and responding to emergencies in ways that are effective and humanitarian rather than militaristic.

Her position on stopping the militarization of policing in Berkeley is not empty rhetoric. Her opposition to the armored van, in addition to its cost, was that, according to the contract with the federal government agency providing it, it was designated to be used for surveillance and all information gathered by the van was to be made available to the federal government. Furthermore, the contract mandates that the van be made available to the federal government upon demand. Like me, Davila believes that police need to be accountable to the communities they serve. In response to “historically low staffing levels” in Berkeley’s police department, a trend occurring across the country, I am proposing a that the city hire a consultant to conduct a performance audit to examine how police are spending their time, how effectively we are managing the resources of the department and whether we should consider hiring civilians to relieve the strain of possible understaffing on sworn personnel. With this information, we can also evaluate how efficiently the resources allotted to the department are being used and whether they are making a significant improvement in our safety situation.

These are the values and work to which Councilmember Davila is committed. If any commissioner does not center the needs of the people who are suffering from either poverty or political oppression, they probably are not the right fit to continue as a representative of the people in District Two who actually put Davila into office. Perhaps some commissioners forget that they serve as part of a team. It is perfectly right and very necessary for a team to generally move things in the same direction – in this case, towards justice and equity. Davila did what any other council member can do at any time. She is just being targeted for harassment because she has the courage to speak out on behalf of the rights of Palestinians. Let’s be honest. The issue is not whether she should or shouldn’t replace a commissioner. The issue is Palestinian rights.

Andrea Prichett is a founding member of Berkeley Copwatch and a member of the Police Review Commission