Name: Ben Gould
Job: Graduate student
What office are you are running for? Mayor
What is the main reason you are running? Berkeley values equal access to opportunity, diversity of thought, and leadership in social justice and sustainability. However, the growing housing affordability crisis, our crumbling parks and infrastructure, and a changing climate threaten our ability to realize these values.
I’m running for Mayor because I believe we need new ideas and new leadership on City Council to really tackle these challenges. As a Berkeley native and a Cal graduate student in Public Policy and Environmental Engineering, I bring a unique skillset and background to City Council to take the lead on addressing these issues.
Why are you qualified for the position? I bring a unique perspective to City Council and a breadth of real-world experience, including five years of nonprofit leadership experience, engineering expertise, and a policy analysis skillset.
I currently serve as Chair of the City of Berkeley’s Community Advisory Commission. Previously, I served on the UC Berkeley Graduate Assembly (GA), where I was on the Budget Committee and The Green Initiative Fund, overseeing a collective $1 million in student fees. In the GA, I helped to write resolutions to address the housing shortage, and called for ensuring transgender students got full insurance coverage for necessary surgeries (it was successful).
I also worked at Lawrence Berkeley Lab doing engineering work to help develop a miniature air quality sensor; at The International Council for Clean Transportation developing policy recommendations to address emissions from heavy-duty trucks; and at Engineers for a Sustainable World doing everything from project management to serving on the national board of directors.
I am the only outsider candidate for Mayor with support from sitting Councilmembers – both Lori Droste and Susan Wengraf have endorsed me as their second-rank choice. My real-world leadership experience and engineering and policy background will enable me to be an effective leader on City Council.
What sets you apart from other candidates? I bring a breadth of real-world experience, a background and skillset in engineering and policy analysis, and the perspective of a young person looking to have a future in Berkeley.
Additionally, I am uniquely able to connect with residents of Berkeley from all walks of life. Growing up here, I attended Berkeley schools and graduated from Berkeley High; I’m now a graduate student at Cal, and so I’m able to speak to the experiences of all students in Berkeley. I currently rent an apartment in Downtown and live car-free, while my parents own their home in the hills and are dependent upon automobiles for mobility; so I understand the wide range of lifestyles Berkeley residents experience.
How did you end up in Berkeley? I was born and raised in Berkeley, attended Berkeley schools, and graduated from Berkeley High. I went to UC San Diego for undergrad, but realized I love Berkeley too much to stay away for long – I moved back only three days after graduating. I found a job at Lawrence Berkeley Lab and an apartment in Downtown, and haven’t regretted it once. I didn’t even apply to any other graduate schools besides UC Berkeley, because I knew I wasn’t going to leave.
What are the three biggest challenges Berkeley faces in the near future?
1. Housing affordability. In just the last three years since I moved back to Berkeley, rents have increased 50%. The median home price is now $1 million. For young people like me, this is untenable. The cause of this affordability crisis is clear – there isn’t nearly enough housing for everyone who wants to make a life in Berkeley, and so only the very highest bidders can get in. Berkeley must build more housing if it wants to remain a diverse, accessible city, and avoid the fate of Palo Alto.
2. Reinvesting in parks & infrastructure. We have roughly $500 million in deferred maintenance and capital improvements. As a result, our parks are crumbling, our streets our crumbling, and our future is unclear. Will we take the bold step to tackle these big fiscal challenges? Or will we let our parks close down due to age and neglect?
3. Environmental sustainability. Our award-winning Climate Action Plan calls for an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, yet fails to address one of the largest sources of CO2 – natural gas. Renewable energy is making it possible to eliminate natural gas and reduce emissions; Berkeley needs to move towards that.
What are your ideas to solve them?
1. Build more housing. Especially along transit corridors and near campus, Berkeley has lots of room for new housing to go up. We can also make it easier to build backyard units, allow people to subdivide their homes, increase allowable density, and addressing underutilized or abandoned land. We can expand our transit corridors and housing options in North Berkeley, to provide increased mobility and accessibility to residents and revitalize commercial areas, like the top of Solano. We also need to work with UC Berkeley to identify sites for and encourage the construction of new student housing, to relieve pressure on the rental housing market and make more units available. At the same time, we should continue to ensure all new construction simultaneously results in either funding for, or construction of, new, subsidized, low-income housing to protect our most vulnerable residents.
2. Pass Measure T1 and develop a comprehensive plan to tackle both our long-term infrastructure debt and our structural deficit. We need to identify ways to raise the necessary funds to rebuild our city and simultaneously make our parks and infrastructure operations more efficient, to ensure long-term fiscal sustainability. Green and resilient infrastructure can help to reduce maintenance costs, while new policies (like providing an option to pay for limited reservations) can provide additional sources of revenue.
3. Stop installing new natural gas-fired heating, water heating, or cooking systems or dryers and instead rely on renewable energy and thermally efficient design in new construction. Additionally, aggressively expand Berkeley’s biking and transit infrastructure, to facilitate better mobility without increased congestion (or emissions). As Berkeley grows, better transit and biking will be essential for ensuring our limited roadways are able to keep up with the demand for moving people.
What is your most inspired/unique idea for Berkeley? Phasing out the use of natural gas in new construction (and, eventually, existing buildings). We’re reaching the point where electricity is so clean that even if it’s less energy efficient, it still results in fewer emissions than burning natural gas for heating.
How will you be accessible to constituents? I plan to hold regular office hours at coffee shops around the city, and be available otherwise by appointment. I also intend to respond to emails and phone calls within 48 hours, and have a regular newsletter for anyone interested on what’s going on in the Mayor’s office and with the rest of the City.
How much money do you expect to spend on your campaign? I expect to raise roughly $10,000 for my campaign.
A final thought? I’m running on the issues of housing affordability, reinvesting in parks and infrastructure, and environmental sustainability to ensure Berkeley does more to tackle these issues. However, these issues can’t be addressed in just one election – they’ll require ongoing, dedicated efforts to ensure we succeed, and regardless of how this election turns out, I plan to continue working to tackle these challenges. I also hope to use my campaign to inspire more young people to run for office – I believe it will ultimately be our generation that solves these problems, so we might as well get started now.