One of the biggest, if not the biggest issue facing our country today is social equity, and disparities in income, education achievement, and health. Thought leaders are recognizing that social equity is fundamental to building a sustainable economy and resilient communities.
Berkeley is not isolated from this national phenomenon. With inflated real estate prices and the higher cost-of-living in the Bay Area, it is even more imperative that local leadership leverage all available tools to create opportunity for all, but especially for the disadvantaged.
For those who hold this belief, it is tempting to be swayed by social equity rhetoric. Unfortunately, talk is not enough – we need actual housing, real small business retention, and investments in education. The challenge is to move beyond advocacy to the hard work of consensus-building and problem-solving. Laurie Capitelli has demonstrated his ability to meet this challenge and to create real, on-the-ground social equity investments for our Berkeley community.
Take the minimum wage for example. Laurie led the negotiations that resulted in Berkeley passing a minimum wage of $15 by 2018. By involving all stakeholders–workers, businesses, arts leaders, and nonprofits, the resulting agreement will be second only to San Francisco in adopting a progressive minimum-wage. Ideally, everyone would have not just a minimum wage, but a living wage. On the other side of the equation are small businesses and nonprofits that have to bear the burden of the near-term expense. We need a candidate who can bring all these perspectives to the table and build consensus around a path forward that works for everyone.
Let’s look at affordable housing. The housing that Laurie has approved has generated more than $12 million for the City’s Housing Trust Fund. This could represent the City’s contribution towards the construction of up to 140 affordable units.
What about health disparities? Laurie spearheaded the first in the nation soda tax which now generates almost $1.5 million annually for health education, especially for youth and people of color. For example, Healthy Black Families received a grant of $275,000 from this funding stream, supplementing an annual budget of what had been less than $15,000.
Finally, education. Laurie has helped raise millions of dollars for Berkeley’s public schools through the Berkeley Public Schools Fund. Through his 25 years of experience serving on this important non-profit, Laurie understands the real need for early childhood education. One of his top priorities is to provide Berkeley’s very youngest children with early education that is much more progressive than the upcoming state requirements. This priority is absolutely critical to closing the achievement gap that exists in our Berkeley public schools.
There are two roads to promote social equity. One is advocacy and standing on the picket-line. This is a valuable and honorable role in our democracy to keep raising the bar ever higher. But this role becomes counterproductive when it blocks real action, such as housing and small business retention. The other road to increase social equity is to bring everyone around the table, have a thorough discussion of the needs of our city, and outline actions that can be implemented immediately. Consensus-building, collaborative problem-solving, relationship building — these are fundamental social equity principles.
For our city leadership in 2017, I am voting for candidates that have demonstrated real concrete change and who know how to work together respectfully to move forward around a shared vision.
Berkeleyside welcomes submissions of op-ed articles. We ask that we are given first refusal to publish. Topics should be Berkeley-related, local authors are preferred, and we don’t publish anonymous pieces. We also ask that the op-eds are grounded in facts, not speculation or unsubstantiated accusations. Email submissions as Word or Google documents or embedded in the email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The recommended length is 500-800 words. Please include your name and a one-line bio that includes full, relevant disclosures. Berkeleyside will publish op-ed pieces at its discretion.