Berkeley candidates in three of the upcoming four City Council races took the stage Wednesday night at Berkeley City College in a rapid-fire Q&A about their positions on key topics.
A look at the downtown Berkeley race follows, with more coverage coming soon on the other races.
The non-partisan League of Women Voters of Berkeley, Albany, Emeryville organized the event, which featured candidates in the downtown (District 4), Southside (District 7) and Elmwood (District 8) neighborhood races. The northwest Berkeley forum (District 1) took place Tuesday, and other Berkeley candidate events are yet to come.
Candidates each had one minute to answer questions on a range of topics, from housing and crime to homelessness and animal rights.
The three candidates in District 4 were the first on stage: incumbent Kate Harrison and challengers Ben Gould and Greg Magofña. Gould and Magofña were aligned on a number of topics, but took different approaches in their answers. While Magofña focused on his own positions, Gould pointed to Harrison’s record in nearly every answer, making it clear how his views differ from hers.
In the first question, about how to address rising crime in Berkeley, Magofña said he would focus on the Berkeley police staffing crisis and ways to make it easier for first responders to live in Berkeley, in part by building more housing.
Harrison acknowledged the city’s recruitment and retention problems, but said that’s happening everywhere. She said the city just gave police “significant raises,” and brought up council’s efforts to create a new “sidewalk policy” to curtail problematic street behavior. (The policy is not yet in effect.) She said she has been working on community preparedness efforts because “we have to rely on ourselves” should disaster strike.
Gould noted that the BPD staffing crisis cannot be solved by raises alone. That’s in part because police have said they do not feel supported by most members of the sitting City Council, including Harrison, Gould said. That’s why the Berkeley Police Association “endorsed ‘anybody but the incumbent’ in this race,” he added, “because her policies have been so damaging for the morale.”
On the issue of housing, Gould and Magofña both spoke of the importance of building as much housing as possible, at as many income levels as possible, to address the current housing crisis. Harrison focused on affordable housing solutions and alternative approaches, such as tiny houses and accessory dwelling units.
Regarding sanctioned homeless encampments, Harrison said the city should develop a program for them, but added that it needed to be a thought-out approach, with rules and locations determined by the city. Magofña took a middle way, saying there may need to be sanctioned encampments, but that a regional approach should be considered. Gould said the services and support those on the streets need cannot effectively be provided in encampments.
In closing statements, Harrison said she wants the chance to unite the district, not choose between tenants and homeowners, or public safety and constitutional rights. She said her office has made it a priority to respond to the “millions and millions of calls and letters” that come in each day.
“Being a councilperson involves a million daily things that you do for constituents,” she said. “And that’s where our office shines.”
Gould, a Berkeley native who has worked as a legislative aide for Councilwoman Lori Droste, said he wants to look for ways to create opportunities for those who come to Berkeley, particularly in terms of new housing and sustainable solutions for the future. He said he’s fought, in a variety of appointed positions, to do things like address cigarette butt pollution downtown and help create strong green building standards for new construction.
“I care deeply about the future of this community because I want to be able to stay here for the rest of my life,” he said.
Magofña said his goal is to continue Berkeley’s efforts to be a leader in climate change, diversity and new ideas, and to take strong stands on environmental and human rights, “to make sure that the people who have these ideas have a voice in the city.” He spoke of the critical need for housing for everyone, including firefighters, teachers and artists: “Private development is part of the solution.” He said that’s especially true because, in Berkeley, those projects help pay for affordable housing projects through city fees.
Harrison was elected to the Berkeley City Council during a special election in 2017 after former district representative Jesse Arreguín became Berkeley’s mayor. In the 2017 race, Harrison won 62% of the ballots to Gould’s 38%. About 2,600 ballots were cast.
Stay tuned for information on the other council races. See Berkeleyside’s Election 2018 section.