Name: Alfred Twu, 34, designer/artist (District 8)
What is the main reason you are running? Our housing crisis has become an existential threat to Berkeley’s people, community, and culture. Meaningful progress will require an all-of-the-above approach that includes stronger rent control, affordable housing, building new homes, cooperatives, and more.
Why are you qualified? I’ve served on Berkeley’s Zero Waste Commission, working on recycling, the transfer station redesign, and foodware.
I’m involved in the California Democratic Party, building relationships and sharing ideas with activists around the state, and am on the executive board of the East Bay Young Democrats.
As an artist and designer, I have long-term vision, and the experience to work out the details of land use at the citywide and the down-to-the-foot-and-inch project level. Since 2006, I’ve worked for architects, participating in the design of renovations, businesses, apartments, transit, and water infrastructure.
While quirky and progressive, I’m also pragmatic. During the Great Recession, I went back to school and earned an MBA at San Francisco State. Living in the student co-ops, I managed workshifts, delivered food, kept the website and email running, took out the recycling. The importance of reliable and responsive daily operations is a key part of me.
What sets you apart from other candidates? The challenges that we face as a city – and the solutions to them – I don’t just talk about it, I live it. Accessory dwelling units? Co-ops? Bikes and buses? More plant-based foods? That’s my everyday life. My combined personal and professional experience gives me insight into creating change that is beautiful, economical, and impactful. We might not be able to simply build our way out of our housing and climate crisis, but we can certainly design our way out of it.
How and when did you end up in Berkeley? I moved to Berkeley in 2002 to attend UC Berkeley, graduated in 2006 with degree in architecture.
What are the three biggest challenges for Berkeley in the next five years? #1 is Housing. With a shortage of housing, especially low cost and affordable housing, Berkeley tenants face rising rents and the threat of eviction. Many young people growing up in Berkeley can’t afford homes, and move away to start their own families. #2 is Traffic. Cars are a major climate change impact, and also a big public safety threat, with frequent crashes involving pedestrians and cyclists. #3 is Budget. More public services, infrastructure maintenance, earthquake retrofits, etc are needed and revenues have not kept pace.
What are your ideas to begin to solve them? The challenges of housing, traffic, and budget are interlinked. In the short term, tenants need stronger rent control and other protections to prevent displacement.
Long term, it’s time to move away from car-centered city planning and create human-scaled neighborhoods modeled after historic cities of the world – apartment homes above corner stores, pedestrian squares, narrow streets closed to outside traffic. Through a combination of backyard apartments, subdivision of large homes and lots, and apartments near transit, we can also create homes suitable for students, families, and both younger and older people living alone.
Reducing the use of cars and fossil fuels will yield a “Green Dividend” — additional money circulating in the local economy, instead of going to oil companies and car manufacturers. New homes and businesses will also grow the tax base, funding additional services and covering pension costs with minimal increased burden to existing taxpayers.
What is your most inspired/unique idea for Berkeley? Wildfires are the single largest threat to the eastern parts of Berkeley. I propose the creation of a buffer zone between homes and forest, with the land used for irrigated local agriculture.
How will you be accessible to constituents? I’m easily reached online, am active in many political clubs, and would also hold office hours in parks and on the sidewalks of our local business districts.
Are you using public financing? Yes
How much money do you expect to spend on your campaign? $20,000
A final thought? Berkeley is unique in that we strive for continuous improvement, but money is not our only measure. These values made us leaders in the political, environmental, and spiritual movements that blossomed in the 1960s. Today, the journey is half complete. Organic food and resisting empire have gone mainstream, but we’re having a hard time keeping roads paved and people housed. Counterculture becomes culture, and the question arises: can progressivism operate at scale? I say yes. As cities go, we are young. Together, let’s write the story of our next hundred years.