Election 2020: Who is Sophie Hahn?

Meet Sophie Hahn, one of three District 5 City Council candidates in Berkeley’s November 2020 election.

District 5 Berkeley City Council candidate Sophie Hahn
Sophie Hahn. Photo: Courtesy Hahn campaign

Name: Sophie Hahn, 59, Berkeley Vice Mayor and Councilmember, District 5

What office/district are you are running for? Berkeley City Council District 5

What is the main reason you are running? Four years ago voters chose me to lead with new energy and vision, and to lift up our community, our planet, and our values. I’m running to continue my important work to:
– Keep everyone safe, healthy and housed in the face of COVID
– Rebuild a local, artistic, green economy
– Prepare for fires and earthquakes, and save Alta Bates
– Enact bold programs to exceed our climate goals
– Rehouse the homeless and maximize affordable housing
– Expand safe walking and biking, and transition to electric vehicles
– Rethink policing and diversify emergency response capabilities
– Invest in equitable access to health, mental health and other services
– Fight racism, hatred and encroachment on civil liberties, privacy and democracy

Why are you qualified? It’s been an honor to serve you these past four years as the District 5 Councilmember, and now as Vice Mayor. We’ve kept Berkeley safe in the face of COVID-19 and successfully managed social unrest, smoke and other emergencies. I’ve authored and sponsored over 300 items, moving Berkeley forward decisively to rehouse the homeless, create affordable housing, and meet the climate imperative. My first-in-kind legislation to reduce throwaway plastics won international acclaim, and I’ve championed green buildings, promoted urban agriculture and helped bring clean energy to every Berkeley home. Strong relationships with our Mayor, Council, community organizations, and City staff help me get important work done for Berkeley, and effectively serve the neighborhoods I am so honored to represent.


What sets you apart from other candidates?
– My deep roots and broad knowledge of Berkeley. I’m a lifelong Berkeley resident, attended BUSD and Cal, and raised my own three BHS graduates in the neighborhood where I grew up. With three generations of ties to Berkeley, BUSD, and UC Berkeley, and to our libraries, the arts, and civic organizations, my roots and relationships are both broad and deep.
– My demonstrated, lifelong commitment to Berkeley’s ideals. Throughout my life, I’ve been an activist on behalf of civil rights, women’s rights, human rights, reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, and the rights of all who face discrimination and violence. I’ve been connected to Berkeley’s sustainable food, farming and zero waste efforts for decades, and am a leader in reducing climate impacts.
– My long record of service, and of crafting real solutions. On the Council, I’ve authored bold plans to address homelessness, create affordable housing and ban plastics, and my innovative work is recognized locally and worldwide. My activism began in high school, working to desegregate extracurricular activities, and for decades I’ve served on boards and commissions including the Library Foundation, Planned Parenthood, King PTA, and ZAB.

What brought you to Berkeley and when did you come? I arrived just two months old when my father started his 50-year career teaching History at UC Berkeley, and grew up in a close-knit community of young professors and their families. A Berkeley public school “lifer,” I graduated from Berkeley High and then Cal, in one of the first cohorts to go K-12 in Berkeley’s newly integrated schools. I was steeped in the Civil Rights and Free Speech movements, and have worked on behalf of Berkeley – and our core values – my entire life.

What are the three biggest challenges for Berkeley in the next five years? 
– Prepare and respond to emergencies, to keep everyone safe from COVID, prevent wildfires, prepare for earthquakes, support our schools and vulnerable residents, and do everything possible to save Alta Bates
– Rebuild our shattered local economy so small businesses, the arts, restaurants and not-for-profits can recover, re-establish and thrive
– Act even more decisively to reduce climate and environmental impacts, and accelerate our work to rehouse the homeless and create affordable housing

What are your ideas to begin to solve them? I’ve already taken a lead in solving these challenges with programs that are making a real difference for Berkeley, and am energized to continue.

To prepare and respond to emergencies I introduced legislation to improve our 911 system, clear brush, step-up evacuation planning, and make narrow streets passable. Our programs and policies are keeping Berkeley safe from COVID, and I’ve taken a lead to save Alta Bates. Please sign my petition, www.sophiehahn.com/altabates, to add your voice!


A former business owner myself, I wrote a comprehensive plan to support small businesses with permit streamlining, technical assistance and better access to loans. In the face of COVID, I hosted listening sessions with restaurants, retailers, arts organizations, and other sectors, to identify ways to safely re-open, and help. I wrote Berkeley’s outdoor retail and dining legislation, and worked with Haas professors to propose an innovative public-private loan program, now being implemented in Berkeley, and by the State of California.

I’m a recognized environmental leader and am proud to be endorsed by the Sierra Club. My anti-plastics legislation is being replicated across the globe. I helped bring 100% renewable energy to every household and green our buildings. I wrote our urban ag laws and run an organic farm, the Berkeley Basket, from my own backyard. The next frontier is to significantly reduce emissions from transit, and I am eager to take this work on in the coming years.

What is your most inspired/unique idea for Berkeley? I am a strong believer in the importance of public commons, with cultural and natural resources available to all. Most of our commons is paved with asphalt and concrete and littered with signs and plastic bollards. Berkeley should be as inspiring as the people who live here, and I’d like to transform our city into a place where walking and biking are the primary modes of transit and our public space – including streets, sidewalks, playgrounds and parks – delight, interest and inspire.

How will you be accessible to constituents? Serving my constituents and neighbors from across Berkeley is a great pleasure. I love this community, and am energized by my work on the Council. I choose to put in long hours and when not at the office (now virtually), my own number is well known. Constituents just call and text – and can be surprised to get me on the line. My staff help answer thousands of emails every year, but it’s often me who shows up in the field to troubleshoot – because I truly enjoy the people I serve.

What year were you elected and what have been your biggest accomplishments? I was elected in 2016 and my colleagues appointed me to serve as Vice Mayor. I’ve authored bold plans to address homelessness, create affordable housing and ban throw-away plastics, and my innovative work has been recognized and replicated both locally and worldwide. Three major accomplishments are:


– The Pathways Project and STAIR Navigation Center, which changed the paradigm for Berkeley homeless services and rehoused over 250 people in less than three years.

– A comprehensive affordable housing plan with ambitious goals for housing at all levels of affordability, and our $135M housing bond, Measure O, which provides funds to make plans a reality.

– My Single Use Foodware Ordinance, which solves problems here and across the globe, and is being replicated as far away as Paris.

Are you using public financing? No

How much money do you expect to spend on your campaign? $70,000

Share a personal interest or passion people might be surprised to learn about. I love textiles. I read for pleasure about weaving, patterns, dyes, traditions and materials. One thing that fascinates me is that different cultures independently developed textiles, and used similar patterns, even where they had no contact. The desire for cloth was universal, and the means to create – by crossing threads and other forms of crocheting or weaving – springs from the materials. From there, colored threads could be arranged in a limited number of patterns – resulting in similarities across cultures. It reminds me that we are one people, sharing common needs and aspirations. I indulge my love for textiles through scarves, which I wear frequently, and my love for humanity, through my service to the community.

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Read more about Sophie Hahn on Berkeleyside. See complete 2020 election coverage on Berkeleyside.