Name: Alex Sharenko, 34, solar energy scientist
What office/district are you are running for? Berkeley City Council District 2
What is the main reason you are running? I’m running to bring accountable, responsive, and inclusive leadership to our community and to address the problems that have gone unaddressed the last four years: homelessness, public safety, and under investment in West Berkeley. These problems have gotten worse the last four years with the number of unhoused suffering on our streets increasing every year, Aquatic Park degrading into a public health hazard, our District having the worst roads of any Council District and increasing violent crime and racial inequities in policing. The job of City Council member is fundamentally about service to our community and I will serve this community with empathy, respect, and an open mind and heart as I work to address these issues.
Why are you qualified? I have been deeply engaged with our community as a volunteer, a city commissioner and a neighbor. I have volunteered at Berkeley Youth Alternatives as a tutor and mentor in after-school programs for underserved youth and with Friends of Strawberry Creek Park to keep it clean and safe. I have served on multiple city commissions where I’ve written policy on building housing for Berkeley’s teachers and addressing the racial wage gap. And I’ve worked with my neighbors to strengthen our Community Emergency Response Team. Through my engagement with and service to our community I’ve learned how the city works, how policy is created and what the issues facing our diverse community are. These experiences have equipped me to start immediately addressing District 2’s problems as its council member.
What sets you apart from other candidates? I have the unique combination of passion, experience, ability and values to deliver meaningful change on the seemingly intractable issues that our city is dealing with: homelessness, public safety, aging infrastructure and housing affordability. I think too often there is a hopeless attitude on City Council that little can be done to fix these problems and they are becoming normalized as part of Berkeley. I’m running because I don’t think that’s true and know we have to do better because everyone in our community deserves better. I’ve served on city commissions where I’ve written policy and learned how the city works, I’ve been a volunteer helping underserved members of our community, as a scientist I’ve used critical thinking skills to design and build new solar energy technologies, and as a neighbor I’ve helped organize and strengthen community emergency preparedness because I know how important it is to look after one another. We need new leadership that can effectively translate our values to policy and solve these problems. I’m committed to more than just the progressive values that are so important to our community, I’m committed to real progress.
What brought you to Berkeley and when did you come? I moved to California just over 10 years ago for graduate school, fell in love and never looked back. My partner’s family has been in Berkeley for over 30 years and we’ve had the privilege and opportunity to become first-time homeowners in West Berkeley where we live with my partner’s mother. My partner and I are deeply committed to Berkeley as we build our family in this amazing community filled with diverse, passionate, inspiring friends and neighbors.
What are the three biggest challenges for Berkeley in the next five years?
-Community safety and economic recovery: West Berkeley suffers from violent crime, gun violence and racial inequities. We must address these failures while also dealing with a pandemic and a ~13% unemployment rate.
-Homelessness, displacement and housing affordability: Homelessness has increased every year the last 4 years. We must address this while preventing displacement and increasing housing affordability.
-Climate change: California is on fire and the sun was blocked by ash. It’s time to act.
What are your ideas to begin to solve them? Community safety and economic recovery: I am committed to building public safety institutions that keep us safe, reflect our values, and affirm that Black Lives Matter. I support auditing the police department and using this data to reallocate some resources to mental health and social workers so that those suffering from mental illness and poverty get the help they need and the police can more narrowly focus on violent crime. I will work with local businesses to find ways for them to function without compromising the safety of essential workers or the public to keep people employed and healthy.
Homelessness, displacement and housing affordability: We have normalized people living on our streets, which is a moral and policy failure. I am committed to moving people off our streets towards permanent housing. To do this we need to build more housing for all types of people, preserve tenant protections to prevent more people from becoming homeless and spend our homelessness funds on permanent solutions rather than short term remedies.
Climate change: Berkeley cannot solve climate change alone but we can lead by example and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by encouraging greener forms of transportation by making it safe to walk or bike and by partnering with regional agencies to improve public transit. We can also begin divesting from all fossil fuels. More immediately we need to proactively prepare for vegetation fires that pose a threat to our entire city.
What is your most inspired/unique idea for Berkeley? District 2 does not get the resources it deserves. We have the worst roads of any council district, Aquatic Park has been neglected and we bear a disproportionate burden of the city’s moral and policy failures on homelessness. I would advocate for a “West Berkeley Fund” that would divert tax revenue from large developments in District 2 to projects in District 2 like road paving, Aquatic Park maintenance, San Pablo Park upgrades, etc. so that District 2 gets the funds it needs to thrive.
How will you be accessible to constituents? Being on City Council is fundamentally about service to the community and in order to serve the community you have to listen to and communicate with the community! This is why I will strive to answer all emails and voicemails within 48 hours of receiving them, will distribute regular detailed newsletters about community events and issues, will make myself available for block meetings about specific issues and will host regular office hours to discuss any and all community issues.
Why should voters choose you over the incumbent? If we keep electing the same people we’re going to keep having the same problems. A lack of leadership in District 2 has led to real problems in our community: terrible roads, a park that’s a public health threat, gun violence, and people needlessly suffering on our streets. I am committed to working to fix these issues while living the values that make Berkeley special: diversity, equity, love and compassion. I have been endorsed by current Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, City Council members Lori Droste, Rashi Kesarwani and Susan Wengraf, former Councilmember Darryl Moore, the Berkeley Fire Fighters and over 50 District 2 residents. These community members and leaders know that I am ready to take on the important issues facing District 2 on Day 1 and that’s what I’ll do as your council member.
Are you using public financing? Yes
Share a personal interest or passion people might be surprised to learn about. I have a close family member with serious mental health challenges that I have had to advocate for and aid my entire adult life. Additionally I have personally suffered from anxiety and panic attacks. These experiences have given me painful, firsthand knowledge of the challenges vulnerable members of our society face and the stigma and difficulties associated with mental health issues. These painful and traumatic experiences have fundamentally shaped my worldview and taught me the need for compassion, empathy and a respect for the unseen battles others are fighting. These struggles have in large part influenced who I am and my passion for public service as I’ve worked to make our community a safer, more equitable, greener place to live.