Election 2020: Who is Deborah Matthews?

Meet Deborah Matthews, one of three District 3 City Council candidates in Berkeley’s November 2020 election.

D3 Berkeley City Council candidate Deborah Matthews
Deborah Matthews. Photo: Courtesy Matthews campaign

Name: Deborah Matthews, 66, real estate broker, community consultant, educator

What office/district are you are running for? Berkeley City Council, District 3

What is the main reason you are running? I have a comprehensive vision for South Berkeley that embraces our history and looks to the future. Our neighborhood deserves leadership that puts South Berkeley first. Berkeley has been my home for forty years. I love that our city strives to do what is right, and gives back even when times are tough. I love the diversity of our neighborhood: the Thai Temple Sunday brunch, the Berkeley YMCA where my daughter was a member of the swim team, and the Berkeley flea market drummers’ circle. I often reflect on the joys of these experiences. We cope with a lack of investment, rising housing costs, displacement, traffic, violent crime, and inadequate leadership. I will stop these threats. I will bring dedicated leadership and will get the job done.

Why are you qualified? I am ready to work for South Berkeley and willing to go the extra mile to reach our community goals while learning along the way. My civic engagement experience complemented by my real estate expertise gives me an in-depth knowledge of citywide and community-centered issues. As a former Commissioner Chair for Zoning, Housing, and Planning in Berkeley, I have frequently been a facilitator to diffuse and resolve contentious discussions between residents and applicants. Apart from the strength of my track record as a Chair and Commissioner, I one of the few African American women to ever serve in these capacities. I bring my skills and experience along with my passion to address overlooked issues concerning women, such as domestic violence, sex trafficking, and child abuse.


What sets you apart from other candidates? When elected to Berkeley City Council, I will not breach the trust of South Berkeley voters by running for a higher office. I will:
● Be present to vote on the complex issues of housing and homelessness
● Provide equity and inclusion on Boards and Commissions
● Deliver reinvestment to South Berkeley
● Establish an African American Historical District in South Berkeley, honoring the historical legacies of all people of color.
● Address direct broadband access through collaboration with non-profit organizations
● Provide resources and computer tools to every student to embrace their intellectual and educational goals
● I support Governor Newsom’s Master Plan on Aging to protect our community elders’ right to age in place with dignity and respect.
● Provide job and certification programs for our at-risk residents who are ready to go to work
● Support police reform that promotes an understanding of how historical racism has shaped policing. Berkeley must expand equity and diversity training and vet police trainees for previous issues of excessive force, domestic violence, and any affiliation with white supremacy groups. These offenses must be strict grounds for no-hire within the Berkeley Police Department.

What brought you to Berkeley and when did you come? I came to Berkeley in 1979. I was excited about the Bay Area’s natural beauty, culture and inspiring political activism. There is always an opportunity around the corner for; a micro-business, a creative workspace, a tech-startup, or an eclectic art scene. Berkeley has a wonderful balance between city-life, ocean, sunsets, and nearby mountains and redwoods. I love our foodie culture from farm-to-table produce to incredibly diverse ethnic culinary experiences. I love calling Berkeley my home.

What are the three biggest challenges for Berkeley in the next five years? Addressing:
1. Housing: Berkeley’s housing crisis will become more severe from COVID-19. The answer to our housing crisis is to build housing immediately | TOD’s
2. Social & Economic Justice: Develop an urgent action plan to overturn the impacts of historical racism & implement police reform.
3. Climate Action: Raise awareness on how fossil fuels contribute to the degradation of natural habitats & public lands, contaminate our water supply, pollute our air & increase CO2 emissions.

What are your ideas to begin to solve them?
1. Housing Crisis: I call for a $100 million dollar investment in the South Berkeley community ($50 million immediately and $50 million in ten years), which will be used to subsidize low-income housing and housing for the homeless at the Ashby BART. Incentivize landlords to accept section 8 housing vouchers by creating a program:
● Cover security deposits and the cost of damages to a property.
● If the tenant vacates the lease, provide one month’s rent to the landlord.
● Waive city permit fees for repairs and improvements.

2. Social and Economic Justice Reform: Implement community policing. Strong policing partnerships between residents and officers can foster a sense of purpose, crime prevention, and public safety. The City of Richmond had high rates of violent crime ten years ago yet has since reduced said crime dramatically. I will advocate bringing Berkeley and the Richmond together to explore key elements that have effectively sustained safety and reduced violent crime. Incorporate an understanding of how historical racism has shaped Berkeley by bringing in speakers and facilitators (even former gang members) who can engage police officers and residents, while encouraging tactical learning.


3. Climate Action: Support the mission of Fossil Free California to divest the CalSTRS (state teachers) and CalPERS (state employees) pension funds. Petition state leadership to move toward fossil-free portfolios, and promote divestment from fossil fuel companies at the state level.

What is your most inspired/unique idea for Berkeley? Create a South Berkeley African American Arts & Cultural District. It will spotlight African American cultural contributions and historical legacies, along with the legacies of all other communities of color. The district will feature a community park and an open-air performance space with funding from grants, philanthropy, and bond measures to encourage festivities, unity, and the celebration of South Berkeley Pride.

How will you be accessible to constituents? When elected, please come knock on my door at City Hall! I will provide in-person meetings to find solutions for individual constituent issues, hold community meetings with residents outside of the constituency office, visit constituents without access to the internet, provide policy discussions and listening tours, offer special events with South Berkeley residents to facilitate community pride and networking, and celebrate all that we love about our community.

Why should voters choose you over the incumbent? I hold a vision for South Berkeley that will embrace history and look to the future. I will dedicate the time it takes to get the job done. I am not going anywhere. I will not be running for higher office as soon as I get elected — I am true to South Berkeley.

I will prioritize people of color positions on our important commissions & ensure that our city moves to reform the racist zoning policies of the past. I will get 500 affordable low-income homes built in our neighborhood without delay.


I have proven that I will be there for difficult decisions. I will listen carefully to all sides of an issue. I will be there for every housing vote. I will never be absent for important votes that directly affect my district. I will not abdicate my leadership role when tough issues are before me.

Are you using public financing? Yes

How much money do you expect to spend on your campaign? $25,000

Share a personal interest or passion people might be surprised to learn about. During my college years, my salutation was always, “In the Music.” My childhood was was full of music, my great granddad was one fine Black, West Virginian Appalachian banjo player. My daddy was a lover of jazz music and the vocals of the late legend Nancy Wilson. My moma was a gospel inspiration and Director of the church choir. I was inspired by all of them. I love all styles of music from the opera of Leontyne Price, The Hawkins Family, to BTS, and Lianne Lahavs! So when you hear a little beat from my office at City Hall, don’t be alarmed, just join me for a lyric or two, there’s plenty of work that must get done. Let’s sing, laugh, heal, and enjoy every minute of making our beloved Berkeley the best place on the planet for everyone!

Learn more about Deborah Matthews online: Website

Read more about Deborah Matthews on Berkeleyside. See complete 2020 election coverage on Berkeleyside.