Name: Susan Wengraf, 75, City Council member
What office/district are you are running for? District 6
What is the main reason you are running? I am running for re-election to continue to be a strong advocate for the important work that I started on fire safety and prevention, undergrounding of utility wires, and a program for amnesty of unpermitted units. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our world. As we deal with unprecedented layers of crises, my experience and knowledge is crucial to an effective recovery in the coming years. People have been devastated, and the loss of revenue from closures and the absence of our UC students has had very deep financial impacts on our community. Our residents are faced with unemployment and the threat of eviction. Our resilience surviving this difficult time and recovery will take experienced leadership.
Why are you qualified? I raised my children in Berkeley. I understand what makes a city a desirable place for families. I have dedicated more than thirty years to our community, serving on the Planning Commission for 18 years, as Chief of Staff to Councilmember Betty Olds for sixteen years, and as City Council member for twelve years. My long service has given me the institutional knowledge to make important decisions. I am thoughtful and pragmatic in my deliberations, and push to develop consensus through collaboration with my colleagues. I listen to my constituents; I have high standards for transparency and accountability. I work hard and feel more motivated than ever to tackle the big challenges we will face in the future.
What sets you apart from other candidates? My experience, depth of knowledge, and effectiveness distinguish me in the District 6 race. My accomplishments, ability to listen, honesty and compassion, and effective representation are affirmed by my endorsements from the Sierra Club, the Alameda County Democratic Party, East Bay Young Dems, Stonewall Democratic Club, Berkeley Democratic Club, as well as from our elected leaders State Senator Nancy Skinner, Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson, Mayor Jesse Arreguin and Vice-Mayor Sophie Hahn, and Councilmembers Droste, Kesarwani and Bartlett and School Board President, Judy Appel and Vice President Ty Alper.
What brought you to Berkeley and when did you come? I moved to Berkeley in 1969, enticed by the energy, activism and vibrancy. I was trained to teach children who had multiple deficits as a result of the Rubella virus epidemic. I taught Special Ed for many years. It was during this time that I also started teaching filmmaking to children. Then, I met Berkeley songwriter, folksinger, Malvina Reynolds whom I decided to make a film about.
What are the three biggest challenges for Berkeley in the next five years? The three biggest challenges to Berkeley in the next five years will be: housing and homelessness; wildfire safety and prevention; economic recovery from COVID-19.
What are your ideas to begin to solve them? Please vote in November! We need help from the federal government to solve all these very large problems.
We are making good progress on building housing, but we need to receive federal and state funding to build more housing for low and very low-income residents. We have adopted a “Housing First Strategy” committing to creating homes as a long-term solution to homelessness. We also need short term solutions. Traditional shelters do not serve well under COVID regulations, so we are housing homeless families in motels and trailers. As everyone can see, the demand far exceeds the supply of available shelter.
As a city, we must keep working at it, balancing the needs of our residents and businesses with the needs of the less fortunate.
I have successfully secured more than a million dollars for vegetation removal and trimming on city properties and parks. There is more to do. On the ballot in November is Measure FF. If passed by the voters, we can implement a robust inspection program on private property and continue with our Safe Passages program to provide open evacuation routes throughout the city. An outdoor warning system and updated 911 dispatch system are also included. If approved, this measure will go a long way to making Berkeley safer.
Recovery from COVID will require new and creative planning. Reforming the permitting process and lifting draconian regulations are on my list of things to consider, as I develop a Recovery Plan for Berkeley.
What is your most inspired/unique idea for Berkeley? Berkeley has about 5,000 units that are not being rented because they were built without permits. I developed an Amnesty Program to allow these units to be certified and legally rented without fear of reprisal or citation. Many of these units are in homes or yards and would be more affordable than new constructed units. The Planning Department is working on its implementation currently. Imagine bringing thousands of units back for rental without the environmental impacts of new construction!
How will you be accessible to constituents? I have an “open door” policy. I am always available to my constituents. I publish a frequent newsletter informing my constituents of important events and relaying helpful information. My office is committed to listening and responding to the concerns of District 6 residents. Since COVID, I have conducted dozens of neighborhood meetings via Zoom, trying to reach out to as many as possible. I will continue to strive for transparency and accountability.
What year were you elected and what have been your biggest accomplishments? I was first elected to Berkeley City council in 2008.
- I have approved thousands of units of housing along our major transportation corridors.
- I created a City/UC/Student Relations Committee to improve communication between the students and the City.
- I introduced a Community Engagement process to start learning how to reform our policing so that it better represents our community’s values.
- Supported the Housing First Strategy to break the cycle of homelessness
- Created a Task Force to study Undergrounding Utilities throughout the City.
- Spearheaded the transition to LED lighting
- Created an EV Charging program in the Public Right of Way
- Secured more than a million dollars for vegetation management
- Educated thousands of residents on disaster prevention and preparedness
Are you using public financing? No
How much money do you expect to spend on your campaign? $50,000
Share a personal interest or passion people might be surprised to learn about. I am a big film buff. My husband and I love watching movies. We spend hours watching and discussing films. In the early seventies, I wrote a resource directory, “Positive Images” about films about women. Then I made a film, “Love It Like A Fool” about Malvina Reynolds. That’s how I met my husband Mark. His career was as a sound mixer and editor in the film industry.
We have a film group that meets regularly. We watch all kinds of movies and always have terrific discussions, even if the films are not so good. It’s a part of my life that very few people in Berkeley know about. But I am passionate about all the arts and that is something that I really miss during the pandemic.