What began as a congenial send-off for West Berkeley City Councilmember Cheryl Davila, who was defeated in the Nov. 3 election, took a turn Tuesday night when Davila herself took the mic.
Davila, who served only one four-year term, lost her council seat to challenger Terry Taplin, who secured 62% of the vote in the city’s only ranked-choice contest of 2020. Throughout November, Davila urged her supporters not to lose hope although she always trailed Taplin by a wide margin.
“It ain’t over til it’s over,” she wrote on her council member Facebook page. “It appears, cheating, corruption and collusion, dark money, lies, sabotage, and stealing are acceptable in the COB races, SADLY. Progressive FACADE wins. DOMINATION and control succeeds.”
Davila has made similar comments at multiple Berkeley City Council meetings since the election and continued to make remarks in that vein Tuesday night, twice calling Taplin a “selected marionette.” She spent approximately 20 minutes describing her achievements as well as the resistance she felt she had encountered in office — calling it “hostile territory” — and urged the Berkeley community to “show up, be informed and don’t let the city get away with whatever they’re trying to get away with.”
Davila said she had been reflecting on her term and “connecting the dots, recognizing that there was a strategic plan that was spearheaded early on and seeing the evidence from my term: the campaign, the dark monies, the lies, the deception, the teaming up within the council, the city of Berkeley and the opponents to ensure that I would only have one term. I am certain that … nothing that I would have done would have changed the outcome of the election.”
Davila has not said what she believes the evidence of that one-term conspiracy plan by her fellow officials and others to be. But, Tuesday night, she described a variety of ways she felt her colleagues had wronged and spurned her. She said they had misinterpreted her remarks, refused to endorse her, canceled meetings and once asked her to remove a commissioner from a post.
Davila also blamed her colleagues and city staff for not warning her in advance that the clock was about to run out during a recent City Council meeting that ended at its regularly scheduled time. (If officials don’t vote to extend the meeting past 11 p.m., it automatically ends.) That meant her item to censure the Berkeley police chief was not heard. Davila herself could have asked to extend the meeting, but she apparently was not watching the time.
Davila’s list of grievances and other observations went on for so long that, after several quizzical looks, most of her colleagues eventually turned off their laptop cameras and let her have the floor.
“The sad thing is that the shenanigans-slash-special interests never cease. The entire term has been met with disrespect, disparate treatment, racism and an orchestrated, now successful strategic plan to ensure I would not be reelected,” she said. “I didn’t realize that Berkeley had moved from its position as the nation’s leading progressive city to become a [city] controlled by special interests whose only concern was protecting the status quo that benefited them.”
Outpouring of praise preceded Cheryl Davila’s goodbye
Davila’s disquisition was in marked contrast to the testimonials earlier in the night. Her goodbye speech, which she read from a script, followed more than an hour of heartfelt praise from members of the public and another 20 minutes of what appeared to be warm and sincere recognition from her council colleagues and City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley.
Davila’s colleagues commended her for her “unbridled passion” and her commitment, in particular, to climate justice, those struggling to overcome poverty and the rights of the unhoused. During her term, Davila also spearheaded the effort to bring new welcome signs to Berkeley’s borders, identifying it as “Ohlone Territory,” along with other messages.
Throughout her time in office, Davila regularly spoke out for the unhoused. When community members died on the streets, Davila attended their vigils and asked her colleagues to adjourn City Council meetings in their memory. She pushed hard for Berkeley to withdraw from Urban Shield and spoke out against an armored van for police, citing concerns about militarization in both instances.
Throughout 2020, Davila has been a vocal advocate for police reform and sought to slash the police budget by 50% so that more money could be spent on youth and restorative justice programs, housing and homeless services, and mental health services, among other community needs.
“You are a passionate and tireless advocate for the disenfranchised and the most vulnerable in our community,” Councilmember Susan Wengraf told her Tuesday. “And I thank you for your efforts on their behalf.”
Councilmember Ben Bartlett recalled the time he and Davila had to “bum-rush the stage” at Berkeley’s annual MLK breakfast when other people wouldn’t let them onto it. And he described how her removal from the city’s Human Welfare & Community Action Commission — by the council member she later defeated — galvanized her to enter politics.
“You landed here and you brought the activism with you. You’re an activist: activist from before, activist during and in the future,” Bartlett said. “There’s a certain power and freedom that you get from being an activist. You have the ability to just wield the lightning and that’s something you did not hesitate to do.”
Davila also referenced the human welfare commission episode in her remarks, recalling how, as a commissioner, she had butted heads with city staff over the issue. But then she became a council member who was “higher than them on the hierarchy chart,” she said. “I used to sit in my office and laugh and giggle sometimes just because I couldn’t believe it.”
When it was his turn to speak, Councilmember Rigel Robinson thanked Davila for her fearlessness as well as for her service.
“I know what your leadership has meant to so many in this community. And we’ve seen a little bit of that today,” Robinson said. “So many organizers in Berkeley, in the Bay Area really, feel like they have a voice on the City Council — because of you. You showed everyone what it looks like to turn protest into power. And few, in any elected role, are as present in the community and the community meetings and events as you have been.”
Many members of Berkeley’s activist community attended Tuesday night’s council meeting by Zoom and by phone to make their deep appreciation for Davila known.
“For the first time in my 30-some years here in Berkeley, I actually felt represented,” said Berkeley Copwatch co-founder Andrea Prichett. “I felt like the things that I cared about you also cared about. But you took action on it. I love how you led with your heart, your big heart, that wasn’t merely seeking input, but that bore witness to what’s really going on in our streets.”
Williams-Ridley, the city manager, credited Davila for her consistency and her commitment to issues such as the environment and racial equity.
“These are legacy issues that will leave a lasting impact on our city. I will personally miss your closing comments and emails and, stated verbally, ‘IJS’ and ‘SMH’: ‘I’m just sayin’ and ‘shaking my head,'” the city manager said, adding warmly: “I will not miss the 30 questions 30 minutes before a council meeting, but I certainly respected them. And your effort and thoughtfulness.”
When asked previously about what she was most proud of during her time in office, Davila has pointed to her resolution to declare a climate emergency in Berkeley in 2018 — nearly 1,800 places around the world later did the same — and her creation of a regional Climate Emergency Mobilization Task Force. Davila has said she authored or signed on in support of more than 300 pieces of legislation and had perfect attendance during her tenure.
Beckles to Davila: ‘You’re not going anywhere’
At the start of Tuesday’s meeting, Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson stopped by to pay his respects to Davila. He said he had been on many early-morning and late-night calls with Davila and lauded her for spending so much time out in the community as well as on the dais.
Carson said the Alameda County Board of Supervisors had unanimously approved a commendation to honor her.
Many speakers, including Carson, also said they were certain Davila’s days of service were not over.
“It’s a deep-seated commitment that you have to not only Berkeley but to improving the lives and the quality of life for all of us,” he said.
Jovanka Beckles, who recently won a seat on the AC Transit board, assured Davila that “something better” now awaits her.
“You have been a force to be reckoned with and I don’t think there’s a whole lot more that I can say,” Beckles said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re on our City Council or not. I know that our future depends on people like you. And you’re not going anywhere.”