Berkeley City Council candidates for South and West Berkeley took the stage Monday night to share their views on housing, diversity, homelessness, the economy and public safety, among other topics.
The forum, hosted by the League of Women Voters Berkeley Albany Emeryville, was the first to bring together the candidates for District 2 (West Berkeley) and District 3 (South Berkeley) to help get their views out to voters in a group setting.
Video of the full event appears at the bottom of this story.
Beside them on the podium were the four District 3 candidates: Mark Coplan, Al G. Murray, Deborah Matthews and Ben Bartlett. That race will have an open seat, with Councilman Max Anderson on the road to retirement. Anderson has held the seat for 12 years.
The small television studio was crowded with interested attendees, many of whom signed up in advance to be sure they could snag a seat.
After brief introductions, a league moderator asked the candidates a set of prepared questions, followed by another round of questions from members of the public. Each candidate had a chance to answer every question, but the order varied from round to round.
Candidates all said they were concerned about the lack of affordable housing in Berkeley, the potential closure of Alta Bates and decreasing diversity in Berkeley. But answers did vary in specificity, focus and, in a few areas, philosophy.
Many of the questions revolved around housing and development, and did indicate a difference in approaches that could impact how the city looks and grows in the future. Continue reading to see how the candidates responded to some of the questions posed to them Monday night, along with links at the bottom to more information about each council hopeful.
District 2: Davila, Armstrong-Temple and Moore
On the question of housing, Davila said she would like to see the repeal of Costa-Hawkins, the state ban on rent control, and an increase in the requirements for affordable units in Berkeley housing projects.
Davila said she wants to host “neighborhood assemblies” to determine “what the issues are” and be able to “address the issues that they are bringing forward.”
“That’s not currently happening,” she added.
Moore said he hopes to see more density along transit corridors so residents will have easy access to transit and won’t have to rely on cars. He said the city needs to build up its Housing Trust Fund through fees, such as the $6 million slated to be paid by Harold Way, and another $3 million to $4 million estimated to come in through a business license tax on the November ballot. (There are two.)
Moore also said he’d also like to see development at the North Berkeley BART station where there’s currently just a parking lot.
“That is inefficient. That is wasteful,” he said. “We need to build housing there… so that we have more housing stock.”
Armstrong-Temple argued for an increase in developer fees and more efforts to offset rising rents and help those who are struggling financially to stay in Berkeley. She said she wants to see “development without displacement,” and has no interest in “lining the pockets of LA developers.”
She continued: “I’m really interested in neighborhoods and not at all interested in corridors… Whoever is trying to build there just wants a way through, not a way to get to.”
District 3: Coplan, Murray, Matthews and Bartlett
On the other side of the dais, Coplan argued strongly for a halt to luxury housing. Coplan said only 17% of the city’s workers live in Berkeley because rents are out of control. He said studios at Parker Place — being built on Shattuck Avenue — will go for $2,900, and 3-bedroom units for $6,700.
“We’ve literally got to stop,” he said. Coplan said developers are lining up to build in Berkeley, and that the city should say good riddance to those who won’t get on board to offer more affordable housing and work on nonprofit-driven projects.
Matthews took a different position.
“We haven’t done housing in our community for well over 40 years,” she said. [Note: She clarified after publication that she was speaking specifically about affordable housing.] Matthews said she wants to see more affordable housing geared toward middle-income families, as well as those who are lower income.
She said it is important, however, for developers to reach out to neighborhoods “before any ground is broken” to make sure to address the issues they raise so there can be excitement about new housing the city.
Bartlett said he had pushed for a 50% inclusionary requirement while on the Planning Commission, but was unable to get it through due to lack of support.
He said it’s not right that there’s a 10-year waitlist for some types of affordable housing in Berkeley, and that the city needs to divert as much money as possible to its Housing Trust Fund so it can focus on buying buildings and keeping longtime residents in the community.
He also noted that his own mother, a Berkeley native, had been a victim of displacement, adding, “Displacement is more than an academic exercise in my life.”
Murray — who said he could not have afforded to stay in Berkeley had his father not died earlier this year — said it would take a council consensus to get the housing the city needs. He said he’d like to see a city-wide plan that takes a comprehensive look at development and balances the needs of different constituencies.
What happens next?
No other group events are currently planned for either district. The mayoral race and District 5 (North Berkeley) have so far prompted the most interest. Tuesday night, Sept. 13, the League will be back at Berkeley Community Media for its Berkeley School Board forum.
Have a look at the “quick clips” below, created by Berkeleyside, to watch a video snippet from each candidate.
Candidate info, District 2 (alphabetical order)
- Nanci Armstrong-Temple: website | Facebook | Twitter | quick clip
- Cheryl Davila: website | Facebook | quick clip
- Darryl Moore: website | Facebook | Twitter | quick clip
Candidate info, District 3 (alphabetical order)
- Ben Bartlett: website | Facebook | Twitter | quick clip
- Mark Coplan: website | Facebook | quick clip
- Deborah Matthews: website | Facebook | Twitter | quick clip
- Al G. Murray: website | Facebook | Twitter [not available] | quick clip
- The city of Berkeley’s election portal, including candidate info and ballot arguments
- Voter’s Edge: View a personalized ballot by entering your address
- The League of Women Voters Berkeley, Albany and Emeryville: Local races
- Don’t know your Berkeley City Council district? The city website has a handy tool for that.
- You can register to vote online. The deadline to register to vote in California is Oct. 24.
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