Courtesy of Sophie Hahn
Courtesy of Sophie Hahn

Name: Sophie Hahn

Age: 55

Job: Zoning Adjustments Board member; retired small business owner and attorney

What office are you are running for? Berkeley City Council, District 5

What is the main reason you are running? I am running to represent the people and neighborhoods of Berkeley, and ensure that as we grow and change, we protect and amplify the things that make Berkeley a uniquely wonderful place to live, work, learn and play. With a lifetime of service for our schools, libraries, community and the environment, I will champion equity and forward Berkeley’s great tradition of progressive leadership. Berkeley is facing a crisis of affordability, displacement and homelessness. Addressing this will be my top priority. Endorsed by the Sierra Club, I will continue my work to address climate change and improve Berkeley’s resilience.

Why are you qualified for the position? My qualifications are:
(1) My deep roots in District 5 and close, lifelong relationship with the community I am running to serve; I grew up in District 5, and have raised my family here
(2) My unparalleled record of service to Berkeley’s schools, libraries and to the community
(3) My leadership on the Environment and fighting Climate Change
(4) My education, including graduating from Berkeley High and UC Berkeley (Phi Beta Kappa, with Honors) and receiving a JD from Stanford Law School
(5) My public service as a senior member of the City of Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board and as Chair of the Commission on the Status of Women, and as a member of the Solano Avenue Business Improvement District Board
(6) My leadership in the community, serving on Boards including the Berkeley Public Library Foundation, The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, the Sierra Club, the Bancroft Library at CAL and Planned Parenthood; as President of the King PTA and Chair of the Governance Council, and more
(5) My work experience, including practicing law, working for a large international organization (the International Planned Parenthood Federation) and starting, growing and operating a small manufacturing and wholesale business.

What sets you apart from other candidates? The above qualifications set me significantly apart. In addition, I have been a strong advocate for the full implementation of Berkeley’s Downtown Plan, while my opponent has worked on behalf of real estate interests seeking to maximize profits by building luxury housing. The Downtown Plan approved by Berkeley’s citizens promised taller buildings with ample affordable housing, historic preservation, green buildings and transit features, units for all family sizes, attractive parks and plazas, public parking, and more. I co-authored the legislation that saved our Downtown Post Office and protects our entire historic Civic Center from privatization. I have championed affordable housing, green buildings and transit, and approved over 2,500 units of housing. I approved the expanded parking garage under construction, successfully opposed leasing publicly funded spaces to the new hotel development (which now includes parking) and insisted on public restrooms. My vision for an arts- and pedestrian-centric downtown is published on Berkeleyside. I work with developers, but not for them. My opponent led a campaign funded by the California and National Associations of Realtors, and his own campaign is heavily funded by development interests. Finally, my opponent has been sanctioned and fined by the Courts for serious misconduct.

How did you end up in Berkeley? My parents moved to Berkeley when I was a young girl. Berkeley citizens had just voted to integrate the public schools, and my parents wanted our family to be part of what was then a groundbreaking movement. Attending Cragmont, “Columbus,” King, West Campus, Berkeley High and UC Berkeley, I was steeped in Free Speech, Civil Rights and the Farmworkers’ struggle, participating in marches, protests and boycotts. Thus began my life as an activist in Berkeley – and beyond. My commitment to this community, and to our shared values, has been expressed through continuous leadership, advocacy and service since that time.

What are the three biggest challenges Berkeley faces in the near future? 

I am running to ensure that Berkeley’s citizens are lifted up, not pushed out.

Extraordinary pressures on housing are pricing out all but the wealthy, pushing hardworking citizens to the outer reaches of the region. We are experiencing an exodus of people of color: in 1970, Berkeley’s population was 25% African American; today African Americans make up less than 10%. While teachers, artists, nurses, activists and other working families are pushed away, others are pushed out of housing altogether.

Not surprisingly, our homeless population is growing, and the needs of this diverse group are dire. A recent study in San Francisco found that 70% of people living on the streets were formerly housed in San Francisco; the East Bay is likely similar. We must address their needs with humane and effective solutions. Our sidewalks and parks were not designed to accommodate human habitation, and the prevalence of homeless trying to survive on our streets is both a humanitarian disaster for the homeless, and a challenge those who seek to use our public spaces for their intended uses.

The affordability crisis and homelessness are closely linked, and call for immediate action. They will be my top priorities.

Also pressing is the threatened closure of Alta Bates hospital. I am proud to be endorsed by the California Nurses Association, and am already working with them to develop strategies to keep Alta Bates open as an emergency and acute care hospital.

Finally, I will never lose sight of the sustained emergency of climate change. We must achieve our Climate Action and Resiliency Goals, and keep Berkeley in the forefront of environmental action. Clean energy, zero waste, bike and pedestrian infrastructure, improved buses and shuttles, green buildings near transit, improved air quality and plans for sea level rise are all important priorities.

What are your ideas to solve them? 

We are not powerless in the face of intense regional market forces, but we need to act quickly and decisively if we want to stem the tide of displacement. A report by Just Cause/Causa Justa, “Development without Displacement,” outlines an approach to development that enhances existing communities rather than pushing them out.

Alameda County has an Affordable Housing Bond on our November ballot, which will provide much needed funds for Berkeley. We need to pass it. I support Measure U1, taxing landlords’ windfall profits and dedicating those monies to our affordable housing trust fund. (I oppose Measure DD, a deceptive competing initiative put on the ballot by the landlord lobby).

Market-rate housing is also part of the solution, and I welcome new, well designed, green developments – with affordable housing fees and inclusionary housing requirements set at the highest feasible levels.

I will work with UC Berkeley to fast-track student housing and will join with other jurisdictions to create a “Commercial Linkage Fee” that results in regional monies for affordable housing.

For the homeless, I support Housing First policies, working with regional partners to pool resources and coordinate services. We must increase emergency services for those are on the brink of homelessness, with well-publicized hotlines, rental assistance, hotel vouchers and relocation services. Second, we need to invest in proven long-term solutions such as San Francisco’s navigation centers and transitional and permanent supportive housing. Finally, we must address the immediate humanitarian and health crisis on our streets. Sanctioned tent cities and tiny homes are just a few viable ideas to explore, as well as the recommendations from Berkeley’s Homeless Task Force.

Saving Alta Bates will take sustained organizing and action on many fronts. I am already working with the Nurses/CNA, who have successfully organized to save many hospitals.

What is your most inspired/unique idea for Berkeley? I am committed to working with merchants, property owners, neighbors and North Berkeley residents to transform Solano into a vibrant, sustainable Main Street for North Berkeley. The Institute for Local Self Reliance champions measures to support strong local economies. I am excited to partner with the community on this initiative.

How will you be accessible to constituents? I love being of service to the people of Berkeley, and will be a full-time councilperson, with no other job competing for my time and attention. My door will always be open, and with my kids in college, I will be available to meet with constituents evenings and weekends. As president of King PTA I responded to thousands of inquiries every year, providing support and connections, and solving problems. I will hold regular coffees and town halls, reaching out to neighborhood groups and tapping the amazing ideas and talents of District 5’s residents.

How much money do you expect to spend on your campaign? I am honored to have received over 500 enthusiastic donations, the vast majority from Berkeley and District 5 residents. To date, I have raised over $65,000.

A final thought? I am pleased to be endorsed by:

The Sierra Club
Planned Parenthood Advocates Mar Monte
The Green Party of Alameda County
The East Bay Times (Oakland Tribune)

Alameda Labor Council
SEIU Local 1021
California Nurses Association
American Postal Workers Union, East Bay Area Local
East Bay Young Democrats
Wellstone Democratic Club
CAL Berkeley Democrats
Berkeley Citizens Action
Berkeley Progressive Alliance
John George Democratic Club
Berkeley Tenants Union

Congressman Mike Honda
Controller Betty Yee
CA Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin (ret.)
Assemblymember Tony Thurmond
Alameda County Superintendent of Schools L. Karen Monroe
Alameda County Superintendent of Schools Sheila Jordan (ret.)

Campaign information


See past Berkeleyside coverage related to Sophie Hahn. See complete 2016 election coverage on Berkeleyside.

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