Name: Rashi Kesarwani, 35, government finance manager (District 1)
What is the main reason you are running? I’m running for City Council because I want to bring my government experience to Berkeley in order to ensure that our community remains a beacon of opportunity, diversity, and social justice. My parents came to California as immigrants from India. They didn’t have any money and English was their second language, but they were able to work hard and buy a modest home. I want that same opportunity for Berkeley’s next generation, including my newborn son, Austin. We must also work on evidence-based, regional solutions for those who are homeless on our streets.
Why are you qualified? I came to Berkeley in 2010 to earn a Master of Public Policy from U.C. Berkeley. I then had the honor of working in Sacramento for the non-partisan California Legislative Analyst’s Office, where I advised members of the Legislature on how to improve health and social services programs serving seniors and people with disabilities. I helped win the fight for overtime pay for hundreds of thousands of low-wage homecare workers statewide. I now manage a $900 million budget for San Francisco’s Human Services Agency, which provides healthcare, meals, and other essential support to needy families. I also serve on Berkeley’s Housing Advisory Commission and Community Health Commission, where I’ve championed affordable housing and fought to save Alta Bates Hospital. I want to bring my government experience — of solving complex policy challenges and managing a large public budget — to Berkeley to get our city back on track.
What sets you apart from other candidates? There are three qualities needed for the next City Councilmember for District 1 to be successful: (1) experience serving the community; (2) an ability to think critically about policy and budget issues; and (3) a commitment to the future of the community. As a Commissioner on the Housing Advisory Commission and the Community Health Commission, I’ve served my community by championing affordable housing and fighting to keep Alta Bates Hospital open. With a Master of Public Policy degree and experience working at the state and local level, I have demonstrated the ability to think critically about policy and budget issues – this is an area that sets me apart from the other candidates in the race. At the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, I helped win the fight for fair pay for hundreds of thousands of low-wage homecare workers statewide. I now manage a $900 million budget for San Francisco’s Human Services Agency, which provides essential support to needy families. I’m eager to use my academic training and professional background to bring an evidence-based approach to Berkeley policymaking. And finally, as a new mom, I’m deeply committed to the future of our community.
How and when did you end up in Berkeley? I have fond memories of visiting Berkeley as a high school student in the late 90s when my brother came here for college. I came to Berkeley in 2010 to earn a Master of Public Policy degree and have stayed in the area ever since.
What are the three biggest challenges for Berkeley in the next five years? The biggest challenge for Berkeley over the next five years relates to the quality of life for current and future members of our community: (1) Can we reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness and create homes that are affordable for working people, families, and seniors? (2) Can we fund improvements needed to our infrastructure in order to become a climate resilient community? (3) And will we begin to pay down our unfunded pension liabilities?
Our community’s shortage of affordable homes harms all of us: it worsens homelessness, contributes to more greenhouse gas emissions from workers forced into long car commutes, and increases income inequality by shutting out low-income families and hardworking young people from being able to access the world-class educational and professional opportunities of the Bay Area.
What are your ideas to begin to solve them? I will work to provide immediate housing options for the homeless as well as advocate for long-term solutions, such as developing a regional homelessness plan and seeking more resources from the state (and eventually, the federal government) for permanent supportive housing. We are a compassionate community, but we must intervene when encampments pose health and safety concerns or when problematic street behavior threatens the ability of other residents to access public spaces. If elected to City Council, I propose to use affordable housing bond funding and public-private partnerships to create microunits (or tiny homes) with low barriers to entry. I’m committed to housing everyone who is from Berkeley and who is willing to seek our help, particularly transitional-age youth, families, and veterans. We also need to stop homelessness before it starts by structuring our services so that we can respond quickly to a crisis and prevent someone from losing their home.
On housing, I’m committed to making it easier for homeowners to create backyard cottages (also known as Accessory Dwelling Units, or ADUs). I will work with the city’s Planning Department so that permits to build ADUs are processed and awarded faster. I will also champion the creation of a low-interest loan program so that low- and moderate-income homeowners can have access to the $150,000 to $250,000 needed to build an ADU. Estimates suggest that 30 percent of Berkeley’s 16,000 homeowners are interested in creating an ADU, so these efforts could lead to the creation of as many as 5,000 new homes suitable for young people, couples, or seniors.
Finally, in order to address our unfunded infrastructure needs and pension liabilities, I’ll put my public budgeting experience to use in order to ensure that Berkeley’s budget is making the appropriate investments over the long term.
What is your most inspired/unique idea for Berkeley? As I’ve knocked on doors across District 1, I’ve heard from neighbors who want to provide assistance to our homeless population. I would like to establish a regular Community Day of Service, in which volunteers, nonprofits, and government agencies can provide resources and services to individuals experiencing (or at risk of experiencing) homelessness. These services can include dental and vision care, housing information, SSI benefits, and more.
How will you be accessible to constituents? I have sought to run my campaign in a manner that reflects how I would govern. I’ve personally knocked on more than 3,000 doors across District 1 and have had hundreds of conversations with voters. We have also been hosting 1-2 house parties every week since early July. If elected, I plan to continue to hold regular community meetings in order to keep neighbors informed of progress on addressing community issues and hear feedback.
Are you using public financing? Yes
How much money do you expect to spend on your campaign? $55,000
A final thought? I’m proud to be running a grassroots people-powered campaign, knocking on doors and hosting house parties. That’s also why I’ve taken the City of Berkeley Public Campaign Financing Pledge: to only accept donations of $50 or less from individuals — no corporations, no PACs. I won’t owe anything to anyone, except you — the voters of Berkeley.