District 1 in Berkeley is an eclectic area, with the Marina and César Chavez Park on its western edge, the city of Albany to the north, University Avenue to the south, and a short section of the busy Martin Luther King Jr. Way to the east.
The district is home to thousands of single-family homes, as well as retail stores along University Avenue, San Pablo Avenue and Gilman Streets. Second and Fourth Streets off of Gilman were once the epicenter of Berkeley’s heavy industry, but that is giving away to light industry. It’s also a growing “drinks district” that includes Covenant winery, Fieldwork Brewery, Donkey and Goat winery and Broc Cellars, among others.
For the last 26 years, Linda Maio has served as the District 1 representative on the City Council. During her tenure she has grappled with many issues, including the pollution and emissions coming from the Pacific Steel Casting plant; similar emissions concerns from an asphalt plant; growing tent cities holding the homeless; and people living in their RVs, just to name a few. Maio has also checked off a few issues on her to-do list: the Gilman interchange will soon be reconfigured (if Prop 6 fails); Berkeley’s soda tax now generates funds for school gardening and other programs; and volatile crude oil will not be transported on railroad cars through Berkeley.
Now that Maio is retiring, four community members are competing to replace her. The race is one of the most civil in Berkeley. No candidate has filed a complaint against another and they have all expressed appreciation for the hard work their competitors have done.
With just a few days left until the Nov. 6 election, the race appears to be a three-way battle between Maio’s recommended successor, Margo Schueler, a public works commissioner and retired EBMUD engineer, Maio’s second pick, Rashi Kesarwani, a government finance manager who serves on the Housing Advisory Commission and the Community Health Commission, and Igor Tregub, a safety engineer for the federal Department of Energy and an elected member of the Berkeley Rent Board. He also has served on the Zoning Adjustments Board, the Homeless Task Force and the Housing Advisory Board, among others.
The fourth candidate, Mary Behm-Steinberg, has only spent $530 on her campaign and said at a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Berkeley, Albany and Emeryville that she does not expect to win. She does want to get her views as a disabled artist heard, she said. Behm-Steinberg is concerned about the decline in Berkeley’s diversity and what she sees as an increasing lack of compassion in the city.
The race, according to observers, is too close to call with the top three candidates each getting significant support. No one candidate is predicted to win outright by taking 50% of the vote plus 1, so ranked-choice voting will probably determine the next City Council member. To win under RCV, the candidates and their supporters need to consider who to prefer for second and even third choice.
Consider, for example, the District 8 race four years ago. Lori Droste topped the vote, but only by 120 votes. George Beier was second and Mike Alvarez Cohen was third. The second-choice votes of the fourth-placed candidate, Jacquelyn McCormick, were reallocated: 296 to Droste, 275 to Beier, only 135 to Alvarez Cohen. So Droste led Beier by 141 votes. Beier received more of Alvarez Cohen’s third-choice votes – 583 to 458 – but that wasn’t quite enough. Droste won the seat by 16 votes. The lesson: it’s incredibly difficult to figure out RCV-winning strategies in advance.
“I don’t spend a lot of time speculating about how the outcome will play out,” said Kesarwani. “My approach is to knock on as many doors I can to have face to face conversations with voters about their concerns, their neighborhood… and offer my ideas how we can move the community forward.”
In many ways, Tregub, 33, is the candidate to beat. He has run citywide three times for the Rent Stabilization Board and won twice. Mayor Jesse Arreguín has endorsed him, as have council members Kriss Worthington, Kate Harrison, Ben Bartlett, and Sophie Hahn. His elected position, combined with his work on other city commissions and his presidency of the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club, as well as his ubiquitous presence at community events, has given him high name recognition. Tregub has been emphasizing his 15-years of experience as he campaigns through the district. He said he has knocked on thousands of doors.
“Endorsed by over 60 community leaders and elected officials, having worked on over 50 legislative items ranging from anti-displacement, to environmental justice, to seismic safety, my foremost priority is to deliver to you – the residents of Berkeley – the services that you pay for and deserve,” he wrote in Berkeleyside’s questionnaire for candidates.
Tregub made one stumble in his campaign, and that was opening a $100 bank account. Berkeley’s new Public Campaign Finance program only allows candidates to accept donations of $50 from any one individual, so his actions automatically disqualified him from accepting public financing. He is the only major candidate not to be participating. That means he can take a maximum of $250 from any one person or entity.
So far, Tregub has raised $46,968, according to campaign finance filings. He pledged not to take any money from developers, which he hasn’t. He has accepted $250 donations from the political action committees of a number of unions.
The $100 contribution that led to Tregub’s exclusion from public financing is a smaller mistake than the fiasco of his 2012 re-election campaign to the Rent Board. On Oct. 18, 2012, Tregub sent out an email that made inaccurate accusations about the then-president of the Berkeley Property Owners Association, Sid Lakireddy, who was supporting an opposing slate of more pro-landlord candidates. The email connected Sid Lakireddy to crimes committed in the 1990s by one of his uncles, Lakireddy Balireddy, who owned 1,000 rental units in Berkeley. In 2001, Balireddy was sentenced to an eight-year sentence on charges of transporting minors for illegal sexual activity, conspiracy to commit immigration fraud, and filing false tax returns.
Tregub’s campaign email made a link between Sid Lakireddy and Balireddy, which Tregub later admitted was not true. The email was sent on behalf of Tregub and his fellow slate of rent board commissioners, Alejandro Soto-Vigil, Judy Shelton, and Asa Dodsworth. Sid Lakireddy filed a defamation lawsuit against all four of them in 2013. The court dismissed charges against the other three and Lakireddy settled the case with Tregub in Sept. 2015. Tregub agreed to send out an apology to his email list and admit he had been wrong.
“On October 18, 2012, I made a fateful mistake,” Tregub wrote. “The intent of this email is to apologize to a valued member of the Berkeley community who was rightly upset by my printed words.”
Tregub lost his re-election bid to the Rent Board in 2012 but was elected again in 2016.
In this campaign for City Council, Tregub has gone out of his way to praise his opponents. “I have a lot of respect for the other candidates,” he wrote in his Berkeleyside questionnaire.
Housing and density are two of the most contentious issues in Berkeley today and examining Tregub’s record is one place voters can look in order to understand the type of council member he would be. Considered pro-tenant on the Rent Board, as a ZAB commissioner, Tregub voted in favor of a number of new apartment complexes. He is a strong proponent of affordable housing. He has also taken a strong stance, however, against projects that he thinks will have too large a negative impact on neighbors, even those that would put money in the housing trust fund. Notably, he voted against issuing a use permit for the 302-unit, 18-story complex at 2211 Harold Way. That project, which has not been built yet, is estimated to put $6 million in the Housing Trust Fund and contribute another $4 million in community benefits. (Tregub said he wanted to distribute those funds differently than was proposed). Tregub also voted against the approval of a 5-story, 152-unit complex at 2001 Fourth St., the Aquatic III, on the site of the old Grocery Outlet store, while the rest of ZAB approved it nearly unanimously, (with the exception of Commissioner Steven Donaldson, who recused himself because he was a neighbor). The project includes 12 very-low-income units and will pay $400,000 into the Housing Trust Fund.
Tregub said he could not support the demolition of Grocery Outlet as he saw it as a detriment to the neighborhood. He said that he takes very seriously his “Barbara Lee” votes where he stands alone against a project but said they came infrequently. A better example of his approach to housing was 1740 San Pablo Ave., where he helped steer ZAB to a unanimous yes vote, he said. He said Berkeley needs an “all of the above” approach to increase its housing stock.
Is the amount of money raised for a campaign an indication of success?
If the amount of money raised in a campaign is an indication of its competitiveness, Kesarwani is running a stronger race than Schueler. Kesarwani has raised $54,322.97 for her campaign, which includes a $40,000 match from the city, according to campaign finance reports. Schueler has raised $36,332, which includes $29,490 from Berkeley. (She told Berkeleyside she had originally hoped to keep her campaign costs under $20,000, but it turned out not to be possible.) Those participating in public campaign financing can get a maximum of $40,000 in matching funds from the city but can raise more money that won’t be matched as long as it is in $50 increments.
When Maio announced her retirement earlier this year, she endorsed Schueler, 64, to replace her. Schueler is Maio’s long-time appointee to the public works commission and had assisted her in contending with the emissions coming from the 81-year-old Pacific Steel Casting plant, which closed last month. Schueler, who has a technical background, communicated frequently with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District about monitoring what came out of the plant and its impact on the neighborhood. As a long-time resident who had raised her two daughters not far from the plant, she kept on top of residents’ concerns.
Then, on Oct. 22, Maio announced that she was endorsing Kesarwani as her second choice and encouraged her followers to do the same.
To some observers, that endorsement was a way to stop Tregub’s momentum. Arreguín has endorsed Schueler for the second slot. Former Mayor Loni Hancock has endorsed Rashi for the second slot (and Schueler for the first choice).
Schueler and Kesarwani bring different expertise to the campaign. Schueler has been emphasizing Berkeley’s decaying infrastructure and has said she wants to do more planning on the impact of climate change and rising Bay waters.
“We must restore our aging infrastructure and make it green, resilient and sustainable to become carbon neutral, live within limited water resources, address sea-level rise, drought, urban wildfires and biodiversity,” she wrote for Berkeleyside’s questionnaire.
Schueler wants to make more of Berkeley’s streets permeable so they can soak up, clean and store stormwater. She wants the city and its residents to plant more trees to “improve air and water quality, reduce energy costs, calm traffic, improve human health, and store carbon.” “We can organize the community and fund our work together to further green our streets thru the sale of carbon credits,” she wrote.
Schueler has run an environmentally friendly campaign. She has had one mailer and two flyers printed – fewer than most candidates – and handed them out at campaign events or hung them on doors. She has used recycled cardboard posters printed with soy ink but no plastic coating. She is hanging them on recycled donated frames salvaged from previous political campaigns, she said.
“I have experienced my own frustration over the years with the volumes of slick, hard-to-recycle volumes of paper delivered to my door and watched as my family and friends increasingly ignore them,” Schueler wrote in an email. “I have taken to saving the pile for reflection at the end of the campaign season and been distressed to see buckets on front porches with discarded material as I walk our neighborhoods. Particularly with the recycling crisis we are in the middle of with the China tariff war, I committed to the first R principal – REDUCE!”
Maio said Schueler is a deep thinker who will do a lot of questioning as a councilwoman. She also would be an independent voice on the council, not someone closely aligned with the Berkeley Progressive Alliance (Arreguín, Hahn, Harrison) or those who hold positions similar to the Berkeley Democratic Club (Wengraf, Droste).
“She’s her own woman,” said Maio.
Kesarwani, 35, has been emphasizing her experience with budgets and finance as she knocks on doors. A new mother, she works as a finance manager for San Francisco’s Human Services Agency, where she track revenues and expenditures for the agency’s $900 million budget. Kesarwani also worked as an analyst in the California Legislative Analyst’s Office and believes she will bring an experienced eye to Berkeley’s finances. She said she is also committed to working with Maio, even after she leaves office, to make sure affordable housing is built on the North Berkeley BART station.
Kesarwani has knocked on a lot of doors and said the issue of most concern to District 1 residents is homelessness. The district has been ground zero in recent years for those without homes. Two years ago, people set up encampments under the Gilman Street underpass and along the frontage road. When Caltrans and Berkeley shut those down, citing health concerns, those without homes created a large encampment along Second Street. Berkeley cleared out that encampment when it opened Pathways, a navigation center that can accommodate 49 people at a time, on Second Street in June. Additionally, for months RVs parked at the Marina. They were evicted in May and many have moved to Harrison Street.
Kesarwani said in a Berkeleyside opinion piece, that if elected, she will make it a priority to get to know as many unhoused people as possible to better understand the challenges facing them. She will also work to establish regional solutions to the problem. (Tregub has also released a five-point plan to combat homelessness and he also wants to take a regional approach).
Kesarwani has been endorsed by State Senator Nancy Skinner, City Councilwomen Lori Droste, City Councilwoman Susan Wengraf, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, the Berkeley Police Association, former City Councilmen Laurie Capitelli and Darryl Moore, among others.
Review Berkeleyside’s questionnaires with all four District 8 candidates: