Name: Richard Illgen, social justice attorney
What office/district are you are running for? Berkeley City Council, District 6
What is the main reason you are running? I am running because District 6 deserves effective, accountable representation every day. We need to make real progress in our district and our city. We are in unprecedented times. We must demand more from the leaders we elect. Just occasionally voting right is not enough. Just being in a seat for a long time is not enough. I have a demonstrated history of not just voting, but leading on issues, solving problems, and a history of building consensus. I’ve chaired the Berkeley Planning Commission and the Rent Board. For nearly two decades, I was in a City Attorney’s office–so I have the direct knowledge of HOW to get to where we need to be, not just that we need to be there. I have real-world experience to address issues we face every day.
Why are you qualified? I know how city governments operate and how to make them work. I have years of proven leadership serving as chair of the Berkeley Planning Commission and Rent Board turning ideas into action — creating legislation, programs and successful coalitions. As a top supervising city attorney for nearly 20 years, I wrote cutting edge legislation and handled major municipal projects including the renovation of the historic Fox Theater, handled regulatory matters such as fire and code enforcement and rent control, and worked closely with Councilmembers developing and implementing ordinances and programs.
I understand housing; I was the Executive Director of a non-profit housing nonprofit that rehabilitated and built affordable housing and ran a job training program for unemployed persons.
What sets you apart from other candidates? I offer fresh ideas and a proven record of success, collaboration, and leadership to the D6 race. My accomplishments include:
As a Berkeley Planning Commission and Rent Board Chair, I worked with environmental advocates to create a successful ballot measure preserving open space on Berkeley’s waterfront, and helped save threatened small businesses and stabilize vulnerable residential tenants to keep our local communities in place and secure.
As an environmental attorney, I worked on the successful suit against Exxon for the Valdez oil spill.
As a Municipal Deputy City Attorney, I held government, businesses and individuals accountable, including mandating fire safety, addressing human trafficking, illegal dumping, protecting immigrants, and housing issues ranging from foreclosures to affordable housing, rent control, substandard housing enforcement, and historic preservation. During the financial crisis, I wrote one of the strongest laws in the nation to reign in big banks who were decimating a city with foreclosures and mandating they maintain properties and keep tenants in place.
Recently, I helped draft Berkeley’s COVID emergency, and residential and commercial homeowner and tenant protections.
What brought you to Berkeley and when did you come? I am an East Bay native (Oakland). Like many, I moved to Berkeley to attend UC, in the late ’60s. To me, Berkeley was a place where forward-thinking ideas could flourish, where we can achieve social justice and influence events in this country and around the world by our local actions. It was important to me to be a part of that culture, and I value that it flourishes today.
What are the three biggest challenges for Berkeley in the next five years? Emergency response, including addressing fire safety and emergency/evacuation proactively and keeping Alta Bates open, so we have an emergency room and hospital. Homeless and affordable housing. Providing support, services, and shelter for homeless, and building affordable housing for workers, families and students.
Addressing climate change and reducing Berkeley’s carbon footprint by getting people out of fossil fuel vehicles and increasing energy efficiency in public and private buildings.
What are your ideas to begin to solve them? Fire and emergency issues: Replace highly flammable non-native vegetation with native varieties. Have clear evacuation plans and communicate them to people at risk. Fix infrastructure that hinders evacuation, such as deteriorated and unsafe pathways, pot-holed streets. Put clear signage indicating evacuation routes. Have fire patrols during red-flag days. Enforce safe spaces around homes. Keep Alta Bates as an operating hospital with an emergency room.
Unhoused and affordable housing. Provide a variety of services to the homeless to keep them safe while assisting them out of homelessness. Provide more housing like Tiny Homes and appropriate motels. Implement the Fair Chance ordinance to make more housing available to the homeless . Prevent further displacement, particularly during COVID. Prioritize affordable housing, particularly on publicly owned sites, like BART parking lots. Reconfigure policing to reduce costs as well as better fiscal management of the city can free up funds for social services
Climate change. Replace fossil fuel city vehicles with electric. Require new buildings to meet the NetZero or the highest LEED standard, and require energy improvements on sale of properties,. Make solar more desirable by allowing it to work independently during utility shut-offs. Encourage electric vehicles by replacing some parking meters with charging stations. Encourage BART use with shuttle buses going to BART stations, UC and downtown. Build BRT lines.
What is your most inspired/unique idea for Berkeley? Address fire safety and emergency/evacuation in the hills proactively, by replacing highly flammable non-native vegetation by less flammable native varieties, communicating clear evacuation routes for people in cars or on foot, and fixing hazardous, deteriorated pathways used for evacuation routes. With climate change, more red flag days, increasingly hotter temperatures and the growing fire risk around the state, these measures are even more important to get done now.
How will you be accessible to constituents? I will strive for respond, either personally or through staff, to constituents within 72 hours. Additionally, I commit to holding regular individual and group constituent meetings in person, when appropriate, and by Zoom, including off-site to be more accessible to constituents. Beyond accessibility, I will proactively seek input by sending questionnaires to get feedback on issues. Finally, I will keep people informed about district activities thorough newsletters and social media.
Why should voters choose you over the incumbent? These are challenging times, and we need to demand more from the people we elect.
Mine will be a new voice on the Council. I have fresh ideas, deep municipal experience, and a proven record of proactively and successfully addressing difficult problems and issues by bringing people from diverse viewpoints together. Fire and emergency response, infrastructure, climate change, homelessness, affordable housing, and policing all must be addressed in Berkeley. I will tackle tough these issues and work with my colleagues and constituents to solve them.
District 6 deserves a council member who works for their constituents alone. I opted for public financing and will not take contributions from developers or special interests. I will be accountable to you, the District 6 taxpayer.
Are you using public financing? Yes
Share a personal interest or passion people might be surprised to learn about. Although I lived in the East Bay, including working in local diverse communities, I left to work in Alaska on the suit against Exxon for the Valdez Oil Spill. While working on that case was fulfilling and I was able to see much of the beauty and wilds of Alaska, the firm I worked for had varied clients, including Alaskan natives. Returning to California, I worked for a firm representing Native American tribes and health clinics. Being immersed in such different cultures, and advocating for people systemically disenfranchised, gave me an even greater appreciation of respect for people of different races, ethnicities and backgrounds, including humility at the knowledge that I may not always know the struggles our varied communities face.