Name: Jesse Arreguín, 36, mayor, city of Berkeley
What office/district are you are running for? Berkeley mayor
What is the main reason you are running? I am running for re-election to continue Berkeley’s bold leadership on climate change, housing, homelessness and racial equity. I am running on my record of results: hundreds of affordable housing units approved, our largest investment in programs to prevent evictions and displacement, moving hundreds of people experiencing homelessness off the streets and into housing, increasing police accountability, bold climate action, and leading this city through an unprecedented health crisis. In addition, my work as a regional leader, best positions Berkeley to advance critical priorities, and to promote progressive policy on a larger scale.
Why are you qualified? I come to the mayor’s office with deep roots in our community and a love for our city. I have served the Berkeley community for 16 years — on the Rent Board I fought to expand tenant protections and keep rents affordable, on the Housing Commission we funded hundreds of units of low-income housing, I served on the Zoning Board and Downtown Area Plan Committee, and 8 years as the District 4 council member. I was also unanimously elected by elected officials from throughout the region serve as the president of ABAG, and in that role I have led regional efforts to advance sustainable development, climate action, and creating more affordable housing and protecting existing renters. I also represent Berkeley and Alameda County on a number of important regional bodies.
What sets you apart from other candidates? What sets me apart from my opponents is my years of public service experience, my record of results, my deep knowledge of Berkeley and its challenges, and my relationships with federal, state and local officials. In addition, my consensus-building approach has united our council behind a progressive policy agenda. With a divisive president, I have felt it is critical to unite our city government. Being elected mayor is not enough to make change happen, you need the support of the City Council, city administration and regional partners. My effective, progressive leadership has earned me the support of leaders such as Governor Gavin Newsom, Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, 7 of the 8 City Council members, the entire Berkeley School Board and elected officials from throughout the region. They support me because they trust me and know that I get things done.
What brought you to Berkeley and when did you come? I came to Berkeley in 2002 to attend Cal. What drew me to Berkeley was its rich history of innovation and social change. I fell in love with this community and its diversity, culture and progressive history. I am a lifelong advocate for economic and social justice, and started my political activism at the age of 9 when I helped lead efforts to rename a street in San Francisco after my hero, Cesar Chavez. It’s an honor to represent a city that always stands for democracy, equity and justice.
What are the three biggest challenges for Berkeley in the next five years? The three biggest challenges our community faces over the next five years are the 1) COVID-19 pandemic and the economic recession, 2) the climate emergency including local impacts such as rising sea levels and the threat of wildfires, and 3) the twin crises of housing and homelessness.
What are your ideas to begin to solve them?
COVID: Going forward continue to make decisions based on science to safety reopen our economy. Expand testing and contact tracing, work with BUSD to safely re-open our schools, expand outdoor business activity by closing streets and public spaces, and provide economic support for small businesses, arts non-profits and residential tenants. Pilot a Guaranteed Income Program to provide direct support for unemployed and low-income residents. Advocate for federal and state funding to help Berkeley weather the economic crisis.
Climate Change: Update our Climate Action Plan to reflect current science and our climate emergency, and advance our goal to become a fossil fuel-free city by the year 2030. Increase housing production around our BART stations and commercial corridors, increase transit access and create a free shuttle service, expand micro-mobility and electric vehicle ownership, create miles of protected bike lanes, and Complete Street improvements. Decarbonize our buildings and get them off-gas. Create neighborhood micro-grids, and improve our infrastructure including projects to reduce the threat of sea-level rise.
Homelessness: Acquire vacant properties, and master lease buildings and hotels to create hundreds of units of permanent supportive housing. Address the mental health crisis on our streets through expanded mobile crisis workers, and state legislation for expanded conservatorship. Expand sanitation, shelter, health care, job programs and housing support.
What is your most inspired/unique idea for Berkeley? If re-elected I will advance a vacant unit/property tax to create financial incentives for property owners to rent units and vacant properties, and also expand our rental housing acquisition program. We need to look at tax default properties and explore the use of legal and financing tools to acquire new properties. As ABAG president, I am leading regional discussions on funding for rental housing preservation.
How will you be accessible to constituents? I am a full-time mayor, and I am always available by phone and email (firstname.lastname@example.org). I also connect with residents through monthly newsletters, office hours throughout the city including at farmers markets and virtual town hall meetings. During the COVID pandemic, I have given weekly video updates, and town hall meetings with the city manager and public health officer which you can access here.
What year were you elected and what have been your biggest accomplishments? I was elected as Berkeley’s mayor in 2016. Nobody could have imagined the challenges we have faced. We’ve stood united against hate groups, fought COVID-19, and resisted a divisive and dangerous president. I am proud that Berkeley is leading boldly on the biggest challenges of our time. During my four years in office we doubled the number of emergency shelter beds and expanded health care, mental health, sanitation and storage for the homeless. We passed Measure O and we are building hundreds of new affordable units. We passed first in the nation legislation to phase out single-use plastics and ban natural gas in new buildings. We created a rainy day fund to get our city through difficult times, reaffirmed our Sanctuary City status and stood up to the Trump administration.
Are you using public financing? No
How much money do you expect to spend on your campaign? $150,000
Share a personal interest or passion people might be surprised to learn about. What people may not know is that I am a huge music fan. Before COVID-19, I would often be seen in crowds at the UC Theater, Freight & Salvage or Cornerstone listening to a variety of local and well-known acts. I am big jazz fan and have enjoyed seeing shows at the Freight or The Backroom. I look forward to the day when we can see live music in person, and we need to do what we can to support our performing arts venues during this pandemic.