Berkeley City Council District 1 candidate photos
Tamar Michai Freeman (left) and Elisa Mikiten (right) are challenging incumbent Rashi Kesarwani (center) for the City Council District 1 seat. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

Berkeleyside wants to help you get to know your 2022 candidates for Berkeley City Council, School Board, Rent Stabilization Board and more. That’s why we’re publishing questionnaires with local candidates.

Q&As with District 1 City Council candidates follow. We asked candidates why they were running and what they’ve accomplished, and to spell out their views on housing, public safety, and the $650 million bond measure on the ballot this year.

Incumbent councilmember Rashi Kesarwani faces two challengers — Elisa Mikiten, the chair of Berkeley’s Planning Commission, and holistic health and disability advocate Tamar Michai Freeman — in her bid for a second term representing Northwest Berkeley.

See all of Berkeleyside’s 2022 election coverage. We’ll continue to publish more stories on the key Berkeley races and ballot initiatives to help readers make informed decisions about the potential leaders and policies that could help shape Berkeley’s future.

Click the questions below to see candidates’ answers. They are listed in alphabetical order.

Why are you running?
Tamar Michai Freeman

Tamar Michai Freeman: I am running for District 1 because I will be a representative that is connected to the needs and values of the district. I will listen and fight for the issues and concerns many residents in District 1 feel have not been supported by the incumbent. I will also provide strong constituent services.

Rashi Kesarwani: I want to keep working to ensure our community is a safe, healthy, and welcoming place for all. In a second term, I would focus on: advancing housing policies that support low- and middle-income people; adequately funding street paving and sidewalk repair; and promoting community safety.

Elisa Mikiten: I’m running to provide faithful and vigorous representation for the people of District 1. I have the skills, commitment, relationships, and experience to respond to our greatest challenges: housing affordability, homelessness, climate action, transportation, equity, and opportunity.

What are your biggest accomplishments?
Tamar Michai Freeman

Freeman: As Chair of the Commission on Disability I have emphasized the use of data and metrics to understand how equitable and accessible City of Berkeley’s programs and services are for people with different abilities. The findings are disturbing because frequently people with disabilities are not included in the planning and rollout of many services. If District 1 voters elect me to be the councilmember, I want them to know I know what it feels like to be marginalized but I also know the power of people. I do not quit. District 1 deserves a representative that knows the value and importance of manifesting the priorities working-class and low-income families need in regard to true affordable housing, income inequality, and a city that builds people up not out. I am also on the City of Berkeley committee to recruit a new Police Chief.

Kesarwani: As a Councilmember, I have a proven track record of delivering results: I collaborated with state, county, and city leaders to bring an end to dangerous freeway encampments by providing motel rooms and housing navigation services to homeless individuals. I led on securing state Homekey resources to fund a permanent supportive housing site in District 1. I engaged stakeholders and built consensus that led the Council to a unanimous decision in support of creating homes at the North Berkeley BART station. I tackled the problem of our unsafe failing streets by authoring a fiscal policy to ensure adequate funding for street paving, with $14 million in new funds. I partnered with Sen. Nancy Skinner and Assemblymember Buffy Wicks to secure $15 million in state funds to repair infrastructure at our waterfront. And I have successfully advocated for public safety resources to keep our neighborhoods safe.

Mikiten: I have a decade of service on Berkeley commissions, including the Zoning Board, where I approved more than 1,000 housing units. As Planning Commission Chair, I fought for the seven-story limit at BART, rejecting 12 stories as out of scale, less viable for affordable housing, and more impactful to the environment.

My West Berkeley firm has been building affordable housing for decades. I worked for Alameda on downtown revitalization and community development. I have designed welcoming housing for seniors, students, people with disabilities, homeless families, and youths emancipated from foster care. I’ve built programs to revitalize shopping districts.

I will be a full-time councilmember and will work hand in hand with the community. A District 1 resident for over 25 years, I am a true neighborhood candidate. I won’t owe my position to anyone other than our community.

Berkeley’s median home sale price is now over $1.6 million, while rising rent prices are leading everyone from students to longtime residents wondering if they can afford a future here. What are the most important steps the City Council should take to address Berkeley’s severe shortage of affordable housing? How should your district balance the needs of current and future residents as the city grows?
Tamar Michai Freeman

Freeman: Berkeley should pass TOPA and allow renters (if they can) to buy their apartment building while the owner gets their market rate. We need to keep rent control and tenants rights strong to stop displacements. We need a Council that will invite and insist on more nonprofit developers that will work with neighborhoods to build housing that is attainable and retainable for low-income people, students, and working-class families. It is also essential neighbors are meaningfully involved in the development process because housing must add value to a neighborhood as well. We have to move beyond silos and understand if we do not organize and come together our voices will continue to be marginalized by real estate speculators and for-profit developers. I learned this vital point organizing with Friends of Adeline.

Kesarwani: First, I support rezoning our commercial and transit corridors to create more opportunity sites for affordable housing. Developers of affordable housing need sites that provide an economy of scale that justifies the time and cost to secure financing. Distributing affordable housing across our city also advances equity and treats all existing residents fairly. Second, I support more funding for affordable housing, including bond measures. Every local dollar leverages about $4 in state and federal resources, so this is a smart investment. We should also focus on funding projects that are cost effective (i.e., they deliver more units relative to the amount of local public subsidy). Ultimately, the shortage of affordable homes is a statewide problem, and I will continue to advocate for state action. All jurisdictions should be held accountable to meet their affordable housing obligations.

Mikiten: Berkeley’s current toolkit produces high-end housing, very little affordable housing, and near zero middle-income housing.

Step 1: We must get the trip wires from the 20th century out of the zoning ordinance. They were designed to slow things down. We need to speed things up. This will help University Avenue become a thriving, transit-oriented neighborhood.

Step 2: We must use new models. There are non-profit developers who are combining middle income units with low-income units. This reduces the need for subsidy, and provides units to people who fall through the gap.

Step 3: We need to do everything we can to make Berkeley competitive for affordable housing dollars, including accelerating approvals.

Step 4: We need to embrace the creation of multi-family ownership housing by leveling the affordable housing fee for rental and ownership housing, and support co-housing.

What should the council do to improve public safety and policing in Berkeley? What changes, if any, should be made to the city’s approach to policing?
Tamar Michai Freeman

Freeman: The council can begin building community policing in our city as the norm. It needs to do a deep dive into how police are trained and the culture public safety officers are exposed to. Public safety officers are expected to uphold the highest ethics and conduct so I see no reason why transparency and accountability get resistance. Good policing requires this and so should the council. I support the Police Accountability Board and Berkeley residents do as well. I support and respect police officers. If elected one of my jobs is to evaluate the safety of the entire city commensurate with the skillsets of police officers. Reimagining a police system dedicated to public safety is not punitive. It is more efficient. If we invest in community-based programs to handle calls that can be met with a skilled, culturally competent approach to mental illness and addiction it would do much to strengthen the city.

Kesarwani: We must ensure that our police department has the tools and staffing it needs to effectively prevent and solve crime, and we must continue our strong accountability mechanisms to ensure fairness for people of color. Because of my advocacy, the Council has funded security cameras at key intersections (with data safeguards) to help bring accountability for shootings, which disproportionately harm West Berkeley. I have successfully advocated for augmenting our historically low police staffing level; adequate staffing is needed to do bike patrols, investigate catalytic converter thefts and other property crimes, and conduct traffic enforcement. At the same time, I support proven alternative responses for mental health crisis situations. But I have cautioned against piloting too many alternative approaches at once; all new programs should be fiscally sustainable with performance metrics.

Mikiten: Everyone in Berkeley should be safe, no matter who they are or where they live.

When I served on the Police Review Commission, we recommended major public safety improvements to the City Council, all of which were adopted.

We rewrote the Use of Force Policy, which:

  • codified de-escalation practices
  • created a duty to intervene in an excessive use of force, and
  • created a duty to report so that there could be no code of silence.

We moved against no-knock warrants, recommended the Controlled Equipment Ordinance, and supported creation of the Police Accountability Board.

Since I retired from the PRC, there have reports on Reimagining Public Safety, and an audit of calls for service. I welcome these initiatives. I’m open to programs and services that positively impact public safety, and that remedy inequities.

Should Berkeley voters support the proposed $650 million infrastructure and affordable housing bond? If the measure passes, what will be your priorities for how that money is spent?
Tamar Michai Freeman

Freeman: If the bond passes and I am elected I would push for nonprofit housing developers to build housing people on fixed incomes, teachers, and cashiers can afford to live in. To me affordable housing is not a buzz word. I would demand transparency and that the money is spent with the participation of minority owned construction businesses and involve youth apprenticeship opportunities. I would make sure Berkeley residents are aware of how money is used by expanding public information channels and insisting when residents give input they are listened to.

Kesarwani: The inflationary environment makes it a challenging time to ask voters to pay more. However, one of my key priorities is addressing the poor condition of our streets. I fought to ensure that this measure allocates: $231 million for street paving to reach a good pavement condition; and $69 million for sidewalk repair and bike and pedestrian infrastructure that will save lives. A dollar spent on street maintenance today saves $8 in future avoided reconstruction costs, making this a fiscal imperative. If passed, I pledge to push for fiscal accountability so we spend funds as voters intended.

Mikiten: I support Measure L. We must invest in our streets, affordable housing, wildfire evacuation, and bicycle and pedestrian safety. Berkeley has the bond capacity, and our investment will leverage significant County, State, and Federal resources. The average cost per parcel is reasonable.

I will engage in my district to set priorities, and will provide regular updates on projects. I’ll stay focussed on accountability. I’ll make sure that West Berkeley is on equal footing with the rest of the city, and that street improvements are designed for of all ages and abilities.

Could you share an interesting story or fact about yourself that voters might be surprised to learn about?
Tamar Michai Freeman

Freeman: I am blessed to have my son but there was a time I thought motherhood was not in the cards for me so I was the proud caretaker of a chihuahua and four cats.

Kesarwani: Voters might not know that I majored in English at Brown University and worked as a journalist prior to coming to Berkeley. I hope my writing skills, commitment to getting the facts right, and enthusiasm for explaining complex information shine through in my monthly newsletter to the community.

Mikiten: I love to design and sew clothing. I haven’t made shoes, but I might try soon! I grow native plants and vegetables. I love to can, and to see pretty jars lined up on my shelves. Favorite author: Wendell Berry. Favorite novel: The History of Love. Still play: Joan Armatrading.

For fun: What’s your favorite Berkeley grocery store and why?
Tamar Michai Freeman

Freeman: I shop at Trader Joe’s because it is close to me. I also shop at Safeway because I have a growing teenager and Safeway has family-size items, which helps my food budget.

Kesarwani: During the pandemic, I learned to cook a lot of Indian dishes that I had never made before. I love Berkeley Bowl West because I’m able to get all of my shopping done in one store. You can’t beat the produce selection and prices. Even my mom approves — a tall order.

Mikiten: I’ll share a neighborhood gem: Cedar Market on the corner of California Street. Cream for your coffee, eggs, good coffee beans, spices, and everything you need for healthful, inexpensive meals. Rice, dal, beans, chutney, and fresh hot samosas. It was a godsend in the pandemic!

Watch forums with the District 1 candidates

Berkeley Neighbors for Housing & Climate Action, CalDems, Telegraph for People and Walk Bike Berkeley co-hosted a Zoom forum for candidates running in District 1. Watch a recording of the forum.

The Berkeley Neighborhoods Council hosted a forum for D1 candidates Tamar Michai Freeman, incumbent Rashi Kesarwani, and Elisa Mikiten, plus candidates for other races. Watch a recording of the forum.

See a full list of candidate forums in Berkeley.

The deadline to register to vote online or by mail in Alameda County is Oct. 24, and the election is Tuesday, Nov. 8. We put together a guide to the essentials of how to register and vote, what’s on the ballot, voters’ rights and more.

Here are some other helpful election resources:

See complete 2022 election coverage on Berkeleyside.

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