Left to right: Peter Bruce DuMont, Mark Humbert, Mari Mendonca and Jay Wu are running for the City Council District 8 seat being vacated by Councilmember Lori Droste. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

Councilmember Lori Droste’s decision to not seek re-election means a crop of new candidates is on the ballot to fill the Southeast Berkeley seat she held for two terms.

Attorney Mark Humbert says he will broadly seek to carry on Droste’s work on housing, policing and a host of other city issues if he’s elected to represent City Council District 8 — while another leading candidate, Rent Board Commissioner Mari Mendonca, would move in a different direction.

Droste has endorsed Humbert, as has Mayor Jesse Arreguín and six other members of the City Council.

“I’ve been a big supporter of Lori’s — I haven’t agreed with her on every single issue, but I’ve largely agreed with her on the significant, major issues,” Humbert said in an interview. “One of my primary motivations is to continue the good work of council in general.”

Mendonca, who declined an interview request from Berkeleyside, has called for the city to reduce police funding and shift that money to community organizations. She also criticizes the City Council’s efforts to spur more housing construction, which Droste has played a central role in.

“They are using the so-called ‘housing crisis’ to extract wealth with the creation of housing, without solving the real crisis; which is affordable housing for our most vulnerable community members,” Mendonca wrote in response to questions sent by email.

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Two other candidates are running for the seat, insurance agent Jay Wu and nonprofit founder Peter Bruce DuMont. Both are political newcomers, and neither has picked up significant endorsements.

A fifth candidate, Mary-Lee Smith, will also appear on the ballot — but she has dropped out of the race and thrown her support behind Mendonca, writing in a statement that she withdrew because the City Council has “too many white, wealthy homeowners.”

Mendonca is an organizer with the neighborhood group Friends of Adeline. Her endorsements include local activists such as former Councilmember Cheryl Davila and former Mayor Gus Newport, as well as several members of the Rent Stabilization Board.

Mendonca disputes a state requirement that Berkeley plan for nearly 9,000 new homes over the next eight years, saying Bay Area and California housing officials are seeking to “bully us out of making responsible decisions around building.”

She contends Berkeley has a “moral obligation to all of our residents to address the inequities in housing.” But Mendonca also takes issue with the City Council’s plans to increase housing density in residential neighborhoods — an effort supporters have described as a way to open up more opportunities for people to live in wealthy areas like District 8, where the single-family zoning category originated as a tool of racial exclusion in the early 1900s.

“Those neighborhoods are still exclusive and will remain exclusive, even more so with the change in zoning,” Mendonca wrote. She added that residents who are Black, Indigenous and people of color “will not reap the benefits of the infill housing in this market.”

Cars and a motorcyclist pass through the intersection of College and Alcatraz in Southeast Berkeley
The City Council could change zoning rules for College Avenue and other popular streets in Berkeley’s wealthiest neighborhoods to allow more apartment buildings. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

Humbert, who has worked on several Berkeley commissions and previously was the president of the Claremont Elmwood Neighborhood Association, or CENA, supports the move toward greater housing density throughout Berkeley and within District 8. He resigned from CENA after the group opposed the City Council’s move last year to end single-family zoning.

But Humbert also downplayed the role the City Council could play on housing as state laws such as SB9, which abolished single-family zoning throughout California soon after Berkeley’s vote, pare back local governments’ power over many housing decisions.

“We need to reform zoning, but in a way it’s already been done by the state,” Humbert said. “It’s largely out of our hands.”

While that’s true to an extent, several Berkeley leaders have pushed to not merely comply with state law — they want the city to exceed it with efforts that further encourage housing production. Humbert said he supports that vision, including proposals to allow for more small apartments within residential neighborhoods and bigger developments along major streets.

“We ought to accept our fair share of new housing, there’s no question about that,” Humbert said. “I think College Avenue could use some additional density.”

The candidates also differ on two high-profile projects outside their district: The plans for housing at People’s Park and the Ashby and North Berkeley BART stations.

Humbert wants UC Berkeley to proceed with its plans to build a 1,100-bed dorm and 100-unit shelter for the homeless at the park, which are on hold amid a legal battle from groups that want to preserve it. Mendonca opposes the plan, saying the university should instead keep the park as an open space and build student housing on another site.

Mendonca is also calling for the city to ensure the housing developments built atop the BART stations’ parking lots are entirely made up of affordable units.

“This is public land and should be used for public good,” she said.

Humbert said he supports building “as much affordable housing as is possible” at the stations, but backs a plans for the developments to include a mix of affordable and market-rate apartments. Berkeley has earmarked $53 million to ensure at least 35% of the units at the projects are affordable; Humbert and others say an entirely below-market-rate project would require far more public funding than the city has.

“I don’t think it can be, realistically, 100%” affordable, he said.

Mendonca contends city officials could have raised money for an entirely affordable project by asking voters to approve a bond measure specifically for the BART developments.

Instead, she said, Berkeley leaders have lumped a “wish list” of infrastructure and affordable housing spending into the proposed $650 million bond Measure L that will also appear on this fall’s ballot, which she opposes as a misguided “all or nothing” proposal that is not specific enough about how the money will be spent. Humbert supports the bond measure, saying the funding is necessary to build affordable homes and address the city’s backlog of street maintenance and other infrastructure work.

On policing, Mendonca said at a recent forum hosted by the League of Women Voters that she believes Berkeley is spending too much on its police force, adding, “I think we need to redirect the resources toward other community services, like for our youth and job training.” She is in favor of the plan for a new Specialized Care Unit that could provide a non-police response to certain calls for service.

Humbert said he supports the council’s current approach to policing, which has paired efforts like the SCU that aim to shift certain responsibilities away from sworn officers with increases in the Berkeley Police Department’s budget to address what law enforcement officials describe as a significant shortage of officers.

“While we need to continue with the process of reimagining public safety,” he said, “it’s important that we have restored the funding for 23 sworn positions that were frozen during the pandemic, and also restored funding for dispatch.”

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.

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See complete 2022 election coverage on Berkeleyside.

Nico Savidge joined Berkeleyside in 2021 as a senior reporter covering city hall. Born and raised in Berkeley, he got his start in journalism at Youth Radio as a high-schooler in the mid-2000s. Since then,...