Rashi Kesarwani, one of three District 1 City Council candidates in Berkeley’s November 2022 election, answers questions from Berkeleyside.
Why are you running?
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.
What are your biggest accomplishments?
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 N. 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 Asm. 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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
Could you share an interesting story or fact about yourself that voters might be surprised to learn about?
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.
For fun: What’s your favorite Berkeley grocery store and why?
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.