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My Berkeley Voter Guide
Here’s my recommendations for who you should vote for in the Berkeley elections and the political synopsis of each district. Berkeley is at a crossroads and housing is the number one issue. Since 2018, the city council majority has been remarkably pro-housing along bipartisan lines (partisan meaning between liberal moderates and progressives). The city council has not only supported and overseen the passage of major bonds to finance subsidized low income housing, but has also supported the development of housing both private and subsidized in the city. Notably their allowance of multifamily housing in single-family neighborhoods received national praise even as far as the White House.
For some odd, strange reason, Berkeley is a city that culturally leads much of the Bay Area and the state. That is why it’s important for Berkeley City Council to remain pro-housing after November 8th. The city council has led the way on progressive land use policy and there are many people in Berkeley who seek to reverse it.
District 1: Northwest Berkeley
Vote for Rashi Kesarwani
Incumbent council member Rashi Kesarwani is being challenged by Elisa Mikiten and Tamar Michai Freeman — with Mikiten being the front-runner challenger. Mikiten’s #1 primary issue — essentially her only issue — is NIMBYing new housing in District 1 particularly at the BART station. You’ve probably seen the NIMBY lawn signs proclaiming “Neighbors Not Towers” with a comical cartoonish apartment building which is Mikiten’s base. Mikiten argues that the incumbent’s support for dense housing at the BART station, San Pablo and Universitiy Avenues, much of the city’s subsidized housing and homeless services, and Rashi’s support for eliminating apartment bans in single-family areas indicates she’s “ignoring” her constituents.
Rashi’s challenger and her coalition of NIMBY homeowners around the BART station intends to put an end to new housing in District 1. They pretend they’re fine with 7 story apartments based off the BART project and just didn’t want a 12 story building, but frequently oppose the 7 story apartments being built on San Pablo Avenue right now. They claim to only want affordable housing but many of whom have beside their Mikiten signs ‘No On L’ signs which would fund more low income housing.
There was also large opposition to Rashi’s decision to convert many of the declining motels on University and San Pablo Avenue into homeless housing with federal funds. That’s why arguments that Rashi’s too pro-market-rate and not enough for low income subsidized housing, ring hollow. Under Kesarwani, more subsidized low income housing has been built or acquired in D1 than ever before in the district’s history (except World War 2) and Rashi did it despite area opposition.
For example, with the Golden Bears homeless housing project (right by a 7-story subsidized, low income housing project under construction nearby), Rashi could’ve wimped out, obeyed what the anti-housing neighbors said and given up. Instead she met with and spoke to the opposition, including a family run restaurant nearby, and convinced them to support. She was also supported by a large coalition of pro-housing neighbors at North Berkeley NOW!
That’s the kind of leadership I like to see. Mikiten’s contention that Rashi doesn’t listen to the neighborhood’s voices is not true. What is really meant is that Rashi didn’t just solely listen to the NIMBYs and, if you live in Berkeley, you know how absurd and entitled a NIMBY can be. Rashi even sided with the NIMBYs and capped the BART housing project at 7-stories — which annoyed us YIMBYs but that’s all part of compromise. The NIMBYs really wanted zero stories and so now they’re mad. We need people in city hall who don’t just listen to the loudest property owners screaming no.
Moreover, Rashi’s commitment to safe streets for cyclists and pedestrians is needed in Berkeley. Our improvements in bike infrastructure and pedestrian safety will seriously be jeopardized if she’s no longer in office. Much of Mikiten’s base are two issue voters: more cars and parking, and fewer housing units. In an attempt to take Rashi out and freeze the district in time, lies and misinformation has been spewed, starting with that nonsensical lawn sign to sow confusion. It’s important that not only do voters reject NIMBYism and all its worse attributes of fearmongering, entitlement and privilge but reject it by wide margins. It is the most important race in Berkeley.
District 1 splits into three general areas: the North Berkeley flats area where the oldest and whitest areas of the district; Westbrae where younger families live; and Oceanview in West Berkeley where most Black and Latino households and D1 renters live (and where I was raised!).
I predict Rashi will carry strong support in Westbrae and West Berkeley where working class residents and families with kids in school reside and win a majority around North Berkeley BART. Mikiten’s message of hogging an underutilized public transit station to wealthy nearby homeowners and no one else wears thinner the further away you get from the station. Even around the North Berkeley BART station many retirees and families who care about having affordable places for their children to live have Re-Elect Rashi signs and blue YIMBY signs. If you’re in D1 you have an obligation to vote and send a loud message.
Rashi Kesarwani carries the endorsements of the Alameda County Democratic Party, the Berkeley Democratic Club, UC Berkeley Democrats, League of Women Voters, all the Labor Unions (SEIU, AFL-CIO, The Trades), the Sierra Club, super-majority of the City Council, the Mayor and the entire Berkeley Unified school board. Mikiten carries the endorsement of the former council member of D1 Linda Maio and council-members Harrison and Hahn.
District 4: Downtown-Central Berkeley
Vote for Kate Harrison.
Incumbent council member Kate Harrison will sail to victory in this race. Her challenger, Greg Magofna, a YIMBY activist, was unable to continue to afford to live in Berkeley and was priced out. In my personal dealings with Kate Harrison, though I certainly don’t agree on all her housing opinions, I’ve found her to be quite reasonable and willing to talk things out. I think she’s an important council member on the issues of policing and for that reason I support her continuance on the council.
District 7: Southside
Vote for Rigel Robinson.
Rigel Robinson is a great, ideal council member and a perfect representative for the district. There a very few issues we disagree on. He created the Re-Imagining police in traffic enforcement initiative, co-authored the vacancy tax on the ballot, is spearheading removing cars from Telegraph Avenue near UC Berkeley and supports high density housing in his district — as high as possible — to given students and families a place to live.
He’s quite an impressive and popular council member. He has no challenger.
District 8: Elmwood & Claremont
Vote for Mark Humbert
Incumbent Lori Droste has decided not to seek a third term and has endorsed Mark Humbert, former president of the Claremont-Elmwood Neighborhood Association. Competing for the seat is Mari Mendonca, a renter whose main issue is stopping the housing transformation and upzonings that have occurred since 2018. This district is the whitest, most elite district of the city.
Unlike Mikiten, Mendonca is running on an old school progressive platform of being anti-market rate housing development and pro-tenant protections. A very anachronisitic “Berkeley in the 1970s” type platform. Mendonca's platform is to stop market housing from being built on BART’s Ashby Station parking lot. She insists only subsidized housing should be built at Ashby BART rather than a mix of low income and market-rate — although the council as already prioritized 100% subsidized at Ashby.
So then what's confusing is that Mendonca is also strongly anti-Measure L, put up by the council pro-housing majority that would fund 100% affordable housing at Ashby BART and other sites.
She argued in a phone bank that:
If it takes five years to slowly get the state and federal funding we need so be it. There are folks that wait for 10 years (myself included for Section 8). Waiting is Okay.
And that is enough for me to endorse Humbert. If you’re not going to fund the 100% affordable housing you’re demanding, then how is supposed to get built? As the Mayor asked the candidate on Twitter. Waiting for state subsidies to trickle in won’t work since many state bonds expire after a couple years. We cannot wait.
Moreover, people in general cannot and do not wait years for housing if affordable opportunities arise elsewhere. Returning to an old Berkeley that lacked urgency on funding subsidized housing through local means would make us fail our RHNA goals and be worse off for the thousands waiting on housing waitlists.
So here’s why I'd vote for Humbert: he has courage in a district where it’s pretty difficult to have it. When the city council voted to abolish exclusionary zoning, noting that the nation’s first single-family zoning originated in District 8 to keep out Black people and renters — the Claremont-Elmwood Neigborhood Association opposed the change. Humbert made the brave decision to step down as his role as president and in this thoughtful letter to his neighbors explained why he stepped down.
The Claremont Elmwoood neighborhood is virtually all white, and we ought to reject its racist history -- there is no doubt that R1 [single-family] zoning in the Elmwood was instituted with an intention to bar minorities from living here -- and CENA should be ashamed for holding on to the vestiges of that racist history.
Humbert will almost certainly win the district. Like Mikiten, it’s probably in Mendonca’s best political interest to litigate housing development and oppose a tax in the whitest, wealthiest district in the city. But as I covered in my history of Berkeley article, after the 1990s you cannot win elections in Berkeley on a consensus of anti-development of young left-wingers and older property owners — that stuff is long gone.
Today, the students and young families in Berkeley and are very pro-housing development because they’ve all been burned by the shortage in the housing market while the old timers are against. Moreover, unlike North Berkeley BART, the wealthy, older property owners of D8 do not live near any new dense housing and Ashby BART isnt even in the district so litigating will have minimal effect.
Humbert is endorsed by the county Democratic Party, the Berkeley Democratic Club, UC Berkeley Democrats, Stonewall Democratic Club, the Mayor and most of the City Council, the Firefighters and Building Trades Union. Mari Mendonca is endorsed by the county Green Party, SEIU the public workers union and Our Revolution East Bay.
Rent Board: Yes to Nathan Mizell and Soli Alpert
The rent board is currently under attack by homeowners who are angry about the board’s advocacy in imposing just cause eviction protections on Accessory Dwelling Units. This essentially required ADU tenants to have the same eviction protections are apartment dwellers, which homeowners thought was wrong since they think ADU tenants are more intimate. Berkeley historically has a very clear line between Homeowners and Landlords. However, due to the constrained housing shortage, more and more homeowners are using state laws to build additional dwelling units in the city and thus are becoming landlords.
Most voters don’t pay much attention the rent board during election time. Historically it was significant in that it was viewed as a pathway to becoming a future councilmember but, again that era of Berkeley is long gone — that role today is played by the School Board. The Berkeley Tenants Union continues its long tradition of doing an in-house endorsement process on who gets on their “tenant slate.” They send a bunch of mailers out and their slate’s candidates get elected. However, as of late the homeowners are proving that they can challenege the tenant union’s monopolpy on rent board electeds.
Even though I have disagreements on housing development with some rent board members, they don’t really matter especially with a pro-housing council. What’s important is that renters remain in power and that the rent board continues to monitor the well-being of rent controlled tenants in the city.
As a result, I’m going to elevate Soli Alpert and Nathan Mizell as who you should vote for on the board. Like much of the new generation, they carry many pro-housing ideas while also being very pro-tenant rights and we’ll see more of these in the future. Equally as important, do not vote for the property owner slate which is Carole Marasovic. Landlords and homeowners already have a lot of institutional power in Berkeley and they do not need to be in seats where tenants have minor legislative power.
Measure L , M, N: vote YES.
These measures represent the current City Council’s housing priorities and agenda. I encourage a Yes vote on all three.
Measure L is a $650 million bond measure that funds subsidized low income housing and road infrastructure for the city. The current city council recognizes the need for more subsidies to pace population growth in housing, Berkeley needs at least 4,500 units of low income housing as mandated by the state in the next 8 years. There’s been a remarkably large opposition campaign arguing both tax fatigue and that oversight is poor but this is not true. The current city council has proven fiscally responsible with the city’s budgetary priorities and have allocated every penny in the Housing Trustfund to more high density low income housing and infrastructure for cyclists, people with disabilities and pedestrians.
Measure M is a vacancy tax that after 6 months of vacancy will tax property owners for any vacant housing units. No one is opposing this tax. It exempts property owners who own 1-2 housing units but applies to everything else. This is also a good way to get more housing supply out onto the market, particularly derelict rent controlled apartments that have sat vacant and out of service for decades by neglectful owners.
Measure N is a necessary measure required by the California Constitution whenever a city intends to build low income housing that it must be approved by the voters. In the past the old Berkeley city council and voters approved a couple hundred low income units every decade or so. For the first time the city council requests constitutional approval for 3,000 new low income homes in the city — the largest authorization ever approved. I urge a yes vote. Opposition is coming from property owners but it’s not well organized.
Election day is November 8th. Vote Early.