Make student voices heard in the city this fall

Register to vote in Berkeley and have an active voice in local politics

Wozniak_Op-Ed

This year, Cal students have an unprecedented opportunity to have a voice in local Berkeley politics. Currently, Cal students make up about a quarter of Berkeley’s population, but in the last half century, only one student has been elected to Berkeley City Council. The Free Speech Movement — the apex of students’ political power — was aimed at changing university policies, but what about city policies? These are the ones that affect you every day and determine your quality of life.

Because of the lack of student voice in local politics, we are shutting out some of the brightest and most innovative minds in our community. Not only is this a huge problem in itself, but it also results in occasional less-than-student-friendly policies in areas like safety, housing, sustainability, retail development and voter engagement. Why is housing so expensive? Why is the nearest grocery store more than a mile away from the dorms? Why don’t all apartment buildings in Berkeley offer composting? How can students access police and safety resources?

If you’ve ever asked any of these questions, you’ve been affected by the lack of student involvement in local politics. But you have the opportunity to change that this November! Berkeley Measure R is the first chance that students have had in nearly 30 years to make their voices heard within the city.

Robert Gammon said it best in the East Bay Express on Aug. 22.

“Supported by numerous student groups, Measure R would change how political districts are drawn in Berkeley, potentially allowing the creation of a ‘student district’ for the first time ever, and thus a ‘student seat’ on the council. If that were to happen, Cal students, for the first time in the city’s history would have a direct vote on issues that deeply affect them, such as the lack of housing.

“So if you’re a new Berkeley student and resident, or if you attend Cal and have lived in town for a while and haven’t yet registered to vote, you should — if you want to finally have some power to effect change in the city.”

Berkeley Measure R is great news for students, and it’s important that everyone know what it is and why they should support it.

On a slightly different note, we also have a number of very important financial measures to vote on as well.

The city of Berkeley is 134 years old. Our streets are in poor shape and our 80-year-old storm drain system is inadequate to handle major storms. A recent Metropolitan Transportation Commission Pothole Report showed Berkeley tied for 86th place in the Bay Area. “In Dec. 2005, a 15-year storm, combined with a high tide, overwhelmed the city’s storm drain system and flooded West Berkeley to San Pablo Avenue.”

Additionally, Berkeley has 50 percent fewer public pools than it did two years ago, and its remaining two public pools are over 50 years old! In contrast, Albany, with one-sixth Berkeley’s population, has two brand new public pools. Berkeley has one public pool per 56,000 residents, whereas Albany has one public pool per 9,200 residents.

To provide aquatic recreation and water safety instruction for all residents as well as to improve our streets and watersheds, Berkeley City Council has placed three measures on the November 2012 ballot. Measure M, a $30 million streets and watershed bond, Measure N, a $19 million pools restoration bond to build two new public pools and Measure O, which provides the annual operating funds for the new pools.

Measure M will jump start the repair of Berkeley’s streets. Reconstructing failed streets is several times more expensive than repairing streets before they fail. Thus, every year these repairs are delayed, the city incurs an additional $6 million in costs, and increases the risk of accidents and lawsuits. When the city refurbishes a street, it will include green features, such as permeable paving and bio-swales, where appropriate, to reduce flooding and filter runoff.

Measures N & O will construct a new Willard Pool to serve South Berkeley and a new warm pool for the disabled community which needs a warm pool for therapy and swim instruction. These pools are needed to ensure that all people throughout our city have access to public pools for exercise, therapy and recreation.

Make Berkeley your official hometown by registering to vote here. Make your voice heard by voting down the entire ticket on Nov. 6. With your active participation, we will create a better city.

Gordon Wozniak is a Berkeley City Council member representing District 8. Kristin Hunziker is a 2009 UC Berkeley alumna.

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