Community advocate Merrilie Mitchell files to run for City Council District 1

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Merrilie Mitchell has filed to run for the City Council seat in District 1 against incumbent Linda Maio in November’s election to introduce an independent perspective to the council.

Mitchell, a long-time community advocate who has run for City Council and the school board before, aims to reform the council and reduce development in Berkeley. Mitchell will be running against Rent Board Commissioner Alejandro Soto-Vigil, who announced his candidacy in April, and Maio, who has been a member of Berkeley City Council since 1992.

“As an independent, I think that is a view that we’re not getting,” Mitchell said. “We have (Mayor) Tom Bates who dominates, and the other group that never has more than three members, but almost all of them support development.”

Currently, the City Council contains what is often considered to be a more progressive minority group, composed of Councilmembers Max Anderson, Jesse Arreguin and Kriss Worthington.

“(Mitchell) knows everything that’s going on and will not be swayed by the typical Berkeley politics of dealing only with symbolic issues and never dealing with anything of substance,” said Barry Wofsy, chair of the Progressive Neighborhood Alliance. “She deals with the real issues like crime and garbage and infrastructure.”

Mitchell expressed her concern about increasing campus development, including the construction of labs near Strawberry Canyon.

She also criticized the methods of City Council in recruiting student voters. According to Mitchell, council members register new students to vote Democrat and tell them to vote to support the initiatives “the machine wants them to vote yes on.”

“That’s what the machine that runs our city has been doing since 1982, when they took over,” she said. “It’s the same bunch, and they have their agenda that’s not democratic.”

Mitchell wants City Council meetings to end at 10 p.m. and for council members to take fewer vacations, because she does not believe the council does not do its best work late at night.

The last time Mitchell ran for City Council in 2010, she received 476 votes — 8.4 percent of the total votes. Maio won with about 66 percent of the votes, or 3,727 votes.

Soto-Vigil plans to advocate new affordable housing, work with the community to deal with environmental issues and promote safe neighborhoods. He has been endorsed by Anderson and Arreguin, as well as Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and former Berkeley mayor Gus Newport.

For example, Soto-Vigil wants to organize with the community to get the city to adhere to a settlement agreement to reduce emissions from an asphalt plant in West Berkeley. Some have criticized Maio for not doing enough to resolve the issue, although she has said that she has worked extensively to address residents’ concerns.

Mitchell supports the proposed tax on sugary drinks and an initiative led by Arreguin to put more sustainability standards, among other requirements, on Downtown development, both of which will be on November’s ballot. She is against more development in Downtown Berkeley, including affordable housing.

In lieu of a filing fee, Mitchell must collect 150 signatures from residents to be eligible to run for the council seat.

Contact Madeleine Pauker at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @madeleinepauker.