City Council candidates Kate Harrison and Ben Gould discussed development and affordable housing at a sparsely populated District 4 election forum Thursday evening hosted by the League of Women Voters Berkeley, Albany, Emeryville.
During the hourlong forum, the candidates answered questions from members of the about 15-person audience on city issues, which also included homelessness and the balance between the city and the university. On March 7, voters will vote for a District 4 City Council member in a special, mail-only election to replace recently elected Mayor Jesse Arreguin.
When asked a question about Downtown development, Gould said he wants to build housing near transit, renovate dilapidated residential areas and improve transit access throughout the city.
Harrison, in contrast, brought up concerns about what to be wary of when working to develop a “vibrant Downtown.”
“There is no dichotomy between a vibrant downtown and having vibrant residential neighborhoods,” Harrison said. “But we need to be sensitive to setbacks from the community, we need to be sensitive to issues of light and noise, and we need to think about architectural integrity and how the Downtown looks.”
In terms of development, both candidates also talked about plans to build more affordable housing. Gould said he wants to use funds from Measure U1, put new taxes on hotels, short-term rentals and property transfers and solicit state funding in order to fund affordable housing in the city. Like Gould, Harrison said she hopes to explore various ways to increase affordable housing.
In response to a question about what actions they would take to alleviate the challenges surrounding homelessness, Harrison identified limited housing as the central problem. She said she wants to build micro-units and a navigation center for the homeless — a shelter that also provides more comprehensive services.
Gould emphasized the problem of displacements. He added that as homeless people come to Berkeley from all over the country, Berkeley should collaborate regionally to tackle the issue.
When asked a question about problems with street behavior, Harrison said inappropriate behavior on the streets has to be addressed separately from the issue of homelessness, but that both arise from a lack of housing.
Gould agreed that nobody should be penalized for trying to survive.
“But because we have our own rules, that doesn’t mean special treatment,” Gould said. “We all have to follow the same rules equally.”
The candidates also addressed the balance between the city and the university at the forum.
The important question regarding this issue, Gould said, is how the city can address how to shape and grow the university.
“The university is a wonderful part of our community,” Gould said. “The university is expanding … but I think we should recognize this as part of the future of California”.
While Harrison wants to provide more student housing, she is also concerned, however, about the amount of development by the campus and said the city should limit that growth.
Other topics discussed were the future of the Alta Bates campus of the Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, the candidates’ stances on UC Berkeley staff and student strikes and how to reduce Berkeley’s environmental impact.
Mail-in ballots for the election will be sent starting Feb. 6.