Ben Gould hopes to bring platform focused on sustainability, housing affordability from classroom to City Council

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Ben Gould has decided there’s only so much he can do addressing political issues in the classroom.

A campus graduate student in public policy and environmental engineering, Gould is running for the District 4 seat on Berkeley City Council with hopes of making a more tangible impact.

If successful, Gould will be the first student to sit on the council since State Sen. Nancy Skinner, who took office in 1984. Gould named Skinner as a key inspiration in his campaign alongside Sen. Bernie Sanders and Svante Myrick, one of the youngest mayors in the United States.

After serving on various commissions, including as the chair of the Community Environmental Advisory Commission, Gould made his way into the public eye with a 2016 mayoral bid, in which he won nearly 3 percent of the vote.

He lost to Jesse Arreguín, but Gould now looks to establish his perspective through the new mayor’s old seat.

His vision for Berkeley includes implementing a new climate adaptation plan to protect the city against increased sea levels and stormwater, sustainability requirements for new construction and improved bicycle infrastructure.

“I think I bring a really wide range of perspectives to City Council, a really unique background and a fresh perspective,” Gould said. “I think that will be very useful for informing policy and understanding the need of different constituencies in Berkeley.”

In addition to environmental sustainability, improvements in housing affordability are central to his platform.

Gould mentioned several housing-related changes he wants to spearhead on the council, including reforms to the Berkeley Zoning Ordinance and encouraging the development of accessory dwelling units and micropad projects as a quick way to bolster housing supply.

Skinner, who has endorsed Gould, said he understands that the housing crisis is, in part, a supply crisis and that new units would alleviate rising prices.

“What makes Berkeley unique and exciting and dynamic is that it does change with the decades,” Gould said.  “We can preserve Berkeley’s core elements and character while adding to it and growing it.”

Skinner added that the student perspective is a voice that deserves to be a part of the city government. Housing issues in the city are acutely felt by students, who historically have lacked the direct representation needed to join the council’s discourse, according to Skinner.

“Students make up a third of the population of Berkeley,” said Councilmember Susan Wengraf. “I think it’s time for students to have representation.”

Gould is running against Kate Harrison, who has an established political career and more than 20 years of local and state government experience. Arreguín has endorsed her and previously called her “overqualified” for the council seat.

Gould readily admits that as a 25-year-old, he doesn’t have Harrison’s experience, but he asserts that the experience he does have is more locally focused. If elected, he would be the only council member who grew up in the Berkeley school system and is a campus student, he said.

“I don’t think age is really a question,” Harrison said. “I think it’s more of what people have done. … Jesse is really young, and he’s 32, and he’s mayor, but he started out as an activist when he was 8 years old. So, I feel it’s more about running against someone with less public experience.”

Councilmember Lori Droste, however, argues that Gould has more first-hand experience than Harrison working on Berkeley issues. Gould works three days a week handling constituent requests and writing policy in her office — exactly what a council member does on a day-to-day basis, according to Droste.

In Droste’s office, Gould is working on several projects centered around recreation, affordability, gender equity and environmental issues.

In addition to Skinner, Droste and Wengraf, Gould has been endorsed by every executive member of UC Berkeley’s ASUC and Graduate Assembly excluding Selina Lao, the non-partisan ASUC student advocate. Gould also has the support of former councilmembers Darryl Moore and Gordon Wozniak, Mayor of Millbrae Reuben Holober, the Berkeley Democratic Club and several more professors and local community members.

“I love Berkeley. I’m very much a Berkeley kind of person,” Gould said. “I don’t drive — I don’t have a driver’s license, much less a car. I’m vegetarian. I live in a rent-controlled apartment in the middle of Downtown Berkeley and take transit everywhere, and so, Berkeley is the right place for me — it’s my community.”

Edward Booth covers city government. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @Edward_E_Booth.