Know your council: Cheryl Davila wants to advance civil rights in Berkeley

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This article is part of a series on the newest Berkeley City Council members.

Cheryl Davila’s path to the District 2 seat is just one of the things that sets her apart from other Berkeley City Council members.

Davila completed her college degree while working full time and has rented throughout her 35 years in Berkeley. She is the daughter of civil rights activists, and she has faced housing discrimination. But through it all, she’s carried with her a passion for civil rights that eventually led her to an appointment to the city’s Human Welfare and Community Action Commission, where she served nearly eight years before becoming a council member.

“I never had any ideas of politics, ever,” Davila said. “Never in my wildest dreams.”

She raised her two kids with her husband in the same two-bedroom apartment that she lives in today. She worked as a bookkeeper at Mills College as she received her business economics degree. While her kids were in Berkeley schools, Davila volunteered and served on the parent-teacher association.

She started her path to local government when an affordable housing developer she worked for encouraged her to apply for an open position on the Human Welfare and Community Action Commission in 2009. In November, Davila won the District 2 seat with 51 percent of the vote and became the first City Council candidate to beat out an incumbent since 1996.

On Tuesday, Davila, now three months into her term, introduced her first council agenda item, which opposes ethnic and religious registries and restricts city resources from being used for federal registries.

The item was drafted in response to President Donald Trump’s repeated statements that he will create a registry of Muslims in the United States and his instatement of travel restrictions for individuals from some Muslim-majority countries. Davila’s first resolution supports a city where people’s “civil liberties are protected and defended regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin (and) religious affiliation,” according to the agenda item.

“The resolution she introduced comes from the depth of the African American experience and communities of color, who have been often at the receiving ends of structural exclusion and systematic targeting,” said Hatem Bazian, campus professor of Near Eastern studies, in an email.

The item was approved unanimously — a stark contrast to a previous discussion item that brought Davila into the public eye as a Human Welfare and Community Action commissioner in 2015. The item, which proposed city divestment from companies affiliated with the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, led to her dismissal as a commissioner, and the item ultimately failed. Davila said the proposal was her way of “looking out for humanity” in Gaza.

Her dismissal spurred international attention and motivated Davila to run for the council seat for District 2, an area which she says is often neglected. District 2 stretches south of University Avenue to Berkeley’s border with Emeryville and Oakland and from the San Francisco Bay roughly to Sacramento Street.

Across the city, Davila hopes to provide affordable housing, assist the homeless and care for the environment.

“Since my first encounter with Davila, I have come to see in her the future of progressive politics that can connect the local to the transnational,” Bazian said in an email.

But transitioning to the job of a council member has not been easy, Davila said. She recounted receiving about 800 emails in a day about a City Council item proposing to ban the sale of fur in Berkeley.

“This job is so intense, I can barely get through each meeting,” Davila said. “I haven’t had time for me to literally do anything else but to meet with people, talk to people.”

Moving forward in her new position, Davila aspires to stop Urban Shield, a Bay Area disaster training program and weapons expo primarily for first responders and law enforcement, which she said promotes the militarization of the police. But she acknowledged that stopping this event, which brings officers from across the region and draws from businesses nationwide, will be a battle. At a December council meeting, she was the sole vote against the purchase of an armored vehicle for police.

Currently, Davila is also exploring opportunities for tiny homes in Berkeley and likes the idea of using sturdier construction materials for the units. She wants to encourage affordable housing in all Berkeley districts, not just Districts 2 and 3, where land is typically cheaper.

“I endorsed Cheryl because she is a solid progressive,” Andrea Prichett, a District 2 constituent and Police Review commissioner said. “While she is certainly concerned about public safety, she is also concerned about civil liberties.”

Pamela Larson covers city government. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @pamreporting.