On Sunday afternoon, a local activist group called Berkeley Citizens Action hosted several Berkeley City Council members — as well as Mayor Jesse Arreguín — for a “Progressive Town Meeting” to outline policy goals and organize support for progressive organizations in Berkeley.
The town hall — hosted at the South Berkeley Senior Center — celebrated the recent election of a progressive majority to the City Council and allowed council members to outline their respective priorities and issues they want to see addressed.
In addition to Arreguín, BCA hosted Councilmembers Cheryl Davila, Ben Bartlett, Kriss Worthington and Kate Harrison at its meeting.
Worthington said at the town hall that since the council’s change in leadership, there has been a “profound transformation” in what it can accomplish, adding that the council has been embracing more diverse voices.
“(We want to) encourage the growth of a new progressive movement in California,” Bartlett said.
At the town hall, Worthington pointed to affordable housing as an area of concern for the city. He expressed a desire to “move city government out of the way” with respect to the campus’s construction of student housing units.
One policy Worthington suggested at the meeting was giving the campus a “city density bonus,” which would allow UC Berkeley to build more housing units than it normally would be able to on their property.
Arreguín also expressed support at the meeting for adding a vacancy tax for landowners that would penalize landowners for keeping their properties unoccupied and ideally lower property rental prices.
At the town hall, Davila focused on homelessness as a concern for the city to address. She called upon members of the public to be more proactive and open their own homes to support the homeless community.
Harrison further identified police reform as a priority for the city, saying at the town hall she hoped to improve police accountability by addressing racial profiling and police militarization.
She also proposed at the town hall to register city lobbyists and take steps to “close the revolving door” between government officials and private industry.
The topic of recent free speech protests in Berkeley also arose during the town hall. Arreguín said at the meeting that BPD is doing its best to ensure free speech is protected, but added that the city is also committed to preventing violence during and after demonstrations.
“Violence is not free speech … and when you cross that line we put our foot down,” Arreguín said at the meeting.
After the event, Worthington said he hoped attendees of the town hall would come away with “a sense of accomplishment.”
Arreguín added that the primary purpose of this town hall was “community education and organization” on the problems that City Council aims to tackle.
“(The) city can only do so much without public involvement,” Arreguín said.