State Assembly District 15 candidates discuss education, housing at campus forum

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Joshua Jordan/Senior Staff

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California State Assembly District 15 candidates met to discuss their positions on education accessibility, housing and homelessness at the Assembly District 15 Candidates Forum on Monday night.

The forum consisted of nine of the 12 candidates running for the District 15 seat — Dan Kalb, Owen Poindexter, Pranav Jandhyala, Ben Bartlett, Buffy Wicks, Rochelle Pardue-Okimoto, Cheryl Sudduth, Andy Katz and Judy Appel — and was hosted by The Daily Californian and the ASUC Office of the External Affairs Vice President, or EAVP.

Candidate Jovanka Beckles and newly announced candidates Raquella Thaman and Sergey Piterman did not attend.

In regard to the housing and homelessness crisis, most candidates agreed that there is a need for more affordable housing.

Poindexter said he prioritizes the needs of low- and middle-income people and wants to drastically increase the housing supply, change zoning laws and build higher buildings. He added that he would like to repeal the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, a state law that prevents cities from establishing rent control.

Berkeley City Councilmember Bartlett — whose campaign is leading among likely voters — said he wants protection of families from displacement, preservation of existing housing and production of new housing funded by the carbon tax.

Former Obama administration official Wicks said she wants more low-income, middle-income and market-rate housing and would like to guard against displacement by reforming the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act and increasing renter tax credit.

“Homeowners get a lot of tax incentives — so should renters,” Wicks said.

UC Berkeley sophomore Jandhyala — the only Republican candidate running — said California has one of the worst education systems in the nation. He added that reducing bureaucracy and simplifying the current framework would help resolve inefficiency issues.

Appel, a Berkeley Unified School District board member, said California needs to increase the amount of funding that is allocated toward each level of public education — community colleges, state universities and UC schools.

Appel added that she is in favor of a bill that reforms Proposition 13 — which reduces property tax rates on homes — that will put $9 billion to $11 billion back into the state budget.

East Bay Municipal Utility District board member Katz took a different approach to education accessibility. He said he wants to reverse the trend created by former governor Pete Wilson, who “drew on racism and classism to create (the) ‘tough on crime’ model for California,” which led to overincarceration and a disinvestment in education.

Katz added that he wants to reduce overpopulation in prisons to restore funding to education. He also said he wants to establish free college education for low- and middle-class students.

Sudduth, a local activist, said that until there are more people of color attending universities, she does not want her taxpayer dollars paying for free public education.

“Right now, we are criminalizing way too many students of color. … Do we want well-incarcerated or well-educated people?” Sudduth said.

Pardue-Okimoto, a Cal Grant A and Federal Pell Grant recipient, said she wants to increase the Cal Grant A and B award amount as well as funding for housing.

According to ASUC EAVP Rigel Robinson, there are about 400,000 people in District 15, about 40,000 of which are UC Berkeley students.

“I think college students really have a potential to change … political dialogues around certain issues,” said campus junior Harriet Steele, who attended the forum. “That’s why civic engagement is important for us — college students have been at the forefront of social movements that have had major impact(s).”

Although Steele is a member of two campus associations  — the Progressive Student Association and Cal Berkeley Democrats — that have endorsed Beckles, Steele said she wanted to learn about all the candidates and become an informed voter.

Campus junior Dana Alpert said that though she knew most of the candidates are Democratic and progressive, she attended the forum because she wanted to see if anything stood out.

“(I’m) so glad it happened. (I) thought it was great. It was nice to hear from almost all candidates all at once,” Alpert said. “People don’t recognize how important state politics are and how much of an impact they have on us.”

Contact Alyssa Bernardino at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @alybernardino.