From traffic laws to plastic straws, Berkeley makes legislative strides

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Vivian Roan/File

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From raising the minimum wage to divesting from financial institutions with ties to apartheid in South Africa, the city of Berkeley has been ahead of the curve on certain issues over the years.

Decades ago, Berkeley was one of the first cities to implement a curbside recycling program, which was initially used just to collect newspapers. According to the Ecology Center’s website, the program has become a “model for thousands of municipal recycling programs.”

In 1979, the city of Berkeley divested from institutions doing business in South Africa in protest of apartheid, which was voted on by the people of Berkeley and removed approximately $4.5 million in public funds from banks involved with the then-apartheid state.

Fast-forward 13 years: Berkeley hosted the first Indigenous Peoples’ Day in 1992 on the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in America. As of 2018, the holiday is celebrated across the United States, commemorating Native American history and culture.

“I think that the Berkeley City Council has been front and center on a wide variety of issues, from the environment to land use to almost anything,” said former mayor Shirley Dean.

Recently, current District 8 Councilmember Lori Droste authored Vision Zero legislation for Berkeley, a city plan designed to reduce traffic fatalities. Vision Zero is also used in many other cities, from Boston to San Diego. Droste said she worked with Frank Cruz, a man whose son died after being run over in a crosswalk in 2009, to draft this policy.

Droste also expressed support for raising the minimum wage to $15, which was voted on in 2016 and will go into effect this fall. Berkeley is one of the more expedient cities in raising the minimum wage.

Alfred Twu, a candidate for the District 8 seat, said he considers Measure U1, a business tax passed in 2016, to be a great accomplishment. Twu said the tax was used to generate $3 million to $4 million for affordable housing and “was the first of its kind” but added that more could be done with housing in Berkeley.

“More recently, what Berkeley hasn’t done so well is how to keep housing affordable for people who work or go to school here,” Twu said.

Twu mentioned Berkeley’s strong record of addressing environmental issues, which includes being the first city to ban styrofoam in the late 1980s.

Dean said she was particularly ecstatic about Berkeley’s environmental efforts, especially when it comes to addressing climate change.

“It may seem like a minor thing to ban plastic straws, but it isn’t when you think of the wasteland of plastic floating in the ocean said to be three times the size of the state of California,” Dean said.

District 8 candidate Russ Tilleman said in an email that the council’s 2010 rejection of the Bus Rapid Transit project, a plan to install a rapid transit line between Berkeley and Oakland, was a noteworthy high point. Although the plan was projected to cost $250 million and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 9.2 tons per day, Tilleman said the project was “misrepresented” and would not be as effective as carbon offset credits.

Berkeley City Council has made efforts to address homelessness in the city. Councilmember Ben Bartlett said he was proud of the Pathways STAIR Navigation Center, which opened this summer and provides housing and services for 45 homeless residents.

The city has also made strides in the field of campaign finance. Rashi Kesarwani, a City Council candidate for District 1, said one of her favorite policies from the council was Measure X1, which allows City Council or mayoral candidates access to more funds provided by the city for their election bids. However, they can only do so if they do not accept money from political action committees and only accept donations of $50 or less.

Kesarwani said it is important to get “unaccountable dark money” out of politics. The measure passed on the ballot in 2016 and is being implemented in 2018.

“Berkeley is a small city as cities go, but we have the potential to do great things if we spend more time working together and less time fighting each other,” Twu said.

Contact Jackson Guilfoil at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @GuilfoilJackson.