Study finds lack of students, ethnic diversity on city commissions

Adelyn Baxter/Senior Staff

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UC Berkeley students, Berkeley City Council members and commissioners met on the steps of City Hall Monday evening to discuss the findings of the Student Diversity Study conducted by members of the ASUC.

The study, conducted by ASUC Senator Sydney Fang and members of her staff, outlines the disproportionate ratio of ethnic representation on city commissions, which they say undermines Berkeley’s purported values and includes an action plan for how to address these disparities.

“We must ensure that African Americans, Latinos, Asians, Pacific Islanders and students get the seats at the table they deserve,” Fang said at the press conference.

Each council member has 34 appointments to city commissions — of which there are 44 total — which focus on topics such as housing, zoning, medical cannabis or environment and then make recommendations to the City Council based on discussion in their monthly meetings.

According to the study, representation on city commissions is 59 percent white, 7 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, 4 percent Latino, 7 percent African American, 3 percent other or biracial and 20 percent vacant. The study authors said these numbers do not accurately reflect the ethnic makeup of Berkeley, which is 55 percent white, 19 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, 11 percent Latino, 10 percent African American and 5 percent other or biracial.

“We have a diverse variety of people who apply to the commissions. The issue is that somehow the people appointed don’t reflect that diversity,” said Councilmember Jesse Arreguin.

The study also found that, although students constitute 20 to 25 percent of the city’s population, they only make up 11 percent of commission appointments. Fang has been a member of the city’s health commission since March.

Arreguin expressed his support for the study and his desire to see more students take an active role in city government. Arreguin served on multiple commissions while he was a student at UC Berkeley, experience that he said motivated his future interests.

“Commissions are training grounds for public office,” Arreguin said.

Alice Lin, a co-author of the study, said the study was a continuation of a 2005 study of ethnic diversity on city commissions, which Arreguin said actually resulted in more diverse appointments.

The action plan includes educating the public and council members on the study’s findings while using outreach to recruit neighborhood and student leaders to recruit more applicants to diversify the commissions. It also demands that the city better publicize commission vacancies.

The authors of the study encouraged council members to consider students when filling the 58 vacancies that currently exist on city commissions.

“The fact that they have an action plan distinguishes them from previous efforts,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who noted that past plans had focused more on highlighting the disparities than outlining solutions for them.

Adelyn Baxter is the lead city government reporter.