Berkeley commissioner loses seat after authoring Israel divestment proposal

Amanda Hart/File
The city's Human Welfare and Community Action Commission meets Sept. 16. Cheryl Davila, the commissioner who recently lost her seat over her authorization of an Israel divestment proposal, was informed that she had been removed from the commission shortly before the meeting. Davila is not pictured.

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A Berkeley resident was removed from a city commission last week after she brought forth a proposal to divest city funds from companies affiliated with the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

Shortly before the Human Welfare and Community Action commission meeting Wednesday night, Cheryl Davila — who was appointed by Councilmember Darryl Moore to the commission in 2009 — was informed that she was removed from her seat on the commission after refusing Moore’s request that she withdraw the city proposal. If passed, the proposal would be considered by Berkeley City Council for adoption into city policy.

Davila said she received a phone call from Moore the day before the meeting, in which he proposed an “ultimatum” that she would be removed from her position if she continued to move forward with the proposal. Upon arriving at the meeting, she was notified by Housing and Community Services manager Kristen Lee that she was no longer on the commission.

Appointed members of the commission have a one-year term and can continue to serve on the commission for up to eight years but are subject at any time to recall by their district’s council member, according to the city municipal code.

Moore, who was not at Wednesday’s meeting, said he removed Davila from the commission because of her lack of communication regarding the proposal, which had been part of the commission’s agenda since October 2014. He said he asks his commission members to notify him if they are going to engage in controversial issues.

“I was surprised and shocked,” Moore said of the resolution. “I had no idea about it until it came to my attention by Councilmember (Kriss) Worthington.”

Moore said he had not formed a stance on the issue of divestment and would consider it more closely if it came before City Council. He also expressed concern that the proposal may fall outside of the commission’s purview.

Praveen Sood, the commission’s chair, said that during his six years serving on Human Welfare and Community Action Commission, he has never seen a commissioner removed by his district’s council member during his term.

“I don’t believe that commissioners should be removed for a controversial stance,” Sood said. “I think that’s part of the process to bring these things out and have a conversation, a hard conversation.”

Liz Jackson, a staff attorney at Palestine Legal representing Davila, said they are considering legal options responding to the dismissal and Davila’s right to speak freely to community members on the topic.

“The council member removed her in order to extinguish a conversation about the Israel-Palestine conflict,” Jackson said. “That violates the spirit of grassroots democracy … And it possibly violates her constitutional rights.”

The commission voted to hold an election at its next meeting to fill a vacant seat, in which Davila can participate. If elected, she would no longer be subject to removal by council members.

Commissioners will also vote at next month’s meeting on whether to approve the resolution for consideration by City Council.

Contact Jessica Lynn at [email protected].

A previous version of the photo caption accompanying this article incorrectly stated that Cheryl Davila did not attend the Human Welfare and Community Action Commission meeting Sept. 16. In fact, she attended, although she was notified upon her arrival that she had been removed from the commission.