Districts 5, 6 City Council candidates address community as election race tightens

Audrey McNamara/Senior Staff

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Berkeley City Council candidates for the Districts 5 and 6 seats congregated in a packed television studio in Downtown Berkeley to address city issues such as public safety and homelessness at a forum Monday night.

Hosted by the League of Women Voters Berkeley Albany Emeryville, the forum provided residents with an opportunity to meet Stephen Murphy and Sophie Hahn, who are running for Laurie Capitelli’s District 5 seat, as well as Fred Dodsworth, Isabelle Gaston and incumbent Susan Wengraf, who are competing for the District 6 seat.

The two districts largely make up the Berkeley Hills and North Berkeley areas. All five candidates were asked the same 11 questions, with some additional approved questions from the public, and each gave two-minute opening and closing statements.

Murphy, an attorney, currently serves as chair of the city Planning Commission. He is also the former vice chair of the Commission on the Status of Women and former chair of the Housing Advisory Commission. Murphy said during the meeting he has experience advocating for affordable housing, jobs and fair labor standards, and as a member of the Berkeley Food and Housing Project, he is working toward diminishing homelessness in the city.

“I believe in pragmatics, I believe in progressive (policies),” Murphy said at the event. “Anyone who works (in Berkeley) … should also have the right to live here if they wish.”

Hahn sits on the Zoning Adjustments Board and was the chair of the Commission on the Status of Women. Hahn said during the forum that she has worked to improve civil and human rights, immigrant rights and equity. She ran for the District 5 seat against Capitelli in 2008 and 2012.

“The homeless crisis is our greatest humanitarian challenge in Berkeley and in the United States,” Hahn said at the event. “I oppose the criminalization of the homeless, and the use of police and emergency rooms are most expensive resources to address a problem that can be only served with housing.”

Dodsworth has been in the publishing industry for 30 years and is the founder of the Bay Area Business Magazine. He said during the event he was particularly concerned about Berkeley’s housing crisis, homelessness and climate change.

During the forum, Dodsworth spoke about his apprehensions regarding mini-dorms — units occupied by six or more unrelated people over the age of 18 — and said the campus should build more housing to accommodate their students. He also noted that he opposes large luxury apartments, which he said drive up rents in surrounding neighborhoods.

Gaston has served as the president of the North East Berkeley Association for more than four years, and she hopes to fix the city’s budget challenges, structural deficit and physical and financial infrastructure.

“If elected I pledge to focus like a laser beam on our financial health,” Gaston said. “I believe it is our moral obligation to not leave these massive debts to the next generation.”

Wengraf has served as the District 6 City Council member since 2008, and served on the city Planning Commission for 16 years. If re-elected, she said she would focus on public safety, a parking plan and addressing property crimes. In addition, Wengraf spoke about the implementation of ordinances regulating street behavior and limiting the amount of personal belongings on sidewalks.

Wengraf also announced at the forum a proposal for a new 4×4 committee with four city representatives and four campus representatives to improve collaboration between the two bodies.

The League of Women Voters, which is about 100 years old, grew from the momentum of the women’s suffrage movement. According to President and Communications Coordinator Deborah Malbec, the organization aspires to instill facets of democracy in order to make the world a better place.

“The League of Women Voters is strictly nonpartisan (and) we do not ever take positions for candidates or political parties,” Malbec said. “We do this (forum) because we want to give as many people as possible the opportunity to meet with candidates and learn what they stand for and ask them questions.”

The general elections will take place Nov. 8.

Contact Parth Vohra at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @ParthVohra622.