District 6 candidates Wengraf, Dodsworth, Gaston address fire, crime safety

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Nestled in the northeast hills of the city, District 6 finds itself in a time of potential transition as its City Council member seat is up for reelection — first-time candidates Isabelle Gaston and Fred Dodsworth are currently in the running against incumbent Susan Wengraf.

The district encompasses the northern edge of campus and includes a substantial residential population. Nine of the 20 Berkeley Student Cooperative houses are located in District 6, and there is traditionally a graduate student population known to reside on the quieter Northside.

District 6 also includes three religious schools: Zaytuna College, the Pacific School of Religion and the Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary.

Though some multi-family homes are located in the district, the majority of residences are single-family. Additionally, District 6 has a larger percentage of residential properties — as opposed to commercial areas — than in other areas in the city. District 6 has only one small commercial area centered on Euclid and Hearst avenues. It is also located primarily in the hills of Berkeley, which provide unique geographic issues for the district.

Gaston and Dodsworth are supporting each other as respective second-choice candidates in Berkeley’s ranked-choice voting system, in which voters can list their candidates in order of their first through third preferences.

Susan Wengraf

Incumbent Susan Wengraf was elected to City Council in 2008 and reelected in 2012.

For Wengraf, the most important issues in District 6 are crime and fire safety. Wengraf said plainly that North Berkeley is “ripe for wildfire,” and District 6 is particularly vulnerable to wildfire because of heavy vegetation growth.

According to Wengraf, the issue could be addressed by vegetation management on private property as well as general rules and regulations regarding vegetation growth. Additionally, the district’s roads are a cause for concern regarding fire safety.

“The roads are so narrow and curvy. … (They) weren’t built to accommodate parking on both sides of the street,” Wengraf said, noting that there are many more cars in the district’s growing residential areas.

This could prove problematic for emergency vehicle access in the event of a wildfire. Emergency access and evacuation measures are also concerns in the event of an earthquake, as a part of District 6 is located on the Hayward Fault.

“For the most part, District 6 is east of the Hayward Fault while the rest (of Berkeley) is west of it … (This) could isolate the district from the rest of the city,” Wengraf said.

Wengraf added she would be working with the Berkeley Police Department, UC Police Department and other city agencies to approach the issue of crime in her district. She also said she was planning to propose the installation of Blue Lights, which are emergency phone stations, in areas off-campus.

“(My) first priority is safety for my constituents,” Wengraf said. “I’m very concerned about safety around Northside of campus where students are.”

Fred Dodsworth

Dodsworth worked as a journalist for 30 years and raised his children in Berkeley. He decided to run for City Council in order to address what he sees as the three main issues facing his community: homelessness, affordable housing and the closure of the Alta Bates Hospital.

Dodsworth plans to improve Berkeley’s department of mental health and add social workers to address homelessness rather than having police officers deal with these issues.

“Taking away the (police) calls designated to homelessness frees up police to do crime-fighting,” Dodsworth said.

Given the proximity of District 6 to campus, Dodsworth said he is concerned about housing for students and says they are paying very high rents in District 6.

“Cal students are being served as the dinner, not as guests,” Dodsworth said.

Like Wengraf, Dodsworth is also concerned about fire safety and response in District 6, saying that a wildfire in the area is “impending.”

Dodsworth, however, linked fire safety to another issue in Berkeley as a whole — the closure of the Alta Bates Hospital, set to shut its doors in 2030. In the event of a major wildfire, Berkeley will need a close hospital for response efforts, Dodsworth said.

“Without a hospital, we have no right to call ourselves a city,” Dodsworth said.

Dodsworth said if elected, he would work to ensure that the property that currently houses Alta Bates would be used for a hospital.

Isabelle Gaston

Isabelle Gaston has served as the president of the Northeast Berkeley Association, which encompasses Districts 5 and 6, for more than four years. She currently works as a medical writer and holds a PhD in cancer biology.

There is currently only one police officer patrolling the entirety of District 6 at night, and Gaston said she is concerned about the recent spike in crime around campus, which she says is new for people in her area.

With the large amount of homeowners in her district, many of whom pay property taxes, Gaston said people are concerned about where their money was going. She wants to look into the current allocation of police funding and provide police accountability for her community.

“Students have a right to feel that they are safe in these neighborhoods,” Gaston said. “We can do better than this.”

Like the other candidates, Gaston is also concerned about fire safety. According to Gaston, the safety evacuation route currently in place for the district is vague, only instructing people to “take paths,” and outlining what to bring in their cars upon evacuation.

With narrow roads and an unclear plan of evacuation, Gaston said congestion could be another major issue in the event of a fire and said she would “entertain” the idea of a one-car-per household rule as a potential solution.

“I think what we … need is to really look at how many cars we can safely have in the hills,” Gaston said.

Gaston also suggested the conversion of the Cragmont Elementary School as a designated fire and earthquake evacuation center.

“The clock is running,” Gaston said. “Everybody in the hills needs to know there’s somewhere we can go.”

Contact Camryn Bell at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @cbell_DC.

A previous version of this article misquoted Fred Dodsworth as saying that all police calls pertain to homelessness. In fact, he said a large percentage of police calls pertain to homelessness.