District 3 candidates Bartlett, Coplan, Matthews, Murray talk housing crisis, gun violence

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This election season, four candidates are running to fill the District 3 Berkeley City Council seat and represent a portion of the city that has recently faced a spell of gun violence as well as negative effects from the citywide affordable housing crisis.

District 3 encompasses the middle section of South Berkeley and stretches from Sacramento Street to Ellsworth Street. The four candidates — Ben Bartlett, Mark Coplan, Al Murray and Deborah Matthews — are all campaigning for the open seat left by Councilmember Max Anderson, who decided not to run for reelection after serving 12 years on City Council.

All candidates come from different backgrounds but expressed a commitment to representing local community concerns.

Ben Bartlett

Ben Bartlett said he decided to run for District 3 after the developer of a low-income senior housing facility allegedly fostered poor living conditions in an effort to drive out Bartlett’s mother and other tenants living in her building.

Bartlett noted that this event helped him to realize that he wanted to stop housing displacement in the city.

You can tell the health of a society by the way they treat young people and old people,” Bartlett said, adding that homelessness of college students is also another problem that the city needs to address.

In an effort to address these problems, he has proposed the “My Home Safe Housing Initiative,” which proposes leveraging city resources to acquire existing apartments, stabilize rents and generate more affordable housing.

Bartlett, who has served on the city’s Zero Waste and Transportation commissions, added that the biggest challenge District 3 faces is transforming the local government’s culture. He said District 3 residents often feel that they are ignored and receive fewer resources than community members living in North Berkeley and the Berkeley Hills.

“My core mission is to achieve equity,” Bartlett said. “Equity for the person, equity for the community.”

Mark Coplan

Mark Coplan said, if elected, he could bring energy to the District 3 City Council position.

Coplan — who recently retired after serving as Berkeley Unified School District’s public information officer for more than 20 years — said he has the time and dedication to make sure that people in his community are heard.

“I wanna be the person that people can call today and get called back today,” Coplan said. “People will have my cellphone number.”

Coplan said many Berkeley residents feel that they haven’t always been acknowledged by their local government — and he wants to change that. Like other candidates, Coplan cited housing as a core issue of his platform and said he plans to address it through reforming rent control and possibly lowering housing taxes to make rental rates more affordable to middle- and low-income residents.

Additionally, Coplan emphasized openly addressing some of the issues present in the community, such as gang violence and drug use, in order to create change.

Deborah Matthews

As a mother, realtor and resident in South Berkeley, Deborah Matthews said she is aware of the variety of issues that the community may face in the coming years — ongoing violence, an affordable housing crisis and a lack of job opportunities.

A former Housing and Zoning Adjustments Board commissioner and the current vice chair of the City Planning commission, Matthews said she has the experience to help the community through the next few years, which she thinks will be challenging.

Matthews plans to address the housing crisis by working to increase the percentage of affordable housing projects required in new projects from 20 to 35 percent for the next 15 to 25 years.

Additionally, she hopes to rebuild community trust with police forces by facilitating interaction between local patrols and district residents. She has also proposed providing more opportunities to help residents work toward earning a sustainable income, such as job training programs, which would be inclusive of formerly incarcerated people.

“I am running for this district seat because I really love my community, and I love our city,” Matthews said.

Al Murray

Al Murray, a District 3 resident of 10 years, said his decades of experience working in almost every level of government have prepared him to be a successful City Council member.

Murray is a former city Energy and Disability commissioner and has also served as the chief of staff for an Oakland City Council member, the voter inspector for Alameda County and a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency employee.

These positions, he said, have taught him how to “get things done” in government. Specifically, he hopes to address the affordable housing crisis by bringing together City Council members and developers to collaborate on a comprehensive plan.  Additionally, Murray said he hopes to implement fair and impartial policing training in order to better educate police officers on professionalism and managing biases.

Murray added that he plans to facilitate open communication with the community in order to develop solutions to the region’s issues.

“I want to win the heart of voters in my district,” Murray said. “I want to be held accountable.”

Roann Pao covers city government. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @roann_pao.