Berkeley Neighborhoods Council hosts final mayoral forum

Audrey McNamara/Senior Staff

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On Wednesday, the Berkeley Neighborhoods Council, or BNC, held the last mayoral forum before Election Day, where three out of the eight mayoral candidates fielded questions on how to preserve Berkeley’s culture and promote growth in the city.

Council members Laurie Capitelli, Kriss Worthington and Jesse Arreguin were the only three candidates invited to participate. Chair of the BNC Dean Metzger said the purpose of the forum was to have viable candidates address neighborhood issues.

“All the other forums we’ve heard from, our candidates have not talked about our neighborhoods and our city as a historical place,” Metzger said. “Like all candidates and politicians, they try to skirt the answers to the questions and I think they did a pretty good job with that tonight.”

Capitelli said he believes the town needs to build market-rate housing to pay for affordable housing, though he noted it may be an unpopular opinion among the crowd. He added that there is a false dichotomy in Berkeley between development and preservation.

“I think something that distinguishes me from other candidates … is I believe we have to focus not only on the very poor but we have to focus on the middle-income folks in our community who can’t live here,” Capitelli said at the forum.

Throughout the forum, Worthington emphasized his focus on diversifying Berkeley’s city government and his role as a whistleblower in City Council. He criticized City Council for granting fee reductions to developers of a large Downtown project, and said its meetings are inefficient.

“The current City Council gives lip service to all these issues, but isn’t actually focused on getting results,”  Worthington said during the forum. “I’ve demonstrated repeatedly that I can get results.”

Arreguin said the community needs to grow responsibly in a manner that will not compromise its character, history or diversity. In the past 14 years, Arreguin added, the city’s policies have allowed developers to tear down historic buildings and affordable housing.

“We’ve seen giveaways to housing developers that have shortchanged our affordable housing trust fund,” Arreguin said during the forum. “After 14 years, it’s time for change.”

Candidates Ben Gould and Zachary RunningWolf, who attended as audience members, were unhappy with the BNC’s decision to exclude them from the forum. Metzger said he invited Arreguin, Capitelli and Worthington because he believes their political experience makes them the most likely to win.

Gould said given his campaign activity and expenditures, he is among the top three candidates in the mayoral election. But Metzger said he was not invited to the forum because he needs more political experience to run for mayor.

“Well the public doesn’t know me because I don’t get chances to speak in the public,” Gould said. “How am I going to get experience if you don’t let me get experience?”

RunningWolf protested the forum’s lack of inclusion by standing in front of the stage with duct tape over his mouth. He said the exclusion was unfair and alleged it discriminated against him as an indigenous elder.

Arreguin said he understood RunningWolf’s frustration but that RunningWolf could have communicated it without disrupting the forum. Overall, Arreguin said the forum was beneficial.

“A lot of people here … probably haven’t made up their minds on who’s going to be mayor, so this is the last opportunity to do that before the election on Tuesday,” Arreguin said. “It was a great opportunity for us to fully flesh out our positions on critical issues.”

Contact Malini Ramaiyer at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @malinisramaiyer.