Newly sworn-in City Council holds 1st special meeting

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The newly sworn-in City Council confirmed the results of the Nov. 8 municipal elections, established a rotating schedule for the position of vice mayor and appointed council members to committees during its first special meeting Thursday.

There was only one item on the agenda for Thursday’s meeting, but the room was still packed. After swearing in, each of the five new members of the council had a chance to speak before public comment.

During the meeting, Mayor Jesse Arreguin held a minute of silence to recognize the victims of the “Ghost Ship” fire. He also thanked his parents, who were sitting in the front row, for their support and sacrifices.

“Today, let us rededicate ourselves to ensuring that everyone in our city, regardless of their race, religion, gender, creed, sexual orientation or where they came from, will have a safe and vibrant community to call home,” Arreguin said at the meeting.

District 3 Councilmember Ben Bartlett said at the meeting that he practically grew up in the CouncilChambers and that his earliest memories are of his father speaking to the crowd during public comment. Before the meeting, Bartlett had said that he was “on pins and needles,” anxious and excited to sit on the dais for the first time.

District 5 Councilmember Sophie Hahn also spoke about her new seat.

“It’s a little uncomfortable sitting up here on the dais, and it’s not because it’s new, but because I feel like it makes an artificial separation between us and you,” Hahn said in the meeting. “I don’t consider my role as a council member to be to preside, but rather to serve.”

During public comment, retired professor Rafael Jesus Gonzalez burned sweet smoke, honoring his heritage, and read a note — first in Spanish and then in English — directed at Arreguin, the first Latino mayor, and his fellow council members. Gonzalez said he will both criticize and praise the council as necessary in the years to come.

Both Gonzalez and Christine Schwartz, a homeless advocate, spoke to the needs of the homeless community during public comment. They asked that the City Council end police raids of encampments and work to increase equitable housing.

As a newly appointed member of the Association of Bay Area Governments, Bartlett said he hopes to address homelessness on a regional level.

District 2 Councilmember Cheryl Davila said at the meeting that she is happy to hear from her constituents and noted that within only a week on the job, she has already received many messages.

Given results of the national election, District 1 Councilmember Linda Maio said the people of Berkeley cannot let their differences tear them apart.

The approved consent calendar also established the council members’ seating arrangements at the dais and called for a special election March 7 to fill the District 4 seat.

District 7 Councilmember Kriss Worthington said he does not think that the District 4 seat vacancy will have a big impact on the council in the coming months.

Worthington added that the council has rotated the role of vice mayor before, and he believes it to be “a very democratic, inclusive way to operate.”

Looking out to the rest of his term, at the meeting, Arreguin said though the challenges of the position may be tough, he and the city are ready to face whatever comes.

“Today, let’s pick up and dust off Berkeley’s old progressive torch,” Arreguin said at the meeting. “Let’s carry it forward together proudly as we blaze the path to a brighter future for our city.”

Contact Aleah Jennings-Newhouse at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ajn_dc.