In his first state of the city address, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín called on the city to “get serious” about addressing local homelessness and affordable housing.
Outlining his administration’s accomplishments and future plans to address city affordability and sustainability, Arreguín said in his speech that cities like Berkeley serve as “beacons of hope” and it was “in Berkeley’s DNA to lead in issues of our time.”
“The focus of tonight’s speech was to talk about who we are as a city and our community values, especially in the face of the hostile federal administration,” Arreguín said. “I think people were excited about everything that we’ve accomplished and everything that we’re looking forward to do.”
Arreguín’s address — which was open to the public — drew an audience of more than 250 people into a sold-out room at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Prior to the address, Tom Kelley, a longtime Berkeley resident, lined up outside the theater and laid out his expectations for the speech.
“There are a lot of issues that I hope (Arreguín) covers tonight, (including) homelessness, housing (and) traffic,” Kelley said. “I think Jesse has really followed through on a lot of what he campaigned on since his inauguration.”
City homelessness and affordable housing issues were a main focus of Arreguín’s state of the city address. Arreguín said in his speech that “the city is working to broaden opportunity and make the city more affordable and accessible for all” at a time “where disparities in housing, health and income were expanding.”
Arreguín’s speech highlighted the Pathways Project, a “comprehensive plan to address homelessness in Berkeley” passed by City Council in April, which will connect permanent housing and centralized resources to Berkeley’s homeless community.
In his speech, Arreguín also advocated for the Berkeley Way project — a plan to develop 140 units of affordable housing in Downtown Berkeley that received funding prioritization from City Council in June — and added that the city has a goal of constructing more than 600 additional units of permanent, affordable housing over the next five years.
“It is a great failure of our society that we have allowed this humanitarian crisis to grow so far out of hand, not just in our city, but also throughout our country,” Arreguín said in his speech.
Arreguín also called for a stronger partnership between “town and gown” in his speech.
He said in his address that his office has laid the foundation for a productive working relationship with new campus Chancellor Carol Christ and is collaborating with the Berkeley Unified School District to address the “opportunity gap” in the city’s schools.
“We are … committed to expanding educational opportunities for everyone who calls Berkeley home,” Arreguín said in his speech. “Despite our world-famous UC Berkeley campus, we have one of the largest racial achievement gaps in the state of California.”
City Councilmember Sophie Hahn called Arreguín’s speech “fantastic” and noted that the city’s work in addressing affordable housing, displacement and “the growing homeless crisis” was not yet complete. She added that City Council will move “full throttle” to ensure it addresses the needs of Berkeley’s “most vulnerable.”
After his nearly 40-minute address, Arreguín answered questions from the audience. When asked about the council’s recent decision to continue its participation in Urban Shield, Arreguín said the city is establishing a task force to explore alternatives to the program.
Arreguín also commented on the UC Berkeley Housing Master Plan Task Force report released in January, which named People’s Park as one of nine potential sites for future student housing development, and said the location was not and should not be a priority of discussion.
Arreguín closed his speech by saying work remains to be done to ensure all who call Berkeley their home have an equal opportunity at achieving their dreams.
“Together we will continue to build a city that puts fairness, inclusivity, justice and compassion at the center of everything that we do,” Arreguín said in his speech. “We’re excited, we’re ready to move ahead and blaze a path with you in the months to come.”
Contact Bobby Lee and Valerie Hsieh at [email protected].