The beginnings are usually forgettable, but the ends are rarely dull.
After three hours, the meeting really begins to feel like a drag, and the crowd starts to get agitated because still another 30 public statements need to be made. The agenda item numbers are blending into a never-ending to-do list, and a council member has clarified with the clerk about whether that last amendment vote actually counted for anything. The mayor is banging the gavel with a little too much force now, and the already spotty Wi-Fi has just gone out.
They’re a delirious mess, Berkeley City Council meetings are, but I can’t help but love them.
As a city reporter and editor, there was no better place to cut my teeth than the politically tumultuous and socially active city of Berkeley. And in Berkeley, there is no greater display of this tremendous combination of civic passion and neighborly responsibility than at 11 p.m. on a Tuesday night at the beautiful and seismically unsafe Old City Hall.
It’s not because these hours-long meetings result in perfect solutions to the city’s pressing issues. Or because the public commenters who show up are some quintessential reflection of Berkeley’s rich culture, thoughtful residents or diverse neighborhoods. Or because the discussions are polite, cogent and even-tempered.
In fact, City Council meetings are usually some awful combination of none of those things. Policies are stalled, people are dehumanized and perspectives are drowned out in either deafening anger or damning silence.
Housing isn’t built fast enough. Businesses close too often. Police struggle to overcome racial biases. Students are falling behind at school. There aren’t enough beds for homeless residents — and yet, somebody will still manage to complain about the shadows killing their zucchini garden.
But behind every failed proposal or ear-splitting shouting match, I’ve been able to see the glimmer, the promise of a better, brighter Berkeley. One that is inclusive and just and safe, pushing the state and the country to be equally so with its groundbreaking laws and ideals.
City Council members occasionally propose ordinance amendments to improve, not tear down, their peer’s ideas. The same group of dedicated residents show up week in and week out, committed to holding their elected officials accountable. Agenda items on the consent calendar proclaim everyday dates as city holidays, celebrating the lives of wondrous local residents. I’ve seen city officials shake hands even at the end of a particularly bitter fight, and I’ve seen others walk out before the meeting is even over, having come and said their truths.
For the last four years, covering Berkeley and its incredible inhabitants has been my whole world, and what a world it has been.
To every person who has spoken to me and offered their thoughts or wisdom, thank you. It’s been an awesome and humbling job to help share even a fraction of the story you had to tell.
To Suhauna, every byline shared with you was a privilege. To Karim, sorry for sometimes always replacing your edits with my own edits; I regret nothing. To Dani, I don’t know how you did it but you did it, man. To Andrea, Katy, Melissa — where would I be without your words of encouragement or tag-yourself memes? To Adam, you make me a better reporter and better person every day. To mom and dad, you are my inspiration. I love you.
Sitting at the ill-sized press table, trying and failing to connect to the Wi-Fi to get one last quote down, I have been able to report and write and record and edit the first draft of Berkeley’s history. Everything I’ve ever been proud of has appeared in your pages, and everything I ever will be proud of is because of that. And so, through pepper spray and school walkouts and 6 a.m. ceremonies, I hope I did right by you, Berkeley.
It’s been a delirious mess, but at least it wasn’t dull.
Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks was the fall 2017 and spring 2018 managing editor. She joined The Daily Californian in spring 2015 as a general assignment reporter before becoming the lead business and economy reporter in fall 2015, an assistant news editor in spring 2016 and the city news editor in fall 2016. She is graduating with bachelor’s degrees in English and peace and conflict studies.