Berkeley District 1 City Council candidates gather in forum to discuss rent control, homelessness

Daniela Cervantes/Staff

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Berkeley District 1 City Council candidates discussed their possible plans for housing and addressing homelessness to an audience of about 200 at a League of Women Voters Berkeley, Albany, Emeryville forum Tuesday night.

The forum, held at Berkeley City College, was organized by League of Women Voters, or LWV, and Berkeley NAACP. LWV president Adena Ishii hosted the forum, and four candidates of District 1 — Mary Behm-Steinberg, Rashi Kesarwani,  Igor Tregub, and Margo Schueler.

During the event, each candidate had one minute for an opening statement. Audience members wrote in questions they had for the candidates on cards provided by the event “question holders.”

An audience member asked how each candidate would propose a “just system of rent control.” All candidates responded by saying there should be protection for both tenants and landlords within the city.

“We should create a fund that would protect tenants who can’t afford any increase,”  Behm-Steinberg said at the forum. “And also we’ll protect low-income landlords and low-income small landlords so they can get their living expenses plus other expenses such as rise in house taxes. They depend on the rents to pay the grocery for their family members. I find the funds for over a million dollars. I’m happy to give anyone the details.”

Each of the candidates had a different approach concerning the city’s homeless population.

Kesarwani said during the forum that the city should look into replacing shelters with permanent housing. She added that if that doesn’t work, then there should be an expansion of temporary shelter beds.

“For local homelessness, we have to find solutions and build shelters,” Schueler said. “While for homelessness from other areas, we have to find regional solutions, since this is a national problem that is related to the tremendous wealth disparity developed during our lifetime.”

When the candidates were asked about a system of police oversight, Tregub said there must be a modern process within the police department to address the issue. Schueler said there should be more transparency between the police and the community.

Behm-Steinberg said, however, that the police office should be as separate as possible from the city manager, and Kesarwani said there should be a mechanism of police oversight that is effective for everybody in the community, including the police.

“I’m committed to work with all of the stakeholders to make sure that we can have a really successful process that we can have oversight that works for our community,” Kesarwani said during the forum.

Schueler said in an interview with The Daily Californian that the forum allowed the public to interact with candidates and contribute to discussion around city issues.

“I’ve been in Berkeley for 25 years,” Schueler said, “I have seen things change a great deal, seen our country change a great deal. It’s time for us to start and unite to solve local issues.”

Contact Sheqi Zhang at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @SheqiZhang.