The city of Berkeley swore two UC Berkeley students into city government commissioner positions Friday morning.
During a ceremony at the city clerk’s office, campus sophomores Kate Richards and Robert Tobias Simmons were sworn in as commissioners of the Children, Youth and Recreation Commission and Community Environmental Advisory Commission, respectively. Later this week, campus senior and ASUC External Affairs Vice President Nuha Khalfay will be sworn in as alternate commissioner for six city commissions and boards.
“(The positions) are an incredible opportunity to get real-world experience voting on issues and help make the city of Berkeley a better place,” said City Councilmember Kriss Worthington. “Students make up a quarter of the population of Berkeley, and they deserve a seat at the table.”
At the ceremony, the students swore to support the constitution and celebrated their appointments with virgin mimosas. As of Friday, there are 75 vacancies in city government commissions open to students. In addition to UC Berkeley, students from San Francisco State University, Berkeley City College and California State University, East Bay have also been appointed in the past.
According to Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, student commissioners are important because they bring “cutting-edge policies” to the commissions, and the city’s decisions have “drastic impacts” on the daily life of students. As a UC Berkeley undergraduate student, Arreguín was appointed by Worthington to several commissions and served as chair of the housing commission.
Arreguín’s experience in commissions gave him “firsthand knowledge of local government and how to make changes happen,” he said.
As a sophomore, Simmons said he has not been in Berkeley for very long but that being a commissioner is the “most direct way to get acquainted with the city and know what is going on.” He added that he is passionate about increasing outreach for events, specifically regarding sustainability, and working toward better student representation in city government.
Richards, who is the youngest person in her commission, said she is excited to work at the grassroots level to improve Berkeley citizens’ quality of life.
Every year, Worthington appoints about 20 student commissioners, he said, but the city is trying to increase that number. In addition to more students, he said he is also trying to recruit more people of color to commissions. He added that both students and people of color are underrepresented in commissions and that people appointed have been mostly white.
“I’m very happy to see other students being sworn in,” said James Chang, a former student commissioner who now works for Worthington as a legislative aide. “UC Berkeley is what makes Berkeley Berkeleyan.”