Updated city welcome signs underway, prompting heated debate

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The city of Berkeley is in the process of replacing the city’s welcome signs, but the steps to do so have prompted heated disagreement among City Council members.

In January 2018, Councilmember Cheryl Davila put forth an item to change the welcome signs in Berkeley to include the phrases “Welcome to Berkeley,” “Ohlone Territory,” “Sanctuary City” and Oakland’s motto, “LOVE LIFE!” According to Davila’s original proposal, the current signs do not reflect “who we are as a City.” The Transportation Commission, in its recommendation to the City Council from Oct. 16, also said some of the current signs are missing and that many are bent, faded and vandalized.

According to the commission, large signs will be erected in up to 12 different locations. Adding and replacing the signs will cost approximately $3,444.

The proposal to replace the welcome signs has not yet been passed by the City Council because of an initial, short-term referral to the Transportation Commission in January, which it has addressed at multiple meetings throughout the year. At the Oct. 16 meeting, the City Council met to discuss the Transportation Commission’s recommendation.

Instead of passing the original proposal, the council adopted an amended version of Councilmember Sophie Hahn’s proposal of a short-term referral of the item to the city manager. This, according to Hahn, is intended to give more thought to the wording on the signs.

Mayor Jesse Arreguín seconded that motion, adding a friendly amendment to confirm whether “Ohlone Territory” is the right language to use on the signs so that the Ohlone recognition can be granted.

At the meeting, Davila stated that referring the item for a second time felt like a “racist move.”

“That means it’s going to be a year or who knows how long (before the signs are replaced)” Davila said. “We are not loving each other. I mean, racism is not love. … I haven’t seen any items come across council being referred multiple times to multiple places.”

Davila also said she found confirming terminology with the Ohlone “a little disrespectful” because she had already discussed the wording with Corrina Gould — a leader in the Ohlone community — on several occasions. Davila said Gould had been in support of the addition.

In the meeting, Hahn said the insinuation that she would put forth a racist motion was inappropriate and that she felt that it was based on a misunderstanding of her intentions. She asked for an apology from Davila, which Davila refused to give.

The council ultimately decided that the city manager will replace Berkeley’s welcome signs with the standard “Welcome to Berkeley — Ohlone Territory” sign, leaving space for additional messages to be decided at a later date. The Indigenous community will be consulted regarding the wording.

“I think it’s important to maintain the reminder that we are on land that doesn’t really belong to us,” campus junior Kat Riley said, echoing some of the sentiments expressed by community members at the meeting.

Contact Boyce Buchanan at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @BuchananBoyce.