Student representation in local politics: UC Berkeley alumni, student elected

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With the election of Rigel Robinson to Berkeley City Council District 7 as well as Soli Alpert and James Chang to the Rent Stabilization Board, current and recent UC Berkeley students increase their representation in local politics.

In this general local election, Robinson, who graduated this year from UC Berkeley as a political economy major, won the Berkeley City Council District 7 seat. Campus junior transfer Aidan Hill, who said they will resume their studies now that elections are over, was also one of the candidates for City Council District 7. Among the five elected Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board members were UC Berkeley alumnus James Chang — a re-elected commissioner — and Soli Alpert, who is currently taking time off from his fourth year at UC Berkeley.

“We make (up) more than 25 percent of the population,” Chang said. “I think we are starting to see students more represented. We obviously need more student representation. It’s a work in progress.”

As a commissioner, Chang worked with the city manager to look into establishing the Berkeley Fair Chance Ordinance, which may help incarcerated people secure housing in the Bay Area, specifically in Berkeley. Chang has been on the rent board since 2014.

External Affairs Vice President Nuha Khalfay said in an email that since students are hugely affected by local issues such as housing and safety, voting in local elections can contribute to improving student lives for generations. Khalfay added that it is important to have young people in government because the younger generation often feels disconnected from the political process.

“I think that (there is) a movement around the nation to increase the representation of young people in government, and I think this local trend reflects that national movement,” Khalfay said. “To engage our generation, (it is) important to have young, diverse candidates who inspire voters. Candidates like Rigel and Soli do just that.”

For the first time in 22 years, District 7 will have a new representative. Councilmember Kriss Worthington first occupied the seat in 1996. Robinson’s platform included community safety, decriminalizing homelessness, combating climate change and affordable housing — along with UC Berkeley student representation on the City Council.

According to Robinson, students make up approximately half of the renters in Berkeley and have “unique needs” that are often not heard. He said he is excited that this year a recent graduate was elected to the rent board as well as a current student. Robinson urged for more student housing to be built and said students are often unaware of their rights because they are typically first-time tenants.

“We’re really excited that so many of our neighbors were eager to put their trust in me,” Robinson said. “We need more student housing, more affordable housing, fix the sidewalks, get more work done on Telegraph. We’re going to get busy.”

Contact Bella An at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @BellaAn_dc.