Berkeley City Councilmember Rigel Robinson appoints 4 city commissioners

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Two UC Berkeley students and two campus alumni were appointed to city of Berkeley commissions by District 7 Berkeley City Councilmember Rigel Robinson.

Campus students Serena Patel and Ella Smith and campus alumni Modesto Covarrubias and Shane Krpata were sworn in as commissioners last week to the Energy Commission, Children, Youth and Recreation Commission, Civic Arts Commission and Public Works Commission, respectively. Most commissions include an appointee from each City Council member and the mayor.

“City commissions are the policymaking bodies where lots of the most meaningful work happens,” Robinson said.

Patel, a campus junior majoring in energy engineering, was inspired to become involved in the Energy Commission in part by GRID Alternatives, a campus organization that installs solar panels in low-income homes. She said in an email that her main goal during her time on the commission will be to facilitate Berkeley’s transition to renewable energy and help the commission communicate with students who are passionate about local sustainable energy.

Smith, the other student commissioner and a former Daily Californian news reporter, was also inspired in part by her experiences in campus organizations, including mentoring middle school students at REALM Charter School and teaching a class about civic engagement at Berkeley High School. She said she hopes to bring a student’s perspective to her work on the Children, Youth and Recreation Commission.

“I feel like district officials and policymakers become distant from the experiences of students in the classrooms,” Smith said. “I feel like I had an organic connection with students because I spent so much time with them (and) have a better understanding of what students in Berkeley are like and what experiences they go through.”

Smith will act as a temporary commission member for the next several months while a current member recused themselves because of a conflict of interest.

Covarrubias, a professor at California College of the Arts, said he first became interested in joining the Civic Arts Commission through his involvement in planning a cultural festival. As a longtime Berkeley resident, Covarrubias said he hopes to support local artists during his time on the commission, especially those facing pressure to leave the area.

“Over the past several years I have had many artist friends who have had to leave the Bay Area due to rising rents and real estate prices as well as a lack of opportunities for local artists,” Covarrubias said in an email. “With Berkeley actively addressing displacement issues and by providing additional opportunities for artists with the City’s renewed commitment to the Civic Arts Grant Program, this is an exciting time to be a part of this process that could have such a positive impact.”

Krpata, the fourth appointee, graduated in 2018 and said he decided to apply for the Public Works Commission because the commission’s work is relevant to his independent major in user-centric design. He said he believes the commission’s work is particularly important because of the state of Berkeley’s infrastructure.

One of Krpata’s goals for the commission is to bring current research he learned about at UC Berkeley to the commission’s work.

“I’ve been exposed to a lot of relevant information that hasn’t been implemented nationwide in city planning, and I want to help keep Berkeley in the forefront of things in terms of what is new in research,” Krpata said.

In addition to Robinson’s appointees, Councilmembers Rashi Kesarwani, Kate Harrison, Susan Wengraf and Lori Droste appointed a total of six commissioners at the start of this year. Laurie Capitelli will serve on the Children, Youth and Recreation Commission, Alexander Sharenko on the Commission on Labor, Suzanne Merkelson on the Community Environmental Advisory Commission, Maryann Sargent on the Housing Advisory Commission, Elisa Mikiten on the Police Review Commission and Margo Schueler on the Zero Waste Commission.

Robinson said that because commissions engage in “meaningful work,” it is important to appoint members with diverse backgrounds. He also emphasized the importance of student involvement in these commissions.

“Berkeley is a very diverse city and a city where a third of the population is students, but that is not often reflected on the commissions,” Robinson said.

Alexandra Stassinopoulos covers schools and communities. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @AE_Stass.