‘A beacon of hope’: Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín delivers State of the City address

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Mayor Jesse Arreguín’s third State of the City address highlighted the city’s progress on addressing a range of topics, such as housing and community activism.

As a major opportunity to convey the government’s priorities in the coming years, the State of the City address was a space for Arreguín to emphasize the city’s commitment to addressing the affordable housing crisis, environmental sustainability and immigration raids, among many other topicsThe 45-minute speech took place Monday night at the Shotgun Players theater and was presented to a sold-out crowd, according to a press release from the mayor’s office.

“We must serve as a beacon of hope in the darkness,” Arreguín said during his speech. “Despite tremendous challenges facing our nation and our city right now, I remain hopeful for Berkeley’s future.”

Near the beginning of his speech, Arreguín discussed the city’s involvement in funding the arts, acknowledging that the city increased the amount of money distributed through city arts grants. He also noted that artists are being pushed out of Berkeley because of increasing rent prices and mentioned that the city’s Arts and Culture Plan was recently updated with a goal to include affordable housing and workspaces.

Regarding the housing and homelessness crisis, Arreguín discussed the implementation of the Pathways Project, including the STAIR Navigation Center’s success in having housed 102 people over its 13 months of operation. He also said during his speech that the Berkeley Way Project will be moving forward with funding from Measure O in order to create 142 units of affordable housing.

Along with creating new affordable housing, Arreguín said that this year, the city will begin investing $900,000 annually into anti-displacement efforts to help keep Berkeley residents in their homes.

“The creation of new affordable housing is a necessary component of any vision to address the housing and homeless crisis, and it is an essential part of our efforts to help those who have made Berkeley what it is continue to stay here and thrive,” Arreguín said in his speech. “But we must also accept the reality that housing alone is not enough.“

Another major topic of Arreguín’s speech was safety, from fixing the city’s infrastructure to providing more resources for firefighters in the event of a wildfire.

Arreguín also talked about the city’s work in confronting climate change. In 2018, the City Council adopted multiple ordinances addressing the issue, including the declaration of a climate emergency.

At the conclusion of his speech, Arreguín reaffirmed Berkeley’s existence as a sanctuary city and the city’s stance against the recent threats of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, raids throughout the Bay Area.

“Last year during my State of the City address, I called on our city to make a renewed commitment to the progressive values in the face of a hostile federal administration and to show the world what we stand for,” Arreguín said during his speech. “I am proud that Berkeley is a leader in the resistance.”

After the address had finished, City Auditor Jenny Wong said she was “excited” to continue working with the city on the issues spoken about during Arreguín’s speech.

Other municipal politicians who were in attendance agreed on the success of Arreguín’s speech. City Councilmember Sophie Hahn said she thought the speech was “fabulous” and was a succinct display of the city government’s work.

“Not every small city does (the State of the City address), but I really appreciate that the mayor’s office takes the time to put together such a cohesive … presentation for the city,” Hahn said. “It’s really important, and I really appreciate it.”

Councilmember Rigel Robinson commented on how “busy” the mayor’s office has been over the past year, saying Arreguín has “much to be proud of.” He also joked that “Jesse cleans up good” — in reference to the suit Arreguín wore during the speech.

Arreguín said there were a number of topics that were cut from the speech because of time constraints, such as updates on education and the police force, but that he felt the speech was a good condensation of the city’s work.

“I’m just very excited to let people know about our accomplishments and our priorities,” Arreguín said. “We work hard every single day to make the city better, and I look forward to presenting next year on the work that we accomplish in 2019.”

Contact Sakura Cannestra at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @SakuCannestra.