After witnessing the “Ghost Ship” warehouse fire in 2016, Berkeley City Council candidate and social justice attorney Richard Illgen knows the tragedies a fire can induce and hopes to mitigate fire risk as the District 6 representative.
Since announcing his candidacy, Illgen has stressed the importance of expanding wildfire preparedness. He also hopes to address the city’s housing crisis, advocate for police reform and support the Berkeley community amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
So far, Illgen has garnered the support of current City Councilmembers Kate Harrison and Ben Bartlett, along with other elected officials and Berkeley residents.
“He understands how government works, the legal constraints as well as what innovating solutions could look like,” said Illgen’s former colleague Margaretta Lin. “(Illgen) has a history of not being afraid to take risks.”
After serving as an ASUC senator while an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, Illgen went on to chair both the city’s Rent Stabilization Board and the Planning Commission, among other city positions.
If elected, Illgen hopes to bolster his district’s and the entire city’s wildfire preparedness. More specifically, he expressed concerns about the highly populated Berkeley Hills, which are more susceptible to wildfires.
“We have a situation in the hills where the fire danger is worse than it ever has been because of global warming,” Illgen said. “There has been nothing done.”
In addition to addressing potential wildfires, Illgen also plans to promote affordable housing and prevent displacement of residents while meeting the needs of Berkeley’s growing population.
According to Illgen, he has advocated for rent control and worked to provide housing opportunities for previously incarcerated individuals in his prior positions.
For Illgen, police reform is also critical to address, and he strongly supports reconfiguring the Berkeley Police Department. He added that there are many duties officers should not be expected to carry out, including taking mental health calls.
“There are too many tragedies,” Illgen said.“There are too many bad interactions with people of color.”
As the city of Berkeley continues to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, Illgen stressed the importance of supporting local businesses and artists whose livelihoods have been threatened by economic hardship.
He added that measures should be taken to preserve the Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, noting that it could close within 10 years if nothing is done. According to Illgen, if the hospital closes, students would have to commute much farther distances to access necessary medical facilities.
“We’re at a moment in history as a nation and in Berkeley where the status quo is just not acceptable,” Lin said. “Berkeley should be leading the nation in reaching social justice, and we can only do that if we have the right kind of political leadership.”