Three of Berkeley’s four mayoral candidates gathered for a Thursday night Q&A forum hosted by several community groups and answered questions regarding housing, transportation and climate needs.
Moderator Betsy Thagard welcomed candidates Aidan Hill, Wayne Hsiung and incumbent Jesse Arreguín on behalf of Berkeley Neighbors for Housing and Climate Action, Walk Bike Berkeley and Cal Berkeley Democrats. A representative from each organization asked candidates questions about their positions and policy plans.
Cal Berkeley Democrats representative and political director Davina Srioudom focused her first question on housing needs for students, asking candidates about affordability and how they would balance student housing needs and the risk of displacing the existing community.
“Students are transitionary, so that provides a great opportunity to allow students and residents to cohabitate,” Hill said. “If we could form a public partnership with the University of California, Berkeley to make sure that residents have accessible and safe transit and housing options and availabilities, we can make sure that students are housed safely.”
The solution, according to Arreguín, is building more student housing, something that he pushed during his time in the ASUC. Arreguín added that the city has a “responsibility” to densify student housing close to campus and noted his support for zoning in the Southside area.
According to Hsiung, the housing displacement issue is more about relationships between UC Berkeley and the surrounding community and can be fixed through communication.
Hsiung talked about Berkeley resident Leonard Powell, who was able to return to his longtime home with help from the city and campus community, as an example for how these relationships can bring solutions.
“We need to facilitate not just dialogue between the community and students, but genuine relationships,” Hsiung said. “If you have relations like that, then you can come to political solutions in housing.”
Ben Gerhardstein of Walk Bike Berkeley asked questions about transportation and climate, questioning candidates about road maintenance as well as pedestrian and bicyclist safety.
Gerhardstein also asked candidates if they supported the establishment of a Berkeley Department of Transportation, or BerkDOT, and how they envisioned the department advancing safety, equity and climate goals if they supported it.
While Hsiung noted his support for transit program reform, he said he would first want community and staff input on the city’s current transportation needs.
Hill and Arreguín both voiced their support for BerkDOT, with Hill emphasizing accessibility for all types of commuters and Arreguín noting his co-sponsorship of the legislation to form the department.
“This is what Berkeley does: We introduce first-in-the-nation policies that transform systems,” Arreguín said during the forum. “(BerkDOT) is one way that we can reach not only racial justice, but climate justice in our approach to traffic and parking enforcement in Berkeley.”