Berkeley mayoral candidates address student housing, public safety in virtual town hall

From left to right: Jesse Arreguín, Wayne Hsiung, Aidan Hill.

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The ASUC Office of the External Affairs Vice President hosted a virtual town hall Monday night to ask Berkeley’s three mayoral candidates — incumbent Mayor Jesse Arreguín, Wayne Hsiung and Aidan Hill — about their platforms, especially those regarding student issues.

The candidates were asked about their stances and policy plans concerning student housing, policing and public safety and city reopening procedures. After the debate, which was moderated by campus students Samuel Taplin and Laurel Halvorson, the candidates addressed audience questions.

One section of the town hall addressed student housing and homelessness.

“I will make sure that my Black voice is heard and tell (City Council) specifically that we need systemic changes to the way that things are,” Hill said during the event. “If there is housing available, and you are not housing students and residents alike, something desperately needs to change.”

Hill said one of their priorities is to make University House a student cooperative for sexual assault survivors. Although University House is the official residence of the campus’s chancellor, it is currently uninhabited, according to Hill.

Arreguín said his approach would include repealing the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which restricts the rent control policies that can be imposed on certain residential units in California cities.

According to Hsiung, the city must reduce the cost of building in Berkeley. He added that zoning procedures in Berkeley need to be streamlined, and developers in Berkeley need to be taxed.

Halvorson asked the candidates how they plan to make Berkeley a safer city for students, referring to the shooting and death of campus student Seth Smith in June.

“I want to increase our patrols, but not just cars driving around Berkeley, but officers getting out there and walking beats, cops on bikes, building relationships with neighbors and with businesses,” Arreguín said.

Both Hsiung and Arreguín cited city infrastructure as an area that needs improvement, adding that increased lighting would decrease crime.

Hill said they would work to hold police accountable for actions including excessive use of force.

“You can’t say that I’m anti-police,” Hill said during the event. “I’m anti-irresponsible use of force, and that’s why I’m running for mayor.”

In the final section of the town hall, candidates were asked how they would plan a safe reopening for Berkeley.

Hill said they would provide no-cost medical care to older people until universal health care is made available, along with mental health care and disability assistance.

Arreguín added that he is proud of the work Berkeley has done to control the spread of COVID-19, citing the city’s expansion of contact tracing and testing for vulnerable individuals.

Hsiung said he would push to have medical and scientific experts lead decision-making on reopening, and he emphasized the importance of city staff and leadership setting examples of social distancing and wearing masks.

“I don’t believe in punitive approaches to creating safety, whether it’s safety on the streets from crime or safety from COVID,” Hsiung said. “When we’ve done that across the nation — or frankly, across the world — it hasn’t worked too well.”

Contact Natalie Lu at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @natalie_c_lu.