Berkeley City Council discusses budget, police reform, arts, housing

photo of berkeley city police department
Andrew Huang/Staff
Berkeley residents expressed concerns over housing assistance and police reform, among other issues, during a City Council meeting Tuesday.

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Berkeley City Council met Tuesday to discuss the city’s 2022 fiscal year budget, police reform, housing assistance and funding for the arts.

At the beginning of the meeting, Berkeley mayor Jesse Arreguín acknowledged the recent mass shooting in San Jose. After honoring the deceased, Arreguín voiced his support for more gun control.

“We must address the madness of gun violence in this country,” Arreguín said during the meeting. “We need real, bold and meaningful reform to address the issue of gun violence and bring real control to gun control in the United States.”

During public comment, speakers lamented the “mental health crisis” in Berkeley and expressed concerns over budgetary increases to the Berkeley Police Department. Some argued that law enforcement alone could not solve crime.

“The budget is putting a lot of money into the police. The police do not prevent crime,” said Berkeley resident Kitt Saginor. “What prevents crime is youth programs and opportunities for prosperity.”

Uma Channer, a “lifelong” Berkeley resident, said she was “furious” and that it seemed like the city council was allegedly “being paid off by BPD.” Arreguín responded by saying the Berkeley Police Association has never endorsed him or supported his candidacy for public office.

Councilmember Sophie Hahn noted during the meeting that while policing may not be the “best model” to achieve public safety, she does not currently support any “deep cuts” to the police budget until an alternative is offered.

Speakers also took the virtual floor during public comment to thank the council for its work helping city tenants during the pandemic.

Andrea Henson, an attorney at the Eviction Defense Center said the EDC helped more than 700 Berkeley families with the assistance of city officials. Anne Omura, the EDC’s executive director, said 68% of housing assistance recipients have been Black or Latinx. Berkeley resident Karma Smart also thanked the city for these housing efforts.

“As a single Black mother with a child with special needs, (housing assistance) greatly reduced my stress,” Smart expressed during the meeting. “If I didn’t have access to the program, I wouldn’t be doing the work that I do.”

Many other speakers also supported increased funding for the arts and providing aid to artists as the city reopens.

Daniel Nevers, executive director of the Berkeley Arts Center, indicated about 95% of artists lost income over the last 15 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevers supported allocating $750,000 from the funds the city would receive from the American Rescue Plan to support these artists.

During the meeting, Nevers was joined by Berkeley musician Alice Kao, who emphasized how “art is necessary to enrich the meaning of our lives. I urge the city council to show commitment to supporting the arts by approving the funding request.”

Contact Christopher Ying at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @ChrisYingg.