Mayor Jesse Arreguín shares policy priorities and challenges

CITY AFFAIRS: Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín spoke on housing, the People’s Park development project, education reform and more in conversation with The Daily Californian.

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Aishwarya Jayadeep/Senior Staff

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Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín was overwhelmingly voted in to his second term in office, and while The Daily Californian endorsed him in 2020, nobody is perfect. Arreguín has worked to address affordable housing, decreased police response to mental health emergencies and guided Berkeley through the pandemic. But he was also involved in the contentious multimillion dollar settlement deal between the city and campus, supported the Motorola Solutions contract to update emergency radio systems and has been unable to bridge increasing racial achievement gaps in schools.  

The Daily Cal’s editorial board sat down with Arreguín to discuss some of Berkeley’s most pressing issues.

After a tumultuous few years in office, Arreguín has done much to support the Berkeley community. The city maintained relatively low COVID-19 hospitalization rates, enacted extended closure policies and has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country. The city also did not sweep homeless encampments during the pandemic. Arreguín’s policy priorities at the moment include working on the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act, a 2022 infrastructure and affordable housing bond, and reimagining public safety.

Additionally, Arreguín has taken groundbreaking steps to remedy Berkeley’s affordable housing crisis, but he must take bolder, more proactive strides. Despite Berkeley ending single-family zoning before California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill No. 9 into law — an important development — Arreguín still seems to have no policy plans in place that actively encourage residents to build additional housing on their lots.

Taking this step could potentially slow gentrification in Berkeley and curb the exodus of Black and Brown children from Berkeley’s schools. Schools are also facing a racial achievement gap, which Arreguín partially attributes to growing economic disparities. Despite the 2020 Vision for Berkeley’s Education & Youth effort — intended to address this gap for Black and Brown children — the gap has only widened with the disproportionate effects these communities have faced during the pandemic. Arreguín must address these issues through a wider lens, such as through housing and other insecurities as well as through targeted educational programs.

Despite throwing his full support behind UC Berkeley’s People’s Park development, Arreguín said that he is still working with campus to identify funding for community housing.

Arreguín said he only supports the project because campus committed not to push out the homeless community, but he should have waited to lend his support until sound housing plans had been drawn up.

The city of Berkeley previously agreed to a settlement with campus for $82.6 million. In exchange, the city will not challenge the development at People’s Park. The agreement stipulates, however, that a portion of those funds must be used around campus or in collaboration with campus. The city should be able to address its own priorities with funds from the settlement. 

Arreguín noted that the city is hoping to help shape relocation and housing plans. This is essential, as the city has a better understanding of what its community needs and will ultimately be responsible for addressing any repercussions of future projects.

While having helped Berkeley make historical policy changes and begin the process of addressing major community concerns, Arreguín must increase transparency within the city’s government offices, including his own.

Many lost trust in their mayor when the city rushed into a contract with Motorola, a company financially tied to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and some claim that he has failed to uphold his commitment to preserving rent-controlled housing in Berkeley. Arreguín will have to address both of these concerns while continuing to solve the critical issues Berkeley faces.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the fall 2021 opinion editor, Emily Hom.