The Daily Californian held its first-ever Midterm Elections Public Forum Friday for candidates running for city and school offices in the upcoming November election.
The forum included candidates for city council, Berkeley School Board and Rent Board, who discussed issues ranging from policing to affordable housing and funding for schools and teachers.
After a brief introduction, the forum began with a question and answer section with city council candidates on their plans to tackle some of the city’s pressing issues.
The candidates in attendance included District 4 incumbent Kate Harrison, District 7 incumbent Rigel Robinson, incumbent City Auditor Jenny Wong and District 8 candidates Mari Mendonca, Mark Humbert and Peter DuMont.
When asked about their plans to address concerns over Berkeley’s public safety and policing tactics, Kate Harrison, Mendonca and Robinson all acknowledged the array of disturbances police are called to respond to, noting that the majority of police calls are related to “non-violent criminal activity,” which leaves the police with little time to handle serious issues.
“We do not want to rely on the police for dealing with very specialized circumstances and vulnerable community members,” Mendonca said during the forum.
When asked about plans for dealing with a potential future pandemic surge, Robinson applauded the Berkeley community’s “nimbleness” to abide by public safety ordinances during the pandemic, but also said individuals need financial support from the government to stay safe if future pandemics are to occur.
Many reflected on the economic impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on individuals with fixed incomes.
“There’s a health issue and there’s an economic issue and what I would do again is deal with the economics of this,” Kate Harrison said at the forum.
Humbert labeled climate change as the city’s biggest challenge, while others like Robinson touched on the housing and houselessness crises.
Both Kate Harrison and Mendonca singled out inequity as a major challenge, while Wong stated that her experience as an auditor has led her to believe that retention issues are the city’s largest challenge.
“Without the individuals you know working on a variety of different initiatives that have an impact on public safety and climate change, we can’t move forward,” Wong said at the forum.
Candidates for Berkeley Rent Board include incumbent and current Rent Board Vice Chair Soli Alpert, Negeene Mosaed, Wendy Saenz Hood, Nathan Mizell, Vanessa Danielle Marrero, represented at the forum by Jonah Gottlieb, Stefan Elgstrand, Ida Martinac and Carole Marasovic.
Mosaed said the issues surrounding housing are affordability and accessibility for low-income individuals. Saenz Hood stated that there is not enough housing available, so she endorses plans to build and create high-density housing while also incentivizing homeowners to build Auxiliary Dwelling Units, or ADU’s, on their properties.
On student housing, Alpert, Saenz Hood, Mosaed and Marasovic agreed that the board should ensure that UC Berkeley is charging reasonable dorm rates to students so they will not be forced to find apartments and enter the housing market. Gottlieb, Elgstrand and Marasovic added that renters and students should have access to education about their rights in the market.
“Are we reaching the student population and folks who are most vulnerable to the risk of dealing with a situation where the laws that should protect them are not followed?” Mizell said at the forum.
Martinac agreed that increased student housing is needed and noted that Measure M should be passed to increase the number of apartments available.
The forum’s segment regarding the Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, school board election included candidates Jennifer Shanoski, Reichi Lee, Tatiana Guerreiro Ramos, Norma J F Harrison and Ka’Dijah Brown. The five candidates are competing for three spots on the school board of directors.
On sexual violence and sexual harassment in BUSD, Brown said increased funding for the district’s Title IX office was integral. Shanoski emphasized that the BHS Title IX office is one of the most staffed in the area, while Lee noted that the Title IX office has a historically high turnover rate.
Guerreiro Ramos and Shanoski said that transparency with children and parents about sexual violence and harassment is important to encourage children to speak up about their experiences.
All candidates excluding Norma J F Harrison said they believe teachers should have the resources they need to buy supplies for their students rather than spending their own funds on supplies. Lee is a former teacher and Shanoski and Brown are current BUSD teachers.
On the topic of diversity, equity and inclusion in BUSD, Shanoski and Guerreiro Ramos said they believe in centering the voices of groups most directly impacted, including Black and Brown families. Shanoski added that feedback from these communities should be listened to.
Norma J F Harrison said education has been made a “commodity,” and that learning occurs outside of a school environment. Brown said she believes in equitable engagement, and that education does not suit a “one size fits all” model.
The forum concluded without speakers during the public comment period.