1. Where were you born and where did you grow up, and how does that affect how you regard the issues in Berkeley and in your district?
I grew up in Fontana, in Southern California, about 65 miles east of Los Angeles. It was very rural. I grew up on a small farm. My father wanted to raise horses, which he did. Along with other livestock: cows and pigs and chickens. I was very involved in my younger years in 4H. I used to show registered Nubian goats at county fairs. I became very good at it. I went all over California showing these animals, and I had a lot of prize-winning animals that I showed. Every morning I would get up and milk about 30 dairy animals before going to school; my foster brothers and I would do this.
The 4H organization is the largest youth organization in the country, and so I was very involved both in leadership and in 4H itself. Youth issues have always been a priority for me, so here in Berkeley it’s an important issue for me. Probably one of my top five issues. When I meet with young people they say they have nothing to do. They feel like there are not a lot of activities for them.
One of the campaign promises I’m working on is a multi-faceted, multi-functioning youth center that would allow young people a place to go where they can have their dances, where they can have their spoken word concerts, and at the same time where they can get job skills, learn how to work a computer. That’s what I would like to see in Berkeley. We have toured Youth Uprising’s facility in Oakland. It’s a wonderful facility. I think it could be modeled here in Berkeley.
2. What is your educational background, and how did that help prepare you for being a council member?
I attended UC Santa Cruz. My aunt was living in Berkeley so I would come up to Berkeley on holidays and weekends to visit my aunt, because driving down to Fontana was a much longer drive. So that’s how I fell in love with Berkeley and the Bay Area. After UC Santa Cruz I attended the University of Chicago, where I earned a master’s degree in Public Policy, and after that I went on to Washington, D.C. to work as an urban fellow in the local government of Washington, D.C. I worked in Marian Barry’s budget office. And my final education was two years ago. I was selected to be a part of the senior executives in state and local government at Harvard University, so I spent a few months at Harvard going through that senior executive program.
3. What are the top three most pressing issues facing your district (2)?
Crime, traffic and transportation issues. We have high incidence of property crime: cars broken into, homes broken into. We have problems of prostitution along San Pablo. I’m always supportive of community policing, letting police officers into the community and onto the street, by foot or bicycle. It seems effective when it’s put in place. So, trying to restore the budget cuts to the police department that will allow greater community policing is a priority, and, of course, neighborhood watch. You can’t have enough police officers so it’s also going to take the citizens being watchful of their neighbors and their friends. I encourage the formation of neighborhood watch throughout my district.
Traffic is probably a very close second. People are very concerned about cars speeding in their residential neighborhoods. They have their kids, they have senior citizens. People are complaining about cars driving way to fast. Something needs to be done about that.
I would say affordable housing is third. We need more work force housing. Parents have kids that can’t afford to buy houses in the city they grew up in. I think we need to build more properties that will allow people who have kids, or people who are nurses or librarians, to buy houses here in Berkeley.
4. Do you agree with the direction the city is heading in. Why or why not?
I do agree. It’s not perfect nor is it a straight line. We have bumps in that road. But I think the general direction of the city is positive. We’ve gotten out of our fiscal crisis. All of the major cuts took place two or three years ago. We’re starting to put money back into programs. Our finances are a lot more stable. There’s stability on the council. Very little bickering. We seem to get along better than councils in the past. So I would say yes we’re headed in the right direction.
5. What is your opinion of the proposal to develop a new downtown plan and the settlement with the University of California over its LRDP?
I think the DAPAC sounds good. I know we have had a lot of stores close: See’s candies, Eddie Bauer, Gateway Computers. A plethora of businesses have left the downtown. I think we need to look at that and why. What’s the reason for that. What can be done to rejuvenate and reenergize our downtown area? We started with the Arts District, the Berkeley Rep and Freight & Salvage. But we need to expand in other areas and make our downtown more attractive to the business community. Make it more attractive for our citizens. Right now, if you want to buy things, people are going to Emeryville and Albany. We will never have the big box type stores that Emeryville and Albany have. Nor should we ever. But we still should be still attractive to the mom and pop-type companies that want to make a home in Berkeley. And right now, for some reason, we’re just not doing that.
I think the DAPAC will help us enliven the downtown. I’m excited about the hotel complex along with the new museum the university is going to build, as well as the convention center. I think that will help bring people to the downtown which in turn will support restaurants and our theater district.
What’s also good about the LRDP agreement with the university is we had very little to stand on. What we could have required our lawyers to do is rewrite the plan which really wouldn’t have accomplished a whole lot. We would have spent probably close to a half a million dollars in lawyer fees. And to me it just wasn’t justified. The university held all the cards. They have the immunity to bypass all of our laws. So with all the cuts and to just throw a half a million dollars away doesn’t make any sense. A negotiated settlement, to me, made the most sense. And I think we had the best deal than any host city of a UC campus has been able to garner so far.
6. How do you think the mayor is doing at his position? Are you considering running for mayor, and if so, what changes would you try to make?
I think the mayor is doing a good job. He has brought leadership to the council. We do seem to get along and work together for the common good of the city. And I definitely credit the mayor for that. I also credit the mayor for the fiscal recovery that we’ve had. We tightened our belts the last few years and made the kinds of cuts that were necessary to balance the budget, so that’s really helped us as well. No, I’m not considering running for mayor. It’s a difficult job.
7. Has Berkeley’s recent development boom been beneficial for the city? What new direction, if any, should the city’s development take over the next decade?
The boom has been beneficial. It has helped us not make any deeper cuts. The housing market was high for many, many years. This kept the city from making the draconian cuts that Richmond had to make, Oakland had to make, laying off hundreds of city employees, fireman and police officers. We haven’t had to do that. We were able to strategically and skillfully make cuts because of the development boom that’s taking place in Berkeley. Going forward, though, we’ve got to address the issue of building density along transit corridors. We’re going to have to address how we step down and scale back those developments on those streets that run alongside residential neighborhoods. So we have to work more collaboratively with developers so that everyone benefits. We get better housing, we get affordable housing. And at the same time the neighborhoods build up their community.
8. How would you characterize the political climate in Berkeley these days?
The political climate is what makes Berkeley unique. I think it’s wonderful where you have a city that’s got so many people that’s engaged and involved. Everyone has an opinion on everything. So it’s great to live in a community where we have so many people that come out to council meetings, that will contact you, e-mail you, write you and voice their opinion. So it’s not very difficult to stay in touch with your constituents because they’re going to let you know. So that’s wonderful.
I think at some point the community, politicians and the leaders are going to have to grapple with how Berkeley will grow. Because there seem to be two schools of thought: there’s some individuals who say no to development and then there’s those of us who say that in order to be progressive, in order to offer the kinds of programs for our seniors, our young people, we have to grow. I argue that we can’t continue to tax people. Because when you tax people who are on fixed incomes or low incomes, usually people of color get pushed out of the city. I’d rather see us increase our sales tax base on the corridors of Gilman and Ashby so that we can pay for our senior centers, our libraries.
We are one of only a few cities that have our own mental health clinic. There has to be an effort to work with the business community, to work with development, so we can maintain the richness and the character and the diversity of Berkeley.
9. What is your favorite thing about Berkeley?
The diversity. It’s just a wealth of people. The university—what it brings to the table as far as culture. The whole educational community. You have artisans that are world renowned. Berkeley High and its jazz band. The football team. Young people doing wonderful things. You just have a wealth of diversity: both ethnically and economically that makes Berkeley a city like no other.
10. What is your least favorite thing about Berkeley?
Traffic. We have fewer people then when we did 20 years ago, but because everyone has two or three cars and younger people are driving, and college students are driving more, it’s adding to the congestion and that’s not a good thing.
Berkeley City Councilmember
First elected: 2004