As 2020’s general election approaches and congressional races begin to ramp up, Berkeley has a prominent local contest of its own: the mayoral election. So far, four residents have filed for candidacy on the November ballot. Together, they have raised over $100,000 to fund their campaigns.
The Jacket spoke with two mayoral candidates — Aidan Hill, Vice-Chair of Berkeley’s Homeless Commission, and Wayne Hsiung, an environmental attorney — to learn about each contenders’ key policy proposals, plans for Berkeley youth, and what sets them apart from their competitors.
The two other declared mayoral candidates — Jesse Arreguín, Berkeley’s current mayor, and Naomi D. Pete — did not respond to a request for comment.
Mayor Jesse Arreguín
Jesse Arreguín has served as mayor of Berkeley since 2016, when he prevailed over seven other challengers and won nearly 50 percent of the vote.
Since his 2016 victory, Arreguín has pursued legislation to increase the supply of affordable housing in Berkeley, prioritize walking and cycling as “emission-free” forms of transportation, and reduce racial disparities in education, among other issues.
Arreguín aims to pursue two policy goals at once — reducing carbon emissions and eradicating homelessness — through his plan to redevelop two Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) stations located in Berkeley. According to Arreguín’s website, the city hopes to replace existing parking lots with affordable housing complexes at the Ashby and North Berkeley BART stations.
As mayor during the COVID-19 pandemic, Arreguín has overseen the city’s response to disruptions in schools and Berkeley’s economy. According to Arreguín’s website, current COVID-19-inflicted budget cuts and job losses are “just the beginning of a very difficult process.”
Though a May post on Arreguín’s website told residents to “check back for updates” on budget cuts and the city’s plans, none have been posted as of August.
Aidan Hill, a recent graduate of UC Berkeley and advocate for the homeless, was the first to announce a mayoral campaign challenging Arreguín. Key priorities of Hill’s campaign include a city-sponsored public healthcare option, making Berkeley’s economy and transportation system “100% green” by 2035, and build more affordable housing.
“I’m running because I understand the need to fight against the inaction of our representatives,” Hill said. They want to change the way that city funds are allocated, and explained that “we have a responsibility to do more for Berkeley’s marginalized populations than implement half-measures.”
Because of Hill’s experiences as a housing-insecure UC Berkeley student, the plight of Berkeley’s unhoused community and low-income students are especially close to their heart. If elected, Hill plans to expand Berkeley’s available housing supply with a focus on constructing new, affordable units.
Hill also addressed the current concerns of Berkeley youth. “Berkeley students, I see you — I understand how hard it is to transition to a virtual environment and be on a computer screen for many hours a day,” Hill said. “We need to divert resources from the police to the schools, and provide greater funding for mental health counselors.”
Hill is also proposing bold changes to Berkeley’s existing healthcare framework. Through bulk purchasing of medical supplies at lower costs, Hill believes that the City of Berkeley can reach universal healthcare coverage by offering a public option to residents in need.
Wayne Hsiung, an attorney and co-founder of animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), is also challenging Arreguín. Hsiung faces time in prison and multiple felony charges for taking animals from private farms.
Hsiung’s campaign platform centers around three issues: addressing climate change, working to end homelessness, and creating affordable housing. Like Hill, Hsiung’s plan to make Berkeley’s economy sustainable includes greater funding for public transportation and subsidies to “solarize” Berkeley homes.
Though Hsiung acknowledges that Berkeley’s school board is responsible for most decisions on citywide education policy, he believes he can help young people by resisting funding cuts for Berkeley’s public K-12 schools. If elected, he plans to support Berkeley schools as they reopen and recover from distance learning.
Hsiung has opted to fund his campaign using Berkeley’s public financing system, which distributes funds to candidates running for local office through donation-matching.
“Wayne has unequivocally refused to fund his campaign with donations from corporations or political action committees (PACs),” Hsiung’s campaign manager said. He compared Hsuing’s stance on accepting money to Arreguín’s. “The incumbent mayor continues to receive donations from PACs and other large groups, making him largely unaccountable to Berkeley constituents,” he explained.
Hsiung’s campaign manager said that while Arreguín is focused on his political career, Hsiung will work hard to “resolve the structural inequities in our city and society,” and will be a change from the current mayor’s “risk-averse” tendencies.