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Editorial: Berkeley needs Kesarwani and Humbert for challenges ahead

Editorial: Berkeley needs Kesarwani and Humbert for challenges ahead

Click here for a complete list of our election recommendations.

Berkeley is a city that seeks, sometimes successfully, to be a leader addressing social issues such as homelessness and policing. But the financing gets short shrift, leaving the city with challenging times ahead.

The good news is that there were no homicides in the city last year. And during the pandemic, the city, unlike the rest of Alameda County, stemmed the growth of its homeless population. The bad news is that the city is facing a severe police staffing shortage, and it still has about 1,000 people without housing.

Meanwhile, the city faces annual budget deficits in the years ahead. By how much is not clear because of the city’s opaque projections. The forecasting of the city’s general fund balance for the current fiscal year and the next shows deficits totaling $22 million. After that, the forecast amazingly does not contain realistic expenditure numbers — specifically, it does not account for increases in salaries and benefit costs.

It’s a bury-your-head-in-the-sand form of budgeting. Especially so because, in a separate report, city officials warn that over the next 10 years, the city’s payments for workers’ retirement benefits are projected to rapidly increase, and total benefit costs are projected to more than double.

The rapidly rising pension costs are due in part to the city’s failure to address its mounting retirement debt that, even when adjusted for inflation, has continued to rise over the past decade. And the city’s unfunded capital and deferred maintenance needs have more than doubled in just four years, again after adjustments for inflation.

The two debts combined total a staggering $1.9 billion, or about $41,000 for every city household. City officials can’t just tax their way out of this mess. They can’t just keep coming back to voters for more and more levies.

They also need to start examining their spending and ensure city government is getting the biggest bang for its buck. Berkeley needs leaders on the nine-member City Council with the chops to guide the city’s progressive policies and the financial acumen to examine the data, ensure money is wisely spent and plan ahead to avoid future budget shortfalls.

That’s why voters should reelect Rashi Kesarwani in District 1 in northwest Berkeley and elect Mark Humbert in District 8 in the southeast corner of the city. Those are the only contested City Council races on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Incumbents Kate Harrison in District 4, bordering the west side of the Cal campus, and Rigel Robinson in District 7, on the south side of the campus, are running unopposed.

Rashi Kesarwani candidate for Berkeley City Council District 1. (Courtesy of Rashi Kesarwani)
Rashi Kesarwani 

Dist. 1: Rashi Kesarwani

It’s hard to overstate the importance of Kesarwani’s keen analytical approach to public policy and government spending and the exceptional experience she brings to the council. She has worked as a fiscal forecasting manager for the San Francisco Human Services Agency and as a fiscal and policy analyst for the California Legislative Analyst’s Office.

In a city where knee-jerk politics often lead to new programs and spending without careful consideration, Kesarwani in her first term has become known for her careful analysis and thoughtful decision-making. She shares the progressive values of her council colleagues while recognizing the need for wise, data-driven use of money. It’s refreshing and badly needed.

Her major opponent in the race, architect and Planning Commissioner Elisa Mikiten, grumbles about Kesarwani’s approach. “Not everything is about metrics,” Mikiten said. Actually, most good policymaking is driven by data and metrics; if money is wisely spent it can help more people. And Kesarwani’s attention to detail is reflected in her superior knowledge of city policies and issues.

The third candidate in the race, Tamar Michai Freeman, was invited to participate but did not show up.

Mark Humbert is running for Berkeley City Council District 8 in 2022. (Photo courtesy of Mark Humbert)
Mark Humbert 

Dist. 8: Mark Humbert

Lori Droste, another analytically thoughtful member of the council, opted not to seek a third term. But there is an excellent candidate prepared to replace her in District 8: Humbert is a highly regarded attorney, arbitrator and mediator who handles complicated cases often involving complex financial issues and has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court.

He has also served on Berkeley’s Transportation, Public Works, Fair Political Practices, and Parks, Recreation and Waterfront commissions and was president of the Claremont Elmwood Neighborhood Association.

Most important, he has done his homework, is well-versed in city issues and is ready to serve on the City Council. He wants to restore the Police Department positions that have been lost and also supports the council’s push for a new approach to policing that releases officers from handling non-violent mental health crises. Key to District 8, he supports UC Berkeley’s development of People’s Park to provide housing for students and homeless.

And he shares Droste’s push for progressive policies with financial accountability. Hands down, Humbert is the best, and the only credible, candidate in this district.

Insurance agent Jay Wu struggled to explain why he was running, saying that he was asked to run and concluded “maybe I should give it a try.” But he had little background knowledge, has not served on any city boards or commissions and says he has never attended a City Council meeting and that the only time he went to City Hall was to deal with a parking ticket.

Mari Mendonca, a member of the city’s Rent Stabilization Board, declined to be interviewed. Mary-Lee Smith withdrew from the race. And Peter Dumont, who calls himself a “creative world peace theorist,” says the city’s problems would be solved if everyone started meditating.

If only it were that simple.

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