July 17 2020

Over the past few weeks, City Council has had several discussions about the role of policing in our community. This is a long email but I felt it was necessary because there is a lot of information and misinformation out there and I want to make sure that you have accurate information around what Council voted on. 

The Short Version on Policing

In short, this is what Council supported on Tuesday:

  • Promised our community an extensive stakeholder engagement to improve racial disparities in policing, improve public safety, and use data to inform future decision making around policing.
  • Took a first step in analyzing how we can allow specialized units to respond to nonviolent and non-emergency incidents using data as a guide while allowing our police department to focus on serious crime.

Council did not support:

  • Cutting the police department in half with no plan or
  • Banning police officers from enforcing laws or arresting criminals in cars.

The Long Version on Policing

Traffic Enforcement

Many of you may have seen news coverage of Councilmember Rigel Robinson’s  Department of Transportation legislation. It is a cutting edge piece of legislation that I was proud to cosponsor. I have been dismayed by some news reports that implied police officers will no longer enforce laws or be prevented from pulling over people who have committed crimes. I want to assure you that is an incorrect assessment. This is the exact wording of our legislation and what Council passed with regard to traffic enforcement:


  • Pursue the creation of a Berkeley Department of Transportation (BerkDOT) to ensure a racial justice lens in traffic enforcement and the development of transportation policy, programs, & infrastructure
  • Identify & implement approaches to reduce and/or eliminate the practice of pretextual stops based on minor traffic violations


I believe it is our obligation to address racial disparities in our pedestrian, bicycling, and vehicle stops. Council has expressed a desire to look at ways we can move some of these functions out of the police department. Many details have yet to be ironed out, including pre-emption by certain state laws, but I feel that it is important to begin this first step of examining possible alternatives to reduce or eliminate pretextual stops based on minor traffic violations. Ample research has shown that police officers across the nation and in Berkeley are more likely to pull over and search Black and Latinx drivers. Berkeley has always led on these issues of progressive policing and racial justice. This is no different and is a completely reasonable and forward-thinking action to take. 

Furthermore, Berkeley once housed its transportation work in the office of the City Manager, which was managed by an Assistant to the City Manager for Transportation. I have long yearned for a Department of Transportation which stood on its own so we could fully realize all of our important pedestrian and bicycling safety visions. I’m excited about this prospect but also understand we face challenging budget realities in the midst of an economic recession. Nonetheless, this is a worthwhile endeavor to pursue.

The Mayor’s Omnibus Legislation

On Tuesday night, Council voted (8-0-1) to take several steps to rethink and re-envision the role of police. Mayor Jesse Arreguín put forward a thoughtful omnibus bill, taking into consideration all of the various policing proposals, including the preceding Department of Transportation legislation. He wrote about his rationale here. Some elements of the omnibus bill include:

  • The initiation of public, transparent community forums (sponsored by Councilmember Wengraf) to support communities of color, promote violence prevention and restorative justice, and improve community health and safety.
  • Funding for the nonpartisan auditor’s office to conduct an analysis of BPD call (sponsored by Councilmember Bartlett) and response data to inform future decision making on police responses.
  • The utilization of the results of audits, budget analyses, and extensive stakeholder feedback to help City Council and City Management shape future budgetary and staffing discussions of what these specialized care units and our police department would need to properly address public safety and crime in our community. 
  • The evaluation of non-emergency functions currently served by the Berkeley Police Department that could be better addressed by trained non-sworn city staff or community partners (previously passed by Council and allocated during the June budget process). This could lead to the development of a pilot program to re-assign non-criminal police service calls (mental health, homelessness, etc.) to a Specialized Care Unit. This unit could consist of a combination of EMTs or mental health professionals trained in crisis response but will be determined after extensive stakeholder input. 
  • The incorporation of the aforementioned pretextual stops and Department of Transportation legislation.

Councilmember Davila’s alternative measure asked for an immediate reduction of 50% of the police department budget that the majority of Council, including myself, did not support (3-6). 

First of all, Council already passed our mid-cycle budget update two weeks ago. Secondly, it is irresponsible to cut approximately 90 positions with no transition plan in place in the middle of a pandemic. A recent auditor’s report cited chronic understaffing in our dispatch as a reason why we are seeing a delay in 911 responses. Additionally, some members of our homeless outreach or mobile crisis teams have reported that they don’t feel safe without police back up when a community member is having a psychotic break and acting violently. I share the objective of many advocates in figuring out how to reduce non-emergency types of police interactions with the community. However,  we still need to have a transition plan to help keep everyone, including our most vulnerable, safe. Our police officers didn’t sign up to be social workers and we should lessen the burden on their shoulders but we need to have a plan in order to do so. Furthermore, we have heard from staff that we need 166 sworn employees to provide baseline services and keep our community safe. I welcome an analysis into how that number was derived and what constitutes “public safety.” At the same time, this is the number we have to work with and an immediate 50% cut would amount to a reduction of~80 sworn employees for a total of 96 from our budgeted amount of 176. Unless we have a transition plan, we would lack the capacity to investigate homicides, shootings, robberies, sexual assaults, and domestic violence cases. A 50% cut would also mean that half of our jail staff and dispatch would be dismissed as well. Finally, Councilmember Davila’s proposed legislation recommended that law enforcement not respond to domestic violence calls. I fundamentally believe we need to enforce laws against domestic violence. 

The Mayor’s nuanced omnibus legislation did not rule out a larger percentage reduction in police spending. The difference between the proposals, however, was that the Mayor’s recommendation was to use data as a guiding principle for potential reductions, along with our stated goals of addressing racial disparities and preventing violence. Council has the responsibility of looking deliberately at our budget to determine how we can transform public safety to have police officers respond to serious crime and dangerous incidents while having specialized units respond to mental health crises. As I wrote in a previous newsletter, Council has already expressed a desire to examine our police overtime budget and how it impacts our General Fund spending. 

I hope this explanation helps to answer your questions.


Please see our new webpage to explain our COVID-19 indicators at https://www.cityofberkeley.info/covid19-indicators/

  1. Declining COVID-cases: Goal Not Met
  2. Sufficient Hospital Capacity: Goal Met
  3. Daily Testing: Goal Met
  4. Disease Containment: Goal Not Met
  5. Personal Protective Equipment: Goal Not Met
    1. Healthcare Facilities Have a 30 Day Supply: Goal Met
    2. Healthcare facilities and agencies can obtain PPE easily by standard channels: Goal Not Met
    3. Health facilities and agencies can obtain PPE without assistance: Goal Not Met


With a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations threatening Berkeley and the region, take action to avoid exposures to yourself, unwittingly exposing others and reduce risk of bringing this untreatable virus home to your loved ones.

People should only socialize outdoors among a group of 12 people that’s stable for at least three weeks, a social bubble. Everyone you live with – even if you live in a fraternity, co-op or large, shared house – is automatically in the shared bubble. While socializing, keep a distance of six feet and wear a mask.

Staying home remains the safest place to be. Indoor spaces with people outside of your household are the most dangerous.

“The virus threatens our community in an unprecedented way,” said. Dr. Lisa B. Hernandez, Berkeley’s Health Officer. “Every person has to take these actions. Our collective will ultimately holds the power to limit the virus’ spread.”

The local surge comes amidst a statewide surge -- which are prompting new state rules affecting Berkeley. Alameda County remains on California’s Monitoring List because local case rates remain higher than 100 per 100,000 per day. Both the City and the County will continue to align with the State’s orders for Monitoring List counties.

Outdoor Dining Allowed

State, county and City of Berkeley Health Orders allow outdoor dining in Berkeley as of the morning of Wednesday July 15. Restaurants can also provide delivery and take out of food and drinks, which can include alcohol.

These resumption of dining is possible because Alameda County, with the assistance of the City of Berkeley as a separate local health jurisdiction, received approval for a state variance to allow outdoor dining.

All industries should know that the growing impact of the virus can affect their business and the even tighter restrictions.

Restaurateurs interested in using streets or sidewalks for dining can prepare permit applications for eventual outdoor dining by seeing our guidance for outdoor commerce and dining.

Indoor Worship Prohibited

State rules in effect Wednesday also prohibit any indoor worship services in Berkeley.

Any social gathering outside your household poses risk, even if masks and distancing and hygiene habits are followed perfectly. People should avoid singing and chanting, which expel airborne droplets that could carry the virus leading to COVID-19 disease.

Social Gatherings

The rise in Berkeley cases is closely connected to people holding social gatherings and ignoring requirements, such as meeting outside, wearing face coverings and keeping at least six feet of distance between participants that are not in the same social bubble.

Several new COVID-19 cases were tied to outsized gatherings associated with the University, which has told students that the rise in campus cases threatens the ability of the University to bring back students as envisioned.

If you live in a setting where you are unable to keep social distancing -- such as a fraternity house, co-op or large, shared home – consider those in your household as part of your social bubble of up to 12 people.

Everyone over the age of 2 should wear a face covering and stay six feet apart when gathering outdoors with other members of their social bubble.

See our socializing guidance for more information.

If you’re worried about an exposure or infection, get tested.

“The virus depends on social interactions to fuel its spread,” said Dr. Hernandez. “We can limit its power with simple steps that each individual can take today.”

Please SIGN UP for City of Berkeley emails here. Recommendations may change rapidly. Please remember to get public health information from official public health channels and not social media posts.


A multiyear process is underway to update two important documents that guide the planning and future development of the UC Berkeley campus: the Long Range Development Plan and the Campus Master Plan. I invite you to participate this summer in a virtual open house(link is external) to see results from the first phase of the work underway and to learn about our integrated planning approach - that means considering how one planning topic, like transportation/mobility, relates to another, like climate resilience. After each section, I hope you will take a moment to answer a few questions and to share your thoughts and ideas.

Broad campus and community participation is vitally important in our multiyear effort to envision and plan the campus of tomorrow. The first phase of work engaged students, faculty, and staff in hundreds of focus groups, workshops, and presentations, as well as tabling sessions and public open houses open to everyone. This summer's virtual open house(link is external) is another opportunity for everyone on campus and in the community to learn about progress being made and to share their perspectives and feedback. To participate, visit the virtual open house anytime before August 31, 2020. 

Sincerely, Wendy Hillis, AIA, Campus Architect and Assistant Vice Chancellor, Capital Strategies

Learn more and provide feedback here

Lori Droste
Berkeley City Councilmember, District 8


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