October 5, 2020
Dear Neighbor,
Just a month and a half ago, former First Lady Michelle Obama warned us: “If you think things cannot possibly get worse, trust me—they can.” She was speaking about the importance of voting in the coming election, but over the last few weeks, we have faced more tragedy and greater uncertainty. 

On Sept. 18, we lost an American shero with the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
According to Jewish tradition, her death on Rosh Hashanah makes her a “tzaddik,” or righteous person whom God held back until the last moment because she was needed most. Justice Ginsburg leaves behind a towering legacy. It is only in her death that I came to fully understand and appreciate the transformative power of her advocacy as the leading gender rights lawyer of her generation—guided by the belief that women and men should receive equal protection before the law. She's the reason why men are eligible for widowers' Social Security benefits and why Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in 1978, outlawing pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. As a Supreme Court Justice, it was her powerful dissent in the landmark Voting Rights Act case Shelby County v. Holder that earned her the moniker Notorious R.B.G. In her dissent, she quoted and added to the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” with “a steadfast national commitment to see the task through to completion.”

Less than a week later, on Sept. 23, we learned that there would be no justice for the murder of Breonna Taylor as she slept in her own home.  

And over the last several days, we see in stark terms the consequences of a President and a political party that politicize and minimize the science of Covid-19 and fail to follow safety guidance to wear masks, physically distance, and avoid large gatherings. To date, more than 7 million Americans have been infected with Covid-19, and more than 209,000 families are grieving the loss of a loved one.

It now falls to each of us to see the task of justice through to completion, as RBG wrote. We face the toll of lives and livelihoods stolen by the pandemic; of raging wildfires and poor air quality inflicted by climate change; of Black lives cut short and justice denied; the uncertainty of when we’ll be able to hug our loved ones again. But through it all, no matter how challenging our circumstances may seem, we must choose to practice the discipline of hopeand, in whatever way we can, to "do something outside yourself...something that makes life a little better for people less fortunate than you," as RBG used to say.

In this newsletter:
  • Updated Health Order: Berkeley Health Officer Permits Elementary Schools and Certain Industries to Reopen
  • Berkeley Public Schools Superintendent Provides More Detail on Reopening Elementary Schools
  • Safely Celebrate Halloween and Día de Los Muertos
  • Community Meetings for Measure T1 Infrastructure Projects (Phase 2)
  • Be Counted: 2020 Census
  • Apply for the City Redistricting Commission
  • VOTE!
Updated Health Order: Berkeley Health Officer Permits Elementary Schools and Certain Industries to Reopen
Berkeley's Health Officer will permit elementary schools to reopen on Oct. 13 if they create verifiable plans to reduce the spread of Covid-19 among students, faculty, and staff.

The updated Health Order impacts elementary schools (transitional kindergarten through fifth grade) and allows certain businesses—such as gyms, personal care services, and museums—to reopen with limited capacity. 

Guidance for Schools
Each school in Berkeley seeking to re-open must create a plan that complies with requirements outlined in the state's Industry Guidance for Schools and School-Based Programs.

Schools must also follow additional rules outlined in the City of Berkeley's Oct. 2 updated Health Order.

This plan must be posted on a school's website and shared with the school community prior to reopening.

Elementary schools in Berkeley must:
  • Conduct systematic testing, regardless of symptoms, of all staff and volunteers at least once per month and consider systematic testing for students.
  • Ensure prompt testing and isolation of any symptomatic staff and students as well as those who have been exposed to someone with Covid-19.
  • Meet state requirements on physical distancing by using strategies such as hybrid school schedules that allow only a subset of students on any given day.
  • Designate at least two trained Covid-19 liaisons who will coordinate with the City of Berkeley on all Covid-19 related matters, including case investigation and contact tracing. 

These restrictions, which will need to be outlined in a specific plan for each elementary school, acknowledge that this often debilitating and deadly virus still has neither an effective treatment nor a vaccine. Covid-19 has killed more than 209,000 people nationwide, 420 people in Alameda County and nine individuals in the City of Berkeley. Many suffer symptoms for months without fully recovering.

Families sending their children to school increase their risk of exposure. To balance their risk, families should consider tradeoffs and what other activities they might forgo. The reopening of schools does not mean those kids can then have slumber parties or socialize outside of school. There will be cases of Covid-19 in schools, and the City will support schools when those cases emerge. The goal is to limit the spread before and after a case is discovered.

Questions can be directed to covid19@cityofberkeley.info

Permanent Testing Site Opening to Assist Schools
To help support the community, but especially schools, the City has opened today a permanent testing kiosk at the Adult School parking lot (1701 San Pablo Ave.) in partnership with Curative, which until now had been working in the City on a pilot basis.
This walk-up site will be open to the entire community and will have reserved times to increase testing for teachers and staff.

You can make an appointment online.

People can also use a state-run South Berkeley site that's also coordinated through the City.

Certain Industries Can Open with Limited Capacity on Oct. 9
Additional personal care services will be allowed to open on Fri., Oct. 9, including body waxing, estheticians, massage therapy studios, nail salons, skin care and cosmetology services, electrologists, piercing shops, and tattoo parlors.

Each industry will be required to follow requirements of the new health order as well as the state's Expanded Industry Guidance for Personal Care Services.

Service providers will be required to follow a number of Berkeley-specific measures that are outlined in the City order. Any personal services or treatments requiring staff or customers to remove their face covering are prohibited.

Museums, galleries, botanical gardens, and exhibition spaces may open outdoors or indoors at up to 25% of capacity. Museums, galleries, gardens, and exhibition spaces must follow State Industry Guidance for Outdoor Museums and Galleries.

Gyms, fitness centers, dance and yoga studios, and exercise class providers may open outdoors or indoors at up to 10% of capacity. All fitness facilities and providers must comply with State Fitness Facility Industry Guidance.

These activities are now allowed in Alameda County per the State of California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy.

Some Public Activities on Pause
A key risk factor everyone should weigh when choosing to do a public activity involves where it takes place. Outdoor activities are much safer than those indoors.

That reasoning is why certain restrictions are being kept in place. Indoor shopping, for example, remains at 25% of capacity in Berkeley and throughout Alameda County.

Any business that can serve people outside should maximize opportunities to do so. The City expanded the range of permitted outdoor activities on both public and private property and streamlined permitting processes. See the City’s outdoor commerce guide for assistance.

If you have any questions about the updated Health Order, please contact my office: rkesarwani@cityofberkeley.info or 510-981-7110. 
Berkeley Public Schools Superintendent Provides More Detail on Reopening Elementary Schools
I want to acknowledge the disappointment, frustration, and stress that parents and children are experiencing as a result of the inability to safely reopen schools.

In a letter to the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) community from Oct. 1, Superintendent Brent Stephens wrote that most public school districts, including BUSD, will not be ready by Oct. 13 to comply with local Health Department requirements.

Readiness Dashboard
A detailed BUSD “Elementary School Reopening Readiness Dashboard” will be available on the BUSD website today and then updated weekly.

Superintendent Stephens wrote: “We have completed many important steps in the plan, including modifications to facilities, ventilation and air filtration upgrades, acquisition of face coverings, and expanded staffing and contracted support for district health and safety work. Key elements of this work that are underway, but not yet complete, include plans for scheduled Covid-19 testing for all employees. This dashboard is intended as a transparent means for the community to track BUSD progress on these important activities.” 

Details at Oct. 7 Board Meeting
“BUSD has been working intensively for many months toward the goal of bringing students back to in-person learning. I look forward to sharing more detailed information and timelines at the upcoming School Board meeting on Wed., Oct. 7, and I hope you will tune in for further details.” 
Safely Celebrate Halloween and Día De Los Muertos
Bay Area Health Officials are urging everyone to limit Halloween and Día de Los Muertos activities to those with whom you live and to use the time to focus on activities, like decorations or virtual costume parties, that keep physical distance and other safeguards in place.

Trick-or-treating increases contact with people outside of your household who may not be as careful about Covid-19 prevention.
My son Austin celebrates Halloween as "Baby Dracula" in 2019.
Parties mix people who don't live in the same home. Such high-risk activities increase chances that the virus can pass from one person to another and mirror the kind of gathering and mixing that Bay Area contact tracers have seen contribute to infection.

Please see the City’s news release for more information about low risk, moderate risk, higher risk and very high risk Halloween and Día de Los Muertos activities. 
Community Meetings for Measure T1 Infrastructure Projects (Phase 2)
The City is soliciting input on how to allocate more than $50 million during Phase 2 spending of the Measure T1 bond for infrastructure projects. In 2016, Berkeley voters passed Measure T1a $100 million infrastructure bond. Right now, the City is spending more than $40 million on Phase 1 infrastructure projects. For a complete list of projects and information about the bond, please click HERE.
Ohlone Park could potentially benefit from infrastructure improvements funded by Measure T1.
During the month of October, City staff and community members serving on the Parks and Waterfront Commission as well as the Public Works Commission will host five public meetings to solicit feedback on how Measure T1 Phase 2 funding should be spent.

Here are the two meetings relevant to District 1:
  1. Thurs., Oct. 22, 6:30 p.m. – Districts 1/4 https://zoom.us/j/95483839103 Phone: +1669-900-6833, 95483839103#
  2. Thurs., Oct. 29, 6:30 p.m. – Waterfront / Aquatic Park / Bay Trail / Tom Bates Fields https://zoom.us/j/97699637212 Phone: +1669-900-6833, 97699637212#

For a full list of all community meetings, click HERE.
Be Counted: 2020 Census
The deadline to be counted for the 2020 Census has been extended to the end of October.

The results of the 2020 Census will determine how billions of dollars in federal funding get allocated for the next 10 years.

In early September, Berkeleyside reported that some of Berkeley’s key census tracts have the lowest response rates in Alameda County, putting the city at risk for losing significant federal resources.

The Covid-19 pandemic is just one example of why the census is so important. Funding for streets, public health services, disaster response, unemployment resources, and more are all based on this once-every-decade count.

Log onto www.my2020census.gov to complete your census form in less than 10 minutes!
Apply for the City Redistricting Commission
The City of Berkeley is convening a Redistricting Commission. The 13-member Commission of Berkeley residents is tasked with redrawing the City Council district boundaries. As a Commissioner, you will engage the public, provide your own input, and ultimately adopt an updated map of the City Council District boundaries. If you are a resident of Berkeley and meet a few other requirements, you are eligible. Get involved and play an important role in elections in the City of Berkeley. Applications are due this Fri., Oct. 9. Click HERE to apply.

What is redistricting?
The City of Berkeley utilizes a district-based system of electing councilmembers. There are eight Council districts and the Mayor is elected by all Berkeley voters. In 2016, Berkeley voters amended the City's Charter to shift the responsibility for drawing electoral boundaries from the City Council to an Independent Redistricting Commission. The measure's intent was to establish a process open to the public, that meets legal requirements, and is conducted with integrity, fairness and without personal or political connections.

Am I eligible to serve?
You need to be a Berkeley resident to serve on the Commission. You're ineligible if you are a paid City of Berkeley staff member (or family member of one), a consultant or contractor with the City, or have held elective office in the last two years. There are a few other qualifications, so review the Redistricting Plan for further details.

Applications are due this Fri., Oct. 9. Click HERE to apply.

For more information:
www.cityofberkeley.info/redistricting | redistricting@cityofberkeley.info | 510-981-6900
All registered voters will automatically receive a vote-by-mail ballot and the deadline by which vote-by-mail ballots must be received has been extended to the 17th day after Tues., Nov. 3, Election Day.

All voters can now get critical updates on their ballot through California’s official “Where’s My Ballot?” tracking tool. Signing up takes less than three minutes!

Registering to Vote
The voter registration deadline is 15 days before Tues., Nov. 3. You can access the Secretary of State's California Online Voter Registration website by visiting https://registertovote.ca.gov/.To request a paper voter registration application to be mailed to you, please call the Registrar of Voters at (510) 267-8683 or (800) 345-VOTE (8683). 

To find out if you are currently registered to vote within Alameda County, visit My Voter Profile.

Returning Your Ballot
There will be six 24-hour ballot drop boxes in Berkeley:
  • Frances Albrier Community Center - 2800 Park St.
  • Claremont Branch Library - 2940 Benvenue Ave.
  • North Branch Library - 1170 The Alameda
  • West Branch Library - 1125 University Ave.
  • Civic Center Building - 2180 Milvia St.
  • UC Berkeley (Campus) - Sather Gate/Architects & Engineers Building

To view a map of drop-off sites located within the County, please visit: https://www.acgov.org/rovapps/maps/ballotdropbox_map.htm.  

There will be nine Accessible Voting Locations where you can drop off your ballot from Oct. 31 through Nov. 3:
  • Epworth United Methodist Church - 1953 Hopkins St.
  • Northbrae Community Church - 941 The Alameda
  • MLK Student Union, 3rd floor Pauley Ballroom - 2455 Bancroft Way
  • Berkeley High School Gym - 1980 Allston Way
  • Willard Middle School, 2425 Stuart St.
  • Longfellow School Gym - 1500 Derby St.
  • Ed Roberts Campus - 3045 Adeline St.
  • Lawrence Hall Of Science - 1 Centennial Dr.
  • City Of Berkeley Private Building - 1011 University Ave.

As an alternative to using a ballot drop box or Accessible Voting Location, you can also mail your ballot (earlier the better; no postage required).

For more voting information, please visit the Official Election Site of Alameda County.
COVID-19 Resources
Covid-19 Teleconference

Listen to the Mayor's Virtual Town Hall with City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley and Health Officer Dr. Lisa Hernandez from Sept. 21 HERE.

Give and Receive Help

General Resources. The Mayor’s Office has created a resource guide, with information about parking enforcement, senior hours at local grocery stores and other information.

The state COVID-19 website is where you can get up to speed on what’s happening statewide, learn how you can safely help, and find out what resources and assistance may be available, such as Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (for business owners, self-employed individuals, independent contractors, and others who aren't usually eligible for regular state unemployment insurance benefits).

A Berkeley Mutual Aid website has been created for neighbors to offer and receive assistance, such as with grocery shopping or phone calls to neighbors.

Supporting Businesses. You can donate to the Berkeley Relief Fund to support low-income tenants, small businesses and non-profits, and non-profit arts organizations or donate directly to a local business. The Berkeley Chamber of Commerce has created a resource guide for businesses.

Eviction Protections. If you have any questions about our local residential and commercial eviction moratorium or housing retention grants for low-income tenants, more information is available HERE. The Council has also passed an urgency ordinance to prevent commercial landlords from increasing rent by more than 10% (see Item #8 HERE).

Price Gouging. Anyone who has been the victim of price gouging, or has information about potential price gouging, can file a complaint with the District Attorney's Office by emailing pricegouging@acgov.org or calling (510) 383-8600.

Donate Blood. You can donate blood at the Oakland Blood Donation Center (6230 Claremont Ave. in Oakland) where they are using physical distancing protocols, disinfecting between donors, and taking temperatures of donors and staff. Please visit the Red Cross website to make an appointment before visiting. 

Donate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) through the City or through my office.

Food Resources.

  • HelpBerkeley.org provides low-cost meals to individuals at high risk of developing complications from Covid-19, and they are in need of volunteers to help deliver meals.

  • Information on additional food resources, such as CalFresh, WIC, and school meals, is available HERE.

Resources for Mental Health and Wellness.

  • The Domestic Violence Resource Guide for Alameda County is available HERE.

If you have specific questions or concerns, please always feel free to reach out to me: rkesarwani@cityofberkeley.info or 510-981-7110.
My Website
For updates on community issues and links to City information resources, please visit my website: www.rashikesarwani.com.

This site is also where you can find an archive of all of my newsletters to date.

To sign up to receive future newsletters, please click HERE.
COVID-19 Information Sources