July 28, 2020
Dear Neighbor,
Like many of you, I am grappling with a range of emotions as we transition to this in between state—not quite the shutdown of our initial Shelter in Place Order and definitely not anything close to our old lives. I feel a deep sense of sadness for the livelihoods interrupted, the schools and businesses unable to reopen as they had hoped, the lives lost—with our period of difficulty extending indefinitely.
I’m trying to make sense of where our country went wrong as we see other nations return to a semblance of normal , how our state went from flattening the curve to seeing record case increases , and what it all means for our local community.

Even as our country struggles to control the pandemic , we bear witness to young people leading the largest protest movement in U.S. history in their call for racial justice after the killing of George Floyd. They remind us that our nation was born out of protest and is remade by successive generations of protesters and troublemakers.

"Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble." Congressman John Lewis (1940-2020)

In this newsletter:
  • Alameda County Cases Are Increasing & Understanding Why Cases Are Increasing
  • Council Approves FY20-21 Budget, Closing $39 Million Deficit
  • Reimagining Public Safety
  • Briefly: Council Items I've Recently Introduced
  • BART Community Advisory Group Meeting #2 on Mon., Aug. 3
Alameda County Cases Are Increasing
Based on the daily case data for Alameda County, it’s evident that we did not extinguish the virus during our initial Shelter in Place Order. Instead, we are managing a sustained level of community spread (as can be seen in the Alameda County Case Data chart below), with cases trending upward over the past month.

Reopening Paused . Our Health Officer Dr. Lisa Hernandez is using Covid-19 indicators to assess whether, and to what extent, we are able to further relax shelter-in-place restrictions. Right now, our reopening is paused, meaning that higher-risk workplaces cannot reopen (such as indoor dining, personal care services like hair and nail salons, entertainment venues like theaters, etc.). L ower-risk workplaces that have already been granted the ability to reopen (retail, manufacturing, logistics and warehousing, outdoor dining, and childcare) may remain open. Alameda County is one of 37 counties on the state’s watch list due to an elevated number of cases per 100,000 people.
Alameda County Case Data
Assess Your Risk & Remain Vigilant . I want to caution that no activity is risk free, but there are ways to make activities lower risk by following health recommendations to (1) socialize outdoors only with your household or your social bubble of 12 people maximum (same people for three weeks), (2) wear a facial covering every time you leave home (including for outdoor activities), and (3) keep a distance of six feet from others, among other precautions . During a recent briefing call, the Alameda County Health Officer said that it’s important for each person to consider their health status and assess their individual risk for various activities. In that spirit, I am sharing a Covid-19 Risk Index created by medical professionals to help understand the risk level of various activities. 
Covid-19 Risk Index
Understanding Why Cases Are Increasing
Why is the virus spreading at a higher level now? It’s a question I’ve asked our City of Berkeley and Alameda County Health Officers and an issue that was discussed by health professionals during a Covid-19 Town Hall on July 24 hosted by our State Senator Nancy Skinner.
Their answers touch on a few common themes and are best summarized in a July 20 statement by San Mateo Health Officer Dr. Scott Morrow, who cited three key factors that he believes are driving spread: 

1)       Transmissibility of the Virus. Dr. Morrow writes, “At pretty much every point over the last 6+ months, I’ve been surprised, and impressed, at how capable this virus is at moving itself between people. It spreads in households like wildfire and it spreads in other indoor environments too. It seems to be everywhere we look. …the implication of this fact is that you can’t let your guard down, or be careless, even once, especially if you are at high risk.”

2)       Lack of a Safety Net for Low-Wage Workers. Dr. Morrow writes, “…so many people are forced to live lives of economic desperation, live paycheck to paycheck, are not paid a living wage, live with no workplace safety nets, like healthcare, like paid sick leave, or other wage protection programs.” He goes on:
  • "A majority of people we are seeing infected now are front-line workers (people who allow the rest of us to eat, and have electricity, and have our garbage picked up, etc.), live in crowded multi-generational conditions, live with lack of trust in, and in fact have downright fear of, government."  
  • "Remember to stem the spread of this very transmissible virus, people who are infected need to be separated from others (isolation and quarantine), not go out in public, and not go to work while they are infectious. Try getting compliance with isolation and quarantine when the infected person is the breadwinner for the family and the family will be out on the street if they don’t go to work. And when they go to work they will, perhaps, interact at that job with you. There is not enough enforcement capacity in the world to stop this from happening."  
Here in Alameda County, our City and County Health Officers have described a similar situation of workers getting sick and having difficulty being able to isolate and quarantine. This phenomenon is borne out in our data, with the disproportionately high number of cases among people of color (particularly the Latinx population) who are more likely to work in jobs that cannot be done from home . To support workplaces, the City has developed a Worksite Exposure Toolkit .
3)       Complacency of Those Holding Gatherings Without Safety Precautions . Here, Dr. Morrow does not mince words: “Birthday parties, picnics, eating at restaurants with mixed households, etc., without the basic precautions being taken. Most of these gatherings are innocent, no doubt, not intending to spread the virus, but they do spread it, and with far-reaching implications. Please note, your seemingly innocuous get-togethers are driving the spread and are a major reason why you can’t go to a restaurant, why you can’t go to the gym, why you can’t go get your hair cut, why kids can’t go to school. Until, or unless more people get this fact, we will continue to be stuck in the situation we are in.”  
Here in Alameda County, our County Health Officer Dr. Nicholas Moss also attributed our case increase to gatherings that are held without following safety precautions of wearing facial coverings and practicing physical distancing of six feet from others. Our collective best course of action: 
  • No outdoor gatherings beyond your immediate household or your social bubble of 12 people max (same people for three weeks);
  • Wear a facial covering every time you leave home (including for outdoor activities); and
  • Practice physical distancing of six feet from others. 

Here's a helpful graphic created by Community Medical Centers of Central California that shows how important masking and physical distance are to stopping the spread of Covid-19:
Council Approves FY20-21 Budget, Closing $39 Million Deficit
On June 30, the Council approved a FY20-21 budget that closed a projected $39 million General Fund deficit. General Fund revenue went from a projected $206 million down to $181 million because of the economic fallout wrought by the pandemic—a difference of $25 million, along with added costs of $14 million. The budget approved by Council requires every department to identify one-time expenditures that can be delayed, amounting to a total of $24 million in savings across all departments—about 15% of each department’s budget. The Police and Fire Departments were not able to meet this threshold without triggering layoffs and instead cut about 13% and 12%, respectively. The City has also implemented a hiring freeze.

To close the remainder of the deficit, the City will draw on $11 million of a total reserve of $34 million. This is an area of some concern because it means there will be less reserve funding available in the months and years to come as we continue to weather a deep recession of unknown duration. The balance of the deficit was closed by assuming somewhat higher property transfer tax receipts that have generally materialized in recent years.  

During the Council’s discussion on the budget, I called for a "down payment on reimagining public safety" and was pleased that the Council was able to identify resources for the following two strategic investments:
  • $160,000 was provided to restore an auditor position in the City Auditor's Office to conduct audits of our 911 calls and police budget
  • $200,000 was provided to fund a Community Input Process to Reimagine Public Safety

The budget also makes critical investments to address wildfire safety, homelessness and housing retention, and Covid-19 response. To read more about the budget, visit Berkeleyside’s coverage HERE and HERE.
Reimagining Public Safety
My vision for Berkeley is that we are a community in which every Black person feels safe, valued, and supported. My hope is that when a Black person sees a police car, or an officer in uniform, that they do not feel a sense of fear here in Berkeley.

What I have heard from our Black residents tells me that we have more work to do to realize this vision.
Our police department—like all police departments—is a reflection of society, including the bias and systemic racism that we find in every aspect of our society. In particular, the Berkeley Police Department (BPD) stop and use-of-force data from 2012 to 2016 analyzed by the Center for Policing Equity found the following racial disparities:   
  • Black people in Berkeley were about 6.5 times more likely per capita than White people to be stopped while driving, and 4.5 times more likely to be stopped on foot. Latinx people were about twice as likely, per capita, as White people to be stopped while driving, and slightly less likely to be stopped on foot.
  • Black and Latinx drivers were also searched at much higher rates. Once stopped, Black drivers were searched at a rate four times higher than their White counterparts (20% compared to 5%), while Latinx drivers were searched at three times the White rate (15%).
  • Black people, who comprise only 8% of the City population, made up 46% of individuals who were subjected to use of force by BPD. The Center for Policing Equity analyses found that this disparity cannot be explained by poverty, neighborhood crime rates, or neighborhood demographics, and is not attributable to chance.

These statistics, which show that Black and Latinx drivers are disproportionately stopped and searched and that Black people are disproportionately subjected to use of force, are a sobering reminder that we have more work to do to address racial disparities in policing.

At the same time, I want to note that Minnesota state public safety officials recently reached out to our police department to learn about our de-escalation program . Berkeley Police Lieutenant Spencer Fomby, who developed our department’s de-escalation tactical plan, describes de-escalation as “a shift in attitude for police. It's less about issuing commands and demanding they be followed and more about figuring out how to best approach someone in a way that will not lead to aggression.”

My hope is that we can acknowledge and build on the successes of our police department while being forthright and fearless in facing our deficiencies. We must ensure that every aspect of our approach to policing is designed to protect Black lives. That is why I strongly support the efforts we will be embarking on to reimagine public safety, including how and under what circumstances our police officers interact with members of the public.

I believe our efforts to reimagine public safety must be guided by two key principles:
  1. Robust Community Input. Getting issues of public safety wrong can have life or death consequences. I value the input we receive at our Council meetings, and I also believe that we must reach out to members of our community who may not be able to attend our Council meetings, particularly communities of color. I want to have an opportunity to hear from a wide range of community voices in order to inform changes to our approach to public safety.
  2. Data and Evidence. As part of our fiscal year 2020-21 budget, the Council restored an auditor position in our City Auditor's Office with the understanding that this position would be used to conduct an audit of (a) our 911 calls and (b) our police budget. As someone who must make decisions on behalf of all Berkeley residents, I believe I have a responsibility to base my decisions on data and evidence. The number and type of 911 calls that we receive as well as a full breakdown of our police budget are two critical pieces of data that we need in order to make informed decisions about how best to shape our approach to public safety. 

I’m pleased that the Council took action on July 14 (scroll to Item #18a-e) to establish a process for reimagining public safety that aligns with my two guiding principles of robust community input as well as data and evidence. The Council approved a community input process to have further discussion on major public safety concepts, including at least two major concepts put forward by my colleagues:
  • Councilmember Cheryl Davila’s proposal to cut 50% from the police budget, including discussion of shifting mental health and social services calls away from police—a concept that Councilmember Ben Bartlett also proposed.
  • Councilmember Rigel Robinson’s proposal to shift traffic enforcement away from police.

Both of these concepts represent significant change and will require robust community input, a feasibility analysis that considers the cost of new initiatives and what is allowable under state law, along with deeper analysis of data and evidence. I’m looking forward to our community input process where I’m sure more ideas will emerge. If your neighborhood group would like to discuss public safety in more detail, please contact me so we can schedule a Zoom meeting: rkesarwani@cityofberkeley.info or 510-981-7110.  
Briefly: Council Items I’ve Recently Introduced 
  • Healthy Streets: I authored an urgent item that passed at our July 7 Council meeting to give our Transportation Division staff the authority to block a lane of traffic on designated Healthy Streets in order to successfully reduce car traffic and give residents more space to physically distance during outdoor activities. The item also specifies that a more robust Healthy Streets network should be established.

  • Office of Racial Equity: I introduced a budget request for the City to begin planning work for the establishment of an Office of Racial Equity in order to ensure that the City applies a systematic approach to racial equity in the delivery of all City programs and services. My hope is that this concept can receive funding in the future.
BART Community Advisory Group to Hold Second Meeting on Mon., Aug. 3
The Community Advisory Group , which will provide input to the Planning Commission on zoning the Ashby and N. Berkeley BART stations for development in compliance with state law AB 2923, will hold its second virtual meeting on Mon., Aug. 3 from 6-9 p.m. Information on how to access the meeting will be posted HERE. To sign up for the Ashby and North Berkeley BART Station Planning e-mail list, click HERE
COVID-19 Resources
Covid-19 Teleconferences

Listen to the Mayor's Virtual Town Hall with Deputy City Manager Paul Buddenhagen and Health Officer Dr. Lisa Hernandez from July 25 HERE .

Listen to State Senator Nancy Skinner's Covid-19 Virtual Town Hall with public health experts from July 24 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 . A nyone 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. The City of Berkeley, the Berkeley Unified School District, and the American Red Cross are sponsoring a blood drive on Tues., Aug. 4 . You can make an appointment HERE . You can also 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.
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