November 12, 2019

Dear Neighbor,

This month marks one year since you entrusted me to serve as your City Councilmember. I'm grateful everyday to have an opportunity to make a positive difference for our community.

Making positive change is a team effort and you don't need a fancy title to make a big difference.
Citizenship in these times requires each of us to serve in ways large and small. In this month of giving thanks, I want to thank everyone who has taken time to build a stronger sense of community, serve others, and engage in something larger than yourself.

Please join me at my Office Hours this Sun., Nov. 17:
Located in the DoubleTree Hotel at the Berkeley Marina
TOMORROW: Climate, Housing & Street Safety Forum with Sen. Nancy Skinner, Asm. Buffy Wicks & Community Leaders
Our state representatives, Senator Nancy Skinner and Asssemblywoman Buffy Wicks, will be joined by Moderator Markos Moulitsas Zuniga of the Daily Kos, Barnali Ghosh of TransForm, and Prof. Daniel Kammen of U.C. Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group for a discussion on climate, housing, and street safety.

Wed., Nov. 13, 6 p.m.
Berkeley City College Auditorium

This is a great opportunity to hear directly from our state legislators on their legislative priorities as it relates to the intersection of climate and housing policy.
N. Berkeley BART: Kids Visioning Art Contest
A little over a year ago, my predecessor Councilmember Linda Maio and Mayor Jesse Arreguín organized a N. Berkeley BART visioning event in which members of the community submitted their ideas for transforming the parking lot into something new.

Today, I’m excited to announce a Kids Visioning Art Contest.
N. Berkeley BART station. Photo: Pi.1415926535 (Creative Commons  License ).
Do your children have strong opinions about development at the N. Berkeley BART station, how commuters can get to and from the station, or how the space could be designed to be kid-friendly? Here’s their chance to be creative and share their vision!

We’ll recognize participants at our Dec. 10 City Council meeting. Anyone younger than 18 is welcome to participate. Please submit your artwork with your name, age, and a short description no later than Thurs., Dec. 5 by:
  • e-mailing a photo of your artwork to;
  • mailing the original artwork to Councilwoman Rashi Kesarwani, 2180 Milvia St., 5th floor, Berkeley, CA 94704 (please include your e-mail address or phone number so we can get in touch with you); or
  • sharing a photo of your artwork on social media and tagging me on Twitter @RashiKesarwani, Facebook @CouncilwomanRashi, or Instagram @rashikesarwani with the hashtag #nbbkids
I can't wait to see what our creative youngsters come up with!
What's Your Housing Story?
The shortage of affordable homes in our community puts pressure on many working folks—from young people to parents to seniors.

One of the things I treasure most about serving as your Councilmember is the opportunity to meet you, hear your story, and learn from your experience. But when we speak in abstractions—about the need to create more below-market-rate affordable homes, transit-oriented development zoning standards, and parking reductions, we can sometimes lose sight of the real people we’re trying to help and their stories.  
The Southern California townhome my parents purchased in 1978.
So this month, I want to ask you: What’s your housing story? How has the cost of housing impacted you, your life goals, or your loved ones? Please feel free to tell me as much as you like. 

Please e-mail me at with the subject line “My Housing Story.”

I’ll go first:

I tend to be a planner and a worrier. When my husband George and I were both working in San Francisco in 2015 after a period of working in different metro areas, I worried about our ability to stay here long-term. While my professional background gives me the good fortune of being able to work in any city, George is an engineer and I knew it would be harder for him to find relevant work outside of the Bay Area. I figured it would be prudent to make plans to buy a house, if we could afford it.    

Many in my millennial generation struggle with high housing costs in job centers. I often reflect on how I had to have a number of fortunate circumstances coalesce in order to own a home in Berkeley. Yes, I worked hard. But I also had random things work in my favor—like timing and being married with two incomes to put toward a down payment. We were trying to buy a house at a time when—after diligent saving for years—we could still afford the median home price in Berkeley, something that is no longer true for us today. That fortunate timing is related to other circumstances for which I am profoundly lucky: to be a woman born in 1982 in the U.S. to a middle-class family—a time, place, and circumstance that afforded me opportunities that so many others do not have.

My parents—both immigrants who grew up in large poor families—came to the U.S. for the opportunities they could not see for themselves in India. When they bought a modest townhome in a Southern California suburb in the 1970s, they became part of a growing and prospering American middle class. In the period from 1935 to 1980, the 90% that makes up the middle class, working class, and the poor—everyone except the top 10% of wage earners—received 70% of all income growth. Since then, wage growth before transfer payments and other government benefits earned by the 90% has been nothing—literally, 0% as all the income gains have gone to the top 10%. 1 As workers’ incomes flatlined since 1980, California housing prices began to increase much faster than the rest of the country. In the 1970s, a median home cost about $150,000 in 2015 inflation-adjusted dollars; by 2015, the median California home cost nearly $450,000. 2

When we bought our home in Berkeley, the median home price had reached $1 million. Having the resources to make a down payment on such a home required a number of things to line up perfectly. For us, it required two professional incomes, judiciously saving for years as my immigrant father had long lectured about, paying down student loan debt and making academic choices that allowed us to minimize our debt burden, and just being lucky in terms of the zip codes where we grew up and the educational and life opportunities that afforded. Berkeley home prices have continued to escalate far beyond the reach of most, and I have met families just like mine who fear the next rent increase and who wonder about their future in the Bay Area just like I did.

My husband and I may have had a lucky roll of the dice, but we wonder about how the high housing costs will shape our son’s future. Everyone is working harder than ever, but if something goes wrong a job loss, a catastrophic illness, a divorce—then any one of us can fall fast and hard. I see this in the stories you’ve shared with me and in our homelessness data. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve the community and work toward greater housing security for all of us. And I hope you’ll take the time to share your housing story with me.

[1] Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, " Income Inequality in the United States, 1913-1998 . "
[2] Legislative Analyst's Office, " California's High Housing Costs: Causes and Consequences ."
Ohlone Park Proposed Improvements Community Meeting
Join City staff to learn about park improvements and features being considered based on prior feedback from the community, along with next steps and timeline.

Sat., Nov. 16
10 a.m. to 12 p.m.
City Hall (2180 Milvia St.) in the Cypress Room
My friend Phyllis and me at Ohlone Park.
The improvements under consideration include: reconstruction of the 5- to 12-year-old play equipment, an additional adult and senior exercise area, landscape improvements, and ADA accessibility upgrades. For more information about the project, please e-mail Project Manager Jesús Espinoza:
Bike & Pedestrian Street Safety Upgrades Happening in District 1
With the recent fall back time change, I want to urge drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians to use caution during your evening commute. The City is currently in the process of replacing defective bulbs in the street lamps, which should help with evening visibility. About 60% of the bulbs have been replaced so far, with all of them to be replaced by January.
Bicyclists cross a Berkeley street.
Here is an update on other bike and pedestrian street safety improvements happening in District 1: 

  • Sacramento & Virginia - Design is happening now for a traffic signal, with construction scheduled to occur in summer 2020. Work includes minor improvements to bike and pedestrian crossings at Sacramento and Delaware, University, and Addison.
  • N. Berkeley BART - Station access improvements are expected to begin construction shorty after completion of the City’s improvements to Sacramento. More details are available HERE.

  • Gilman Interchange - Construction of two roundabouts as well as new bike/pedestrian facilities are scheduled to begin in late 2020 and conclude in summer 2023. The project includes: a bike/pedestrian overcrossing over I-80, an at-grade bike/pedestrian path through the interchange, a two-way cycle track on Gilman from the interchange to Fourth St., a new traffic signal at Gilman and Fourth Streets, and a Bay Trail gap closure at the foot of Gilman. More details are available HERE.

  • Gilman Railroad Crossing - Sidewalk will be installed on sections of Gilman between Second and Fourth that currently lack sidewalk, including tactile warning strips where the sidewalk is about to cross the railroad tracks. Work is expected to be complete by the end of the year.
  • Ohlone Greenway at Cedar - Solar lighting is scheduled to be installed this year at the Cedar St. crossing of the Ohlone Greenway; timing is dependent on electrical staff availability to complete the work.
Reflections on the PG&E Public Safety Power Shutoffs
Do you remember the scene in Al Gore’s "An Inconvenient Truth” when the frog jumps into a pot of lukewarm water that is slowly brought to a boil—and doesn’t move, even as the water continues to get hotter and hotter?

We are collectively sitting in the pot of warming water. It’s important to take stock of what just happened—PG&E, the state’s largest utility, shut off electrical service to hundreds of thousands of accounts, representing millions of people, in a deliberate blackout that until now was unprecedented in the history of the nation’s electrical system. Despite the devastating impact on small businesses, lost wages for countless workers, health and safety risks to individuals reliant on powered equipment, impacts on roadway safety, closed schools, and general disruption, PG&E made the determination that it is safer—all things considered—to shut off power to millions of people during high wildfire risk conditions.

Just as the water in the pot doesn’t reach boiling immediately, we arrived at our current moment of reckoning over decades—decades of PG&E failing to repair and replace failing transmission infrastructure, decades of a land-use pattern that has led to one in four Californians now living in a high-risk wildfire area, and—despite California’s leadership on climate change—decades of increasing greenhouse gas emissions and a warming planet. There are no easy fixes and we need to address a number of complex issues at once, including improving forest management, managing the risk of wildfire costs, building a more resilient electricity grid under a new governance structure, among other strategies outlined by the Governor’s Strike Force .

Before Tower 27/222 led to the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history, it was known by PG&E to be a quarter-century beyond its useful life. When a live wire broke from Tower 27/222 on the morning of Nov. 8, 2018, it led to fast-moving flames that claimed 85 lives and destroyed 11,000 homes in Paradise. Yes, it is true that climate change is turning our forests into tinderboxes. But this is also a story about an electric utility that has failed to invest in safety upgrades to its aging infrastructure over decades. An alarming Wall Street Journal investigation found that some PG&E transmission lines are so old that segments were considered candidates for the National Register of Historic Places at one point by federal agencies. In 2010, PG&E commissioned an outside consulting firm to assess the age and condition of transmission structures throughout its 70,000-square-mile service area. The firm was unable to determine the age of about 6,900 towers in the 115-kilovolt system. It found that nearly 30% of the remaining towers in that system (more than 3,500), were installed in the 1900s and 1910s. About 60% of the structures in the 230-kilovolt system were built between 1920 and 1950. It's now 2019! PG&E’s annual budget for replacing transformers, towers and other equipment has been referred to as a “black box” with little oversight or accountability.

This fact pattern is simply unacceptable. We clearly need to do things differently. San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo has put forward a novel idea to restructure PG&E post-bankruptcy into a cooperative owned by its customers. In a letter to the California Public Utilities Commission signed by a coalition of local leaders in Northern and Central California, the financial benefits of a customer-owned cooperative are enumerated:
  • A customer-owned PG&E could raise capital from a broad pool of debt financing in amounts substantially greater than an investor-owned PG&E, and at much lower cost.
  • A customer-owned utility can operate without the burdens of paying dividends to shareholders, and exempt from federal taxation. As a result, a cooperative financial structure would save ratepayers many billions of dollars in financing costs over the next decade.
  • A customer-owned PG&E would better focus its scarce dollars on long-neglected maintenance, repairs, and capital upgrade, and mitigate some part of the substantial upward pressure on rates. 

Here in Berkeley, there is more we can do to prevent wildfires and become a more resilient community—from better vegetation management in the hills to land-use policies that promote development in areas with less wildfire risk. I’m also proud of the work we’ve already done as a community to practice evacuating in the event of a wildfire, create and maintain evacuation paths, and to promote emergency preparedness generally. 
My Website
For updates on community issues and links to City information resources, please visit my website:

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Seeking Assistance from the City
Here are key City of Berkeley resources to keep handy:

For illegal dumping , potholes, missed garbage pickups, or graffiti...
Call 311 or (510) 981-2489

For a public works emergency , such as a sewer overflow, traffic signal outage, fallen tree, or toxic spill...
Call (510) 981-6620

For a homeless person who appears vulnerable and in need of services or is demonstrating concerning behavior...
Call the Homeless Outreach and Treatment Team (HOTT) (510) 981-5273

For non-urgent criminal activity with no suspect present...
Call the Berkeley Police Non-Emergency line (510) 981-5900

You can also download the SeeClickFix app to report an issue to the City.