Student Commissioners Help Shape City Policy

Photo: ASUC Senator Farrah Moos served on the city of Berkeley's Zero Waste Commission last semester, where she said she helped increase the number of recycling bins around Berkeley.
Tim Maloney/Staff
ASUC Senator Farrah Moos served on the city of Berkeley's Zero Waste Commission last semester, where she said she helped increase the number of recycling bins around Berkeley.

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UC Berkeley students are given a first-hand and active role in developing policy for the city of Berkeley in positions as city commissioners, who advise the Berkeley City Council during its decision-making processes.

Of the city's 291 commissioners - a position that allows residents to make recommendations to the council on specific issues - 37 are students, according to Deputy City Clerk Mark Numainville.

"It is useful to have students on commissions because they contribute to the diversity of perspectives and represent a significant part of Berkeley's population," said Farid Javandel, secretary for the transportation commission.

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, a UC Berkeley alumnus, was a student commissioner during his time as an urdergraduate. As a student, he was appointed to multiple commissions by Councilmember Kriss Worthington, including the Rent Stabilization Board and the Zoning Adjustments Board.

"I got involved in politics by serving on a city commission," Arreguin said. "My experience serving in Berkeley city government helped me become a more effective advocate for the issues I care about."

Igor Tregub, another campus graduate, was elected as the Commission on Labor's chairman in 2007 after being appointed by former Councilmember Dona Spring in 2006. In addition to his work on the commission, he is now a member of the Rent Stabilization Board.

Worthington said serving on commissions is the "entry level" position for students to get involved in city government and become respected members of the community.


Students make up more than 20 percent of Berkeley's population, yet barely make up 10 percent of city residents serving on local commissions, Tregub said.

According to Councilmember Gordon Wozniak, the sizeable student population has unique needs as a group that typically only lives in the city for a period of four to five years. One third of students also move out of their residences each year.

Commissioner Jonathan Ortega - who was appointed to the Elmwood Advisory Board while a student at UC Berkeley - said increased communication between the city and campus is needed.

Arreguin said when issues like affordable housing and public safety matter to students, their perspectives are critical for better informing council members on issues that affect student life.

Not only do students have unique needs as temporary residents of Berkeley, at times there can be an experience gap between student commissioners and long-term residents on a board.

Wozniak said it can be a challenge to appoint students because they have a higher turnover rate than that of other residents.

Nabil Al-Hadithy, secretary for the Community Environmental Advisory Commission, said student contributions are limited by their experience.

But ASUC Senator Farrah Moos, who served on the Zero Waste Commission last semester, still said she felt she was able to take part in legislation that led to new, more efficient recycling bins around the city.

"When you're around people who have decades of experience in a certain realm, you get the feeling of having a lot to learn," she said. "(Serving as a commissioner) breaks your university bubble - it's valuable to learn about how a city works and all the different elements to consider in a decision."

Getting Involved

Tregrub began as a city intern through the Cal in Local Government program, a campus group that seeks to represent students in Berkeley and other East Bay governments. Students involved with the program have interned at Berkeley and Oakland's mayoral offices, with the Port of Oakland and with Berkeley City Council members, among others.

According to Worthington, as a commissioner, Tregub was able to bring other students to meetings and help along a decision to allow Telegraph businesses to stay open longer.

"Students have organized and brought out other students to come out and vote," Worthington said. "In those cases, its not just one person because they've encouraged others to stand out and speak up."

Roya Bazaei, director of Cal in Local Government, said it is important for campus students to understand their identity as Alameda County residents, not just university students.

"We are a huge percentage of the population and our presence makes an impact," he said.


Daniel Means covers city government. Contact him at [email protected]

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