Students Take Action in Berkeley Government

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With several spots still open, Berkeley City Council members are encouraging students interested in city government and policies to apply for a spot on a city commission.

City commissions play a central role in Berkeley politics and positions are open to all qualified Berkeley residents.

"(The commissions) work out the real policy and forward the recommendations to the City Council," said Andy Katz, who works in the ASUC Office of External Affairs. Recently, he was appointed as a temporary commissioner to the Zoning Adjustments Board.

"I would definitely recommend for students to get involved in city politics because we are a big part of the city and we should be working together with the rest of the city," Katz said. "I really enjoy giving back to the city and representing the residents here."

For former UC Berkeley student Claire Zellman, serving on the Police Review Commission gave her valuable insight into an important subject.

"It gave me a lot of exposure to issues of police abuse and police accountability," Zellman said. "It's a good thing to do for people interested in city government."

Currently, more than 10 students serve on city commissions, many of them appointed by Councilmember Kriss Worthington.

The council members are required to be "color and age blind" when choosing commissioners, but should ensure balance when making the appointments, Worthington said.

"I think it is very important that commissions reflect the diversity of the city of Berkeley," Worthington said.

Last week Worthington passed out flyers on campus, actively recruiting students to join the commissions.

"I would love to have students apply," he said. "You get to see the good and the bad about how bureaucratic government can be. You learn persistence."

Tamlyn Bright, assistant to Mayor Shirley Dean, adds that the job is not easy but is "definitely an opportunity to learn about the city."

Commissions meet once or twice a month to develop proposals that they present to the City Manager and the City Council. These policy proposals then show up on the council agenda, Worthington explained.

Commissions can get a lot accomplished, said Devra Bachrach, a UC Berkeley graduate student and current member of the Energy Commission. She has worked with fellow commissioners to get the city to convert to using renewable energy.

She began serving on the commission when she was taking a class on city and regional planning, and said that the experience she had working for the city supplemented what she was learning in class.

"I was getting to actually see how the local government works," she said. "Being on the commission has been a great experience for me. It really lets the public participate in the democratic process of the city."

Bachrach, a student in the Energy and Resources Program, said that working on the commission gave her the opportunity to specialize in her area of interest.

There are currently 37 commissions. To apply for a position on one, students should obtain an application from the City Clerk's office. Commissioners will be appointed based on the current number of vacancies.


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