District 5 City Council Candidate Statement: Sophie Hahn

Thursday October 02, 2008 - 10:44:00 AM

I have a sense of urgency about important issues affecting District 5 and the City of Berkeley. I am running for City Council to bring a new level of energy and excellence to our government, to enhance community participation in civic affairs, and to ensure that our city develops in harmony with existing neighborhoods and values.  

I grew up on Santa Barbara Road, in the heart of District 5. This area has been my home for almost 40 years. After attending Berkeley Public Schools, I went on to UC Berkeley. I continued at Stanford Law School, practiced law, worked in policy and governance, and started-up, grew and sold a small business.  

My father, a UC Emeritus Professor, came to the United States as a WWII refugee. My mother is the daughter of Ellis Island immigrants. I was raised to give back to the community that has provided so much for our family, and to champion equity, participation and opportunity for all.  

Throughout my life I have been a leader in the community. I have served on the Boards of Planned Parenthood, Step One School and the M3 Education Foundation, an organization addressing the needs of African American boys in Berkeley’s Middle Schools. Currently, I am Chair of the King Middle School Governance Council and also serve as President of the King PTA. My website,, includes a full list of leadership and pro-bono activities.  

Berkeleyans are generous, supporting schools, libraries, social services and more. In return, they deserve a well managed city with government that listens to and respects its citizens, funds basic services such as police and fire first, and works actively to develop revenues to offset the taxpayer’s burden. Our council has been distracted by costly and time consuming brouhahas. We can do better. 

Critical decisions about Berkeley’s future are on the immediate horizon, and will determine whether Berkeley—including District 5—retains its local neighborhood character, or locks itself into a generic, high-density, high-rise future. North Berkeley founders envisioned neighborhoods with a strong connection to nature, and focused on the quality of family and community life that would thrive. I believe this spirit should infuse the future of Berkeley. 

I strongly favor revitalization of our Downtown with a mix of old and new buildings that are appropriately scaled and consider set-backs, step-downs, greenery and welcoming spaces. Our most popular commercial areas—including 4th Street, the Addison Arts District, and Solano and College Avenues—maintain these characteristics. These are the places where Berkeleyans—and out of town visitors—spend their money and time.  

My opponent is a developer, despite characterizing himself this election cycle as a “businessman.” He is a partner in a real estate firm, and has interests in local buildings (see California FPPC Form 700). In a June 16, 2006 with the Daily Planet, interview he states “I have worked in various aspects of real estate all of 27 years” and characterizes himself as “a small developer.” A 2004 fundraiser for his campaign was co-hosted by an array of developers, lobbyists and brokers, and donations to his campaign reflected a similar line-up. (See the Sept. 17, 2004 Daily Planet.)  

My opponent’s appointees to key committees have been advocates for bigger, higher and denser projects, as well as for easing restrictions against tearing down structures of historical or cultural significance. My appointees will put the interests of residents and neighborhoods first. 

Within District 5, plans for the new Safeway at Shattuck/Henry and Rose are in progress. I will advocate for a community “stakeholder process” like the one obtained in Rockridge, where a similar Safeway development is planned, and work hard to ensure a human-scaled, high quality green building.  

Berkeley has a strong commitment to reducing greenhouse gasses, and to other sustainable policies. Much of District 5 is poorly served by public transportation, and amenities for bikers and walkers must be improved. A shopper’s shuttle has long been desired; I will explore it. I will also convene experts to devise a model program for carpooling. We share a common place of origination, and no doubt many destinations are common as well. It’s time to move ahead on real projects to meet the community’s transportation needs.  

Shopping local is an important sustainable policy—we can walk or bike—or reduce driving, by avoiding trips across or out of town. If we want vibrant commercial areas with businesses of character and quality, we must patronize them—or they will not survive. I will institute a vigorous shop local program—to sustain our businesses (and grow our local tax base) as well as sustaining our environment.  

District 5 is bisected by the Hayward fault. I will spearhead the systematic organization of our neighborhoods for disaster preparedness, and to participate in Crime Watch. There is no excuse for not having undertaken this in the past. A very positive benefit will be to build community within our neighborhoods, and better connect our residents to City Hall.  

We need a long range plan for economic development, and streamlined support for local business, to expand our commercial tax base. We cannot rely on taxpayers alone for increased revenues, or meet our needs by nickel-and-diming our downtown theatre and restaurant patrons with parking meters (and tickets) that run into the night. 

I will advocate for programs that encourage UC Berkeley—and other large local employers—to invest in Berkeley’s schools, purchase locally, encourage their employees to use public transportation, and work as partners for the benefit of our community. Our relationship with UC Berkeley has not resulted in good outcomes for our City—or for UC. We need to re-establish trust and dialogue to work pro-actively on development issues, and other matters of mutual concern.  

I will be a full time councilwoman, and have the skills, vision, experience and will to move our community forward. I invite you to visit my website,, to learn more, and welcome your calls and inquiries. I ask for your vote on November 4, and will honor that by serving you as an active, respectful and fully engaged member of the Council.