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Second Berkeley City Council Resignation This Month Highlights Discord Among Members

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A middle-aged white woman with blond hair wearing a crimson coat and an ornate necklace stands outside in front of a fence.
Berkeley Vice Mayor Kate Harrison stands in front of a vacant apartment building in Berkeley on Oct. 26, 2022. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Governing in Berkeley suddenly got more complicated with the unexpected resignation of Councilmember Kate Harrison in the middle of Tuesday night’s council meeting. Her departure follows the resignation of Councilmember Rigel Robinson earlier this month — who cited harassment and threats that made his position untenable.

But while Robinson also ended his run for mayor when he resigned from the council, Harrison — who said she was stepping down because she feels the way the city conducts its business is “broken” — is instead forging ahead with her bid to lead the city.

“It wasn’t planned,” Harrison told KQED of her dramatic departure on Tuesday night. She explained that the prepared statement she read before exiting the chamber — reciting a litany of criticisms — basically summed up “a frustration of mine that’s been building.”

That frustration, she added, reached a breaking point when the city consistently failed to follow its own processes in recent months and when council meetings became dysfunctional.

The two surprise departures come after months of particularly contentious council meetings, in which protesters have decried the recent police takeover of People’s Park and demanded that the city adopt a Gaza cease-fire resolution. According to the Berkeley Scanner and Berkeleyside, Tuesday night’s meeting was tumultuous even before Harrison’s resignation — marked by vocal calls from the public for a Gaza cease-fire resolution.


Video shows the meeting coming to a halt after Harrison’s announcement, with people in the audience yelling at both the council members and each other.

The acute cause of Harrison’s brusque departure, she said, was a debate about the use of surveillance cameras in the city. “I was really concerned that we hadn’t done our due diligence,” she said, arguing that even though the city has not yet determined the effectiveness of its one existing camera as a crime prevention tactic, some council members and city staff wanted to expand to 18 more locations without following protocol. She said Councilmember Terry Taplin “kept shouting over me” during the surveillance camera debate and did not stop when asked.

“Women of my age are always intimidated by men, and I’m tired of it,” said Harrison, who has represented downtown and Central Berkeley since 2017. “I really don’t see how we can function in that environment.”

In a tweet, Taplin accused Harrison of swearing at him as she left the room — and asked that his endorsement of her for mayor be removed from her website.

Along with the surveillance camera issue, Harrison told KQED about other instances in which she felt things had become dysfunctional on the council. That included the blowback she received after raising concerns about UC Berkeley installing double-high shipping containers around People’s Park earlier this month without acquiring a city permit. And, in a much less high-profile example, she also said the city didn’t follow its own rules about not contracting with companies that work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“It became clear that we don’t follow our own processes,” she said.

That latter instance, in which the city was required to issue — but did not — a waiver to its policy against doing business with ICE, is “one small example that speaks volumes,” said Berkeley resident Elana Auerbach, who lives in Harrison’s district.

Auerbach, who was at Tuesday night’s meeting and has been going to City Council meetings regularly since 2020, said, “It’s gone from bad to worse. It’s so dysfunctional.”

“I can only imagine the frustration of being a part of that body,” in which there is frequently “bad behavior” and people yelling at each other, said Auerbach, who echoed many of Harrison’s concerns.

“I’ve been grateful to have [Kate] as a council member,” she added.

Auerbach said she’s optimistic that with two new council members now slated for later this year and a new mayor in the fall, it could be the shake-up and new blood the city needs. If people vote, she said, “for how things can be.”

Harrison wrote in her prepared letter, and reiterated to KQED, that she feels the council has descended into a competition between members instead of a place for collaboration. “No alternative point of view is acceptable,” she said.

She confirmed that she is still continuing her mayoral campaign “at this time” because she believes that City Hall is out of touch with regular people and thinks the mayor can play an important role in setting agendas and creating a culture of collaboration.

That pits her against Councilmember Sophie Hahn, among the five candidates so far running this year to replace current Mayor Jesse Arreguín — who is making a bid for state Senate. In a post on X (formerly Twitter) after Tuesday’s meeting, Hahn made an apparent effort to try to differentiate herself from her rival, proclaiming: “My message to Berkeley today, loud and proud: I LOVE Berkeley and I LOVE serving this community!”

In the meantime, two special elections will now have to be held to fill both Robinson and Harrison’s seats on the council — both seats will remain vacant until then, per city rules.

Officials in the mayor’s office confirmed they have not yet received Harrison’s official letter of resignation — though they expect it to be filed this week — and so do not yet have an official final date for her term, which is necessary to set a date for the special election to fill her seat. It will likely be held in mid-May, they said.

The contest for Robinson’s district has already been set for mid-April. That district represents the UC Berkeley campus and the area just south of it, and three candidates have already filed to run.

The two surprise vacancies leave just seven members on the nine-member council for at least the next two months.

“What I see happening in the immediate term is a need to build consensus,” Councilmember Rashi Kesarwani told KQED, “to continue to pass critical items on behalf of our city.”

However, any controversial or larger items on the council’s agenda will likely be delayed until after the special elections.

“From my perspective, democracy can be messy,” Kesarwani added. “We don’t always get exactly what we want as individual council members, but I do believe that as a body, we do our best to address the critical issues facing our city.”


KQED’s Tara Siler contributed to this report.

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