Berkeley City Councilmember Susan Wengraf is running for a fourth term this November and hopes to continue her work on wildfire safety and develop a COVID-19 recovery strategy.
Wengraf moved to Berkeley from Brooklyn, New York, in 1969 to work as a special education teacher for deaf and hard-of-hearing children. She first became involved in city politics when she organized an effort to convert what was then the oldest building in Berkeley into a city museum.
“I never intended to be a politician, but I always loved organizing people for a cause,” Wengraf said. “That’s how I fell into politics.”
Wengraf’s political career began in 1990 when she was appointed to the city’s Planning Commission, where she served for 18 years.
In 2008, Wengraf was elected to City Council after serving as chief of staff to Betty Olds, her predecessor, for 16 years. Throughout her tenure, wildfire safety and mitigation have been among the major focuses of her office.
“She is direct, honest, and represents her district fairly, especially as it pertains to the wildfire risk,” said Berkeley Firefighters Association, or BFFA, Second Vice President Colin Arnold in an email. “We don’t always agree, but we can always count on her to be straight with us.”
Last year, Wengraf secured over $1 million in city funding to help mitigate wildfire risk through vegetation management. According to Arnold, she played a “leadership role” in getting Measure FF on the November ballot, which, if approved, would establish a permanent source of funding for similar wildfire prevention and mitigation efforts.
Wengraf also played a role in establishing Berkeley’s Strategic Reserve Funds, which the city has relied upon to balance the city’s budget amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Had it not been for that, I’m not sure that we could have balanced our budget without laying off people,” Wengraf said. “That was really important to me — that nobody lose their jobs right now.”
If reelected, Wengraf hopes to work on a post-pandemic economic strategy and play a role in the ongoing discussion about equitable policing in addition to continuing her work on wildfire safety.
As of press time, Wengraf has been endorsed by the BFFA, the San Francisco Bay Sierra Club and the East Bay Young Democrats among other organizations, as well as from some current and former colleagues in city government, including former councilmember Gordon Wozniak.
“I like what (Wengraf is) trying to do in terms of making the community more resilient,” Wozniak said. “We need many voices to come up with good consensus positions on things and Susan does a good job of that.”
Jacob Souza is the lead city government reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @jsouza_dailycal.