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Bad News for Berkeley Advocates: Rigel Robinson Resigns from City Council

And he's pulling out of mayoral race, citing continual harassment.

Rigel Robinson hard at work in his office. Photo from his staff.

Advocates in Berkeley's safe-and-livable-streets community were crushed to learn Tuesday that Councilperson Rigel Robinson, District 7, which encompasses the UC Berkeley campus, Telegraph Avenue commercial district, and Southside neighborhood, is resigning. Robinson is also ending his mayoral bid, citing ongoing harassment and threats against him and his family.

From the announcement, published in Berkleyside:

I have served this community on the Berkeley City Council since 2018 and, for the last several years, have served as Berkeley’s representative on the Alameda County Transportation Commission. When I was first elected in 2018, at 22 years old, I became the youngest person ever to serve on the City Council, propelled by a movement of students seeking greater representation and influence in City Hall. Many of you have watched me grow up in this role. From the terrors of the Trump administration to the darkness of the pandemic to the constellation of crises we are facing today, my time on the council has been shaped by tremendous challenges but also tremendous progress.

"Rigel has been an incredible champion for safe, sustainable, equitable streets in Berkeley. We will greatly miss his voice on City Council," wrote Walk Bike Berkeley's Ben Gerhardstein in an email to Streetsblog. "Walk Bike Berkeley worked closely with Councilmember Robinson on many of our highest priority goals, including requiring safety improvements with paving projects, re-envisioning the role of police in traffic enforcement, and advancing Vision Zero through the Southside Complete Streets project."

"Rigel has been a leader on housing, transit, biking, and walking for Berkeley and for the East Bay," wrote Bike East Bay advocate and BART Director Rebecca Saltzman. "We served together on the Alameda County Transportation Commission, and even when we were greatly outnumbered, I could always count on Rigel to prioritize the movement and safety of people over cars."

Advocates will probably remember him best for his work on the "Berkeley Initiative to Build Improvements for Mobility, Bicycles, & Pedestrians" or BIBIMBAP for short. The legislation, which passed in October of 2019, required the city to construct quick-build bike and pedestrian safety improvements whenever a street is repaved.

Streetsblog has reached out to Robinson via email and text and will update this post if he replies. However, according to Berkeleyside, the resignation resulted, at least in part, from harassment he received for supporting housing construction on the People's Park location in his district. Robinson told Berkeleyside via text that "he has been followed and told to kill himself, and that concerning messages were taped to the door of his home and mailed to him."

"It's very distressing and above all I hope that he and his family are safe and taking care of themselves," wrote Bike East Bay's Robert Prinz, in an email to Streetsblog. "I have collaborated with his existing and former staff quite a bit."

Prinz pointed out that it has been a precarious time for people who work for safe and livable streets in Berkeley. Farid Javandel, Berkeley's Transportation chief, lost his job last May amidst maneuvering by councilwoman Sophie Hahn to kill an approved project for protected bike lanes on Hopkins. The bike lanes were stopped because of objections to required parking changes. Robinson's departure from the mayoral race narrows the field for Hahn, who is also running for mayor.

"There is now a big vacuum in the Berkeley mayoral race, as Rigel was the clear candidate for voters who prioritize housing, transit, biking, and walking," wrote Saltzman. "I was a strong supporter of Rigel's mayor campaign, and I hope other candidates will consider stepping up now."

Robinson's work for the safe-and-livable-streets community was extensive. In addition to BIBIMBAP, he was instrumental in advancing a system of protected bike lanes in his district and advancing a plan to pedestrianize Telegraph. He also worked on ending pre-textual traffic stops, as explained in his 2021 commentary for Streetsblog, "Vision Zero Cities Op-Ed: How Berkeley Is De-Policing Traffic Enforcement."

Robinson's resignation is effective Friday.

"We are extremely saddened and disappointed that he was harassed during his tenure," wrote Gerhardstein. "Policy disagreements are not grounds for bullying and harassment. We call on the Berkeley community to engage with one another respectfully, while paying special attention to supporting the participation of young people in our civic processes."

"Nobody, whether they're an elected official or not, should face the type of harassment he's experienced," wrote Saltzman. 

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