2 UC Berkeley students are the candidates in upcoming city council special election

UC Berkeley students James Chang and Cecilia Lunaparra are candidates in the April 16 special election for the District 7 city council seat. 

Two UC Berkeley students are facing off in a special election for the city of Berkeley’s District 7 city council seat next Tuesday.

The district covers the UC Berkeley campus and stretches five blocks south, to include People’s Park, a flash-point in the decades-long battle over the use of the university-owned property.

The city council seat for the district was unexpectedly vacated by Rigel Robinson back in January, who said harassment and threats ultimately led him to resign from his political career.

The resignation prompted UC Berkeley Haas School of business graduate student James Chang and undergraduate student Cecilia Lunaparra to enter the race.

Both candidates have pledged to fight for safer streets and affordable housing. 

SEE ALSO: District 16 candidates looking ahead to November general election

Chang, who also attended UC Berkeley as an undergrad, said during his 13 years in Berkeley, he’s moved 10 times and has seen firsthand the challenges of housing insecurity and affordability.

In his candidate statement, Chang said, "Passionate about housing affordability, I served eight years as an elected member of Berkeley’s Rent Stabilization Board and was President of UC Berkeley’s student Co-ops for Rochdale Apartments, making sure low-income students, many of whom experience homelessness during their time in Berkeley, have a safe and reliable place to call home."

Chang has been involved in both university government and city government, currently working as chief of staff to Berkeley Councilmember Ben Bartlett and previously taking on that role in the office of former Councilmember Kriss Worthington.

He said his experiences have offered insight into identifying the most pressing problems and the actions needed to fix them. And he said his track record thus far has demonstrated his commitment and dedication to a life of public service. 

"I have never shied away from the dream and passion of mine to be in public service, to serve the people in an official capacity. And I've been doing this, so far, for the last 13 years, whether serving as an actual election official or serving as a graduate student delegate," Chang told KTVU, adding, "I have always had a deep passion for public service and will continue to serve regardless of the outcome."

Lunaparra, who described herself as a queer, Mexican-American UC Berkeley senior, has also been heavily involved in civic engagement, both on and off campus. She’s currently chair of Berkeley's Environment and Climate Commission and a California Democratic Party delegate for Assembly District-14.

She's also been involved in progressive student coalitions.

"I formerly served as the President of Cal Berkeley Democrats, the official arm of the Democratic Party on UC Berkeley’s campus, and Telegraph for People, a progressive urbanist organization working to create a pedestrian plaza on Telegraph Avenue in Southside and advocating for transit justice," she told KTVU in an email correspondence.

Lunaparra said that she entered the race because of her desire to amplify the voices of students and other community members who have long been left behind by the current system. 

"I am running because, despite making up almost a third of the City’s population, students are drastically underrepresented and unheard in City Hall, and I fundamentally believe that needs to change," she said. "I am running because people in my neighborhood are being harmed by the system—students are unable to find or afford housing, unhoused people are criminalized for existing, and District 7 residents are being kept out of conversations that directly affect them—and that is unacceptable to me."

The two candidates have different positions on the future of People’s Park, which has been at the center of protests in recent months, reaching a new level of contention when the university set up barricades around the park to move forward with plans for a student housing complex. 

BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 23: A drone view of Peoples Park in Berkeley, Calif., on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2023. UC Berkeley has surrounded the park with shipping containers and hired full-time security to keep people out while waiting for court appro

In addition to a dorm that would house 1,100 students, the proposal calls for a separate building for permanent supportive housing that would serve at least 100 homeless people. 

Chang has been an outspoken advocate of the controversial plan. 

"I am supporting the vision of People's Park supported by the city council and homeless panel of experts," he said, adding that the proposal addresses the student housing shortage, without ignoring those who have used the park to set up camp.  

"Some people use our unhoused population as props. I want them housed," he said, adding, "To be able to house one of 8 to 10 homeless-- instead of having an open-air drug market free for all, a homeless individual can seek services and help." 

Lunaparra has expressed her opposition to the university's plan and has urged alternative locations for new student housing. She has also spoken out about police tactics in response to the protests at the park.

"I organized to defend People’s Park and keep our community safe from UCPD brutality by working with Councilmember Kate Harrison to draft a resolution affirming the City of Berkeley’s ban on tear gas, ‘less-lethal’ munitions, LRAD devices [long-range acoustic device], kettling, and other coercive and dangerous crowd control tactics," she stated on her campaign page.  

Voting is under way for the special election. 

The vote-by-mail period opened on March 18. Drop boxes are available at:

And an in-person vote center has been set up at the YWCA at 2600 Bancroft Way, open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the 10 days leading up to the election. 

On April 16, the center’s extended hours will be 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.