Courtesy of CJ Berina
If you currently live in any of the neighborhoods west of Interstate 405 in the San Fernando Valley, you probably came across congressional candidate CJ Berina. The Valley born-and-raised candidate campaigned in the 2020 elections to represent California’s 30th Council District in Congress.
As a 30-year-old progressive Democrat, Berina has promised to fight for the San Fernando Valley people on issues like climate change, free college tuition, ending gun violence, immigration reform and other issues affecting the local community.
A former CSUN student having graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Asian American studies, Berina’s resume spans from a few entrepreneurial endeavors to being part of neighborhood councils. Now, the candidate is aiming to unseat current representative Brad Sherman.
The Sundial spoke with Berina to get a better idea of what the candidate thinks about the role he is committing to, if he were to win, while also learning of his background and the connection he has with the San Fernando Valley.
Q: What connection do you have to CSUN?
A: I was an Asian American studies major here. I took a class in ethnic studies, and basically there you learn a lot about things like racism, systemic racism, institutional racism. It actually wasn’t even my first choice. My first choice was business, but I failed math class. And next thing you know there were budget cuts and they were cutting all these classes there. And long story short, I did the math: I was like, if I tried to stay in business, I would be here for eight years. That’s how bad the budget cuts were. So, like a lot of students at that time, they’re thinking, “Yo, you just need to get out of school as soon as possible.” My logic at the time was I’m going to switch majors to get out as soon as possible, then I figured it out from there. But while I was here on campus, I also realized it’s not enough to just get a major. I tried to get involved on campus as much as possible so I joined a fraternity on campus, Pi Kappa Alpha. I eventually became the vice president there, and then I became the president of the Filipino American student association. That’s kind of where I learned leadership skills and it was training me to be an activist. That was from 2007 to 2012.
Q: What were some of the ways you began taking an interest in politics?
A: I wasn’t always politically involved. When I was a kid, my dad would always like to put the newspaper in front of my face. And he’d say, “Read this,” like, pay attention. And when you’re a 12-year-old, you’re in the sixth grade, you read about politics, and you’re like, “I have no idea what this is.” I read it because my dad was trying to teach me a lesson. And it was interesting because probably one of the first things I read was a political piece in the Daily News or the LA Times. And it was about our current congressman, the guy I’m trying to unseat. It was about him facing this guy named Howard Berman. They were both congresspeople already and they were redistricting. They’re combining their districts. So these two guys, they knew each other. They worked together in Washington. Now they’re duking it out. And that was one of the first political newspapers. So as far as California politics, I was kind of paying attention. I was still reading, I was reading articles every now and then about Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the debt we were in and all that stuff, but it didn’t really hit me. And then in 2008, we had the financial crash and stuff like that. That’s kind of when I started getting a little bit more politically aware.
Q: I understand you had entrepreneurial endeavours in the SFV, what were they?
A: I opened my store a block away from Nordhoff and Reseda and it is called Collective Lifestyle. We had a purpose of providing fashion, music, art and live events for the Valley. We had open mic nights, music nights, art shows. The local council member’s office asked us to apply for a grant and we got $15,000 the first year, $10,000 the next year, $8,000 the next year. We threw block parties and on our biggest night, we had over 3,000 people.
Q: How did your experience in the neighborhood council influence you?
A: I met with some of the community leaders in the area. It was like really getting to know local politics at a very, very local community-based level. We did park cleanups, allocated budgets to certain groups, every neighborhood council has a certain amount of money that they’re allowed to spend every year and they can spend it throughout the community. I also worked with Mitchell Englander and Chris Sales — he’s actually a professor here at CSUN. Chris asked me to be on the committee called Northridge Vision 2025 that focused on urban planning for the area.
Q: Does your political ideology match with the people you’ve worked with so far?
A: Our congressional district usually votes Democrat 75% of the time. But we are probably one of the more conservative democratic districts, but I think it depends where you’re talking about, like Sherman Oaks is probably more conservative. People 65 and over, they get a little bit more conservative. You know, maybe in your 40s and 50s, you get more liberal. And then obviously, 18 to 32 year olds, those are going to be very progressive types of people.
Q: Many of the people you work with are much older than you, has that affected you?
A: They probably do see me as someone they’re mentoring, but a lot of people see me as someone that’s doing good stuff in the neighborhood. And they give me the respect as well. So I don’t think anyone really looks down at me. I feel like even if there’s some Republicans and some people are more conservative, I’ve earned some of their endorsements and me being a different age or from another political party has swayed them away.
Q: As someone who went into ethnic studies, what is your stance on AB 1460?
A: I think it’s really important because they’re not teaching ethnic studies in high school, not to the degree of what we are doing here … If you remember your old school books, and in middle school, they don’t really cover race and racism at all. They just tell you everything from a Eurocentric type of view or an imperialist American type of view. So we’re all learning about race and racism as kids, and if they erase it, they’re not doing it in middle school or high school and erase it from college. Everything that Trump is doing right now, like a lot of this racist stuff, who’s going to fight against that? No one will. People will be so blind to it because they’re not learning about these things.
Q: What are some of the problems you see that Brad Sherman has not addressed?
A: His policies are outdated. He’s more on the conservative side and one of the main things is that he takes money from all these corporations. I think that’s probably the biggest problem in Washington. All these politicians\; they take money from the corporations and they vote how the corporations want them to vote. Right now in Congress, Democrats and Republicans, usually they don’t get along, but where they do get along is when it comes to additional funding for military spending. Why? Because Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Boeing give money to every single elected official. They gave Brad Sherman $21,000 in 2018 and in return, he votes yes on a bill that gives him $120 billion in additional spending towards a spaceforce. You know what $120 billion could have paid for? Tuition-free college in America, for every student, forever.
Q: What are some of your initiatives to address the homeless crisis?
A: Why don’t we look at our military budget\; we’re spending more than the next 10 countries combined. We have money for missiles and bombs. An F35 is $85 million, we buy 135 of them at a time. It costs around $12 billion. We could have built so many homeless housing shelters across the country. Another problem we have is nimbyism (“not in my backyard-ism”). We voted to tax ourselves to build these homeless shelters that they just don’t want near their homes because they’re going to lower property values. Other arguments are that you don’t want them near schools, but then the opposition might say, “If you walk around the block of the school there’s five homeless people right there, your kids are in danger and it’s probably going to get worse.” You can fix the problem with the homeless in a shelter where they’ll have a caseworker and there’s going to be rules and a curfew, or you can leave them on the streets. If I were in office, I would definitely be working with our local councilmembers to make sure we’re pushing for more affordable affordable housing units, or I can introduce legislation for nationwide rent control, or I could introduce legislation to make sure that any new housing that’s being built, we’ll have to increase the amount of units or percentage of units for affordable housing.
Q: What would your role be as a representative of the San Fernando Valley?
A: My role is to be our representative in Washington. So when a bill comes to the table, I vote yes or no on it. I try to get different legislation in there, or I can introduce my own legislation as well. But the role there is to push things, push the conversation at the national level for what our district wants and needs.
Q: Do you have a relation with the undocumented community in the area?
A: Not too much, to be honest. It’s not my strongest subject. But I do support DACA.
Q: Do you think that Bernie Sanders’ policies align with your political ideology?
A: A lot of mainstream media are bought by oligarchs and stuff. So mainstream media tell us that his ideas are too radical. But to be honest, most of America actually agrees with his ideas more than any other candidate and that’s why he’s winning. He’s the only candidate not taking money from corporations, so he’s finally fighting for the people.
Q: How do you use social media as a tool? Do you consider yourself an influencer?
A: It’s hard for me as a candidate to go out there and meet a lot of people because there’s not huge events going on. Or if I were to go flyer somewhere I might talk to maybe 25 people in an hour, but with social media I can do a post and it goes out to a thousand people. If I tweet something it can really get out there, some of our posts have been seen by 200,000 people on a single tweet.
Q: Do you think focusing on a tech-only approach could hurt political campaigns?
A: Yeah, you still need to connect to people. That’s probably one of our weaknesses, we rely too much on tech and we’re not shaking hands with people. Because you do need to do that as a candidate. To be honest I’m heavily relying on technology and my campaign, but it’s also because there’s so many people in this district that it’s tough to reach them all at once.
Q: Why did you decide to run for a seat in Washington rather than running for something like LA City Council?
A: My friend Loraine Lundquist decided she was going to run. To be honest if she hadn’t said she was running, I was considering it. There’s a lot of factors at hand for that position. I think a lot of it is the LADWP, their union is spending a lot of money to not have Loraine Lundquist in there. And I think it goes down to (her) being a candidate for sustainability, she wants green clean energy and I don’t think it’s possible to have that and also keep all the LADWP jobs so it’s this thing between fighting to save the planet or doing systematic changes, but then that puts people at risk of losing their jobs.
Q: What message do you have for youth voters out there?
A: In 2016, less than 46% of 18 to 32 year olds voted. And now there’s a lot at stake on the ballot, like climate change, the future of our planet, and tuition-free college and canceling student debt should be enough for every single college student to go out and vote.
Q: Why should we trust you as a candidate wanting to represent the voice of the San Fernando Valley, nationally?
A: Probably because I’m a person from the community born and raised here. I feel like a lot of people know me and you can check out my Instagram or Collective Lifestyle and you could see how we really did it for fashion, music, art and live events for the Valley. You could see how many music shows we had and I’m on Google, you can Google me. But I think how you could really trust the candidate, it goes back to money in politics, see who’s funding their campaign, and you’ll see that no corporations are funding my campaign. It comes out of goodwill for and by the people.