By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
In early December, during a contentious Santa Rosa City Council meeting over the fate of a proposed pedestrian and bicycle bridge over Highway 101, one council member stood out for her thoughtful opinions on the project. She expressed both support for the environmental benefits of the bridge and hesitation to spend more money on it just now.
“I like how she came down on both sides of the issue,” Vice Mayor Gary Wysocky said of his colleague’s comments. “That’s a politician in the making.”
He was speaking about 16-year-old Ally Berk, the Santa Rosa High School junior who is serving as this year’s teen member on the City Council. While she doesn’t get a vote, Ally says serving on the council is an exciting opportunity to learn more about her community and give city leaders a teen’s perspective on civic issues.
“I think it’s really important that teenagers have a voice,” Ally said. “There are things going on now that will affect us 20 years from now.”
Ally is the daughter of county attorney Jeff Berk and freelance journalist Beth Berk. The family lives in the city’s Hidden Valley neighborhood. Ally has two younger sisters, Emily, 12, and Joelle 9, and a golden retriever named Brynna.
She started on her path to politics in eighth grade when she joined middle and high school students from around the city on the Teen Council, which advises the city council on issues important to teens.
Being on that council opened her eyes to a number of topics, including the importance of gang prevention. “I began to feel very uninformed about issues in the community,” she said, and she resolved to change that.
Now Ally is passionate about of number of issues, especially environmental ones. Unable to tackle larger projects just yet — like convincing her parents to get solar panels on their home – she’s focusing on the small things she believes can have huge impacts on the planet.
Her family has switched to energy efficient light bulbs and appliances, for example, and no longer burns wood in the fireplace.
“Those are the kind of changes people could make in their daily lives that would really help,” she said.
Ally also was a vegan for a while, convinced that consumption of animal products was an unwise use of resources. She felt good about the diet and learned how to make a mean soy banana bread. But the slender teen’s doctor advised her to adopt a more balanced diet until she’s fully grown.
Academically, Ally is a star, holding a 4.5 GPA and aspiring to attend an as-yet-undetermined UC school. She hopes to follow that with law school, then become an environmental attorney and perhaps return to Santa Rosa to continue her political involvement.
When she’s not studying or worrying about how to save the planet, Ally has a dizzying array of interests. She plays varsity tennis, helps disabled kids ride horses and plays the drums. She also likes going to concerts with her friends, grooving to local ska bands like Rule 5 and Fishbear.
Ally hopes the current council can find ways to attract businesses to Santa Rosa, especially ones that will make the downtown more vibrant.
While the city’s political debate can be polarized as a choice between jobs or the environment, Ally doesn’t think it needs to be that way.
“I feel you can do things for the environment that will have a positive effect on business,” she said.
You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or email@example.com.