The most gentlemanly campaign In Berkeley this election season is being run by the two women vying for Berkeley’s 1st District City Council seat.
“I think we are setting a record for the most polite campaign ever run,” said Rhiannon, who uses only one name and is mounting a longshot effort to unseat 10-year incumbent Linda Maio.
Maio, for her part is used to mellow campaigns. Since winning her council seat, which serves northwest Berkeley, in a 1992 run-off election, she has coasted through four easy re-elections.
Maio, who is a member of the council’s progressive majority, is viewed as one of council’s strongest advocates on education and small business development. Her accomplishments include school programs on conservation and a ban on fast food restaurants along San Pablo Avenue.
Rhiannon is not expected to upset Maio’s five-term winning streak. A full-time student, who lives in city-subsidized housing with her daughter, she has been active in district politics for many years, serving as secretary of the Oceanview Neighborhood Association and as a member of the West Berkeley Project Area Committee.
She is rallying her campaign around a proposal to give residents advance notification of council items, by publishing agendas two weeks before meetings, instead of the current five-day warning. Rhiannon argues that extra time will give residents a chance to fully grasp the issues. Maio calls the suggestion unrealistic, noting that often items are too urgent to wait several weeks before debate.
Despite a background that suggests progressive leanings, Rhiannon is playing the moderate in this race. Although she has not sought, nor received, the backing of moderates on City Council, Rhiannon is opposing Maio and her progressive council faction on several ballot initiatives.
Maio, who is considered one of council’s strongest advocates for affordable housing and was a founder of non-profit homebuilder Resources for Community Development, supports a ballot measure to increase the tax on home sales from 1.5 to 2 percent.
She argues that the tax hike on people who sell their homes for more than $350,000 can effectively build more affordable housing and reduce homelessness.
Rhiannon sees the issue differently. She contends that the extra $5,000 added to the cost of an average home purchase would eliminate potential home owners from the Berkeley market. Although the measure would leave it up to the buyer and seller to determine which party pays the tax, she assumes the buyer will be made to cover the cost. “It seems like the tax is taking from the little guy and giving to the big non-profit developers,” she said.
The candidates also differ on the most controversial ballot measure – a limit on the heights of new Berkeley developments. Rhiannon supports the initiative, arguing that it is needed to reign in developers who have exploited the city’s loose zoning regulations and unfairly built high-rise buildings near residential neighborhoods.
“People should be able to be in a neighborhood and not warehoused in tall buildings,” she said.
Maio, however, counters that the ballot measure would actually force more incursion into neighborhoods. Whereas current Berkeley zoning law calls for spaces between a new development and a neighboring property, Maio said the height initiative would force the developer to put the building right up against the edge of the property line in order to qualify for an extra floor of housing units.
Traffic circles divide the candidates as well. Maio, who called commuter traffic racing through streets the district’s number one problem, supports a measure that will generate $10 million from property tax hikes to fund traffic calming measures such as traffic circles and pedestrian-activated traffic lights. Parents are scared to have their kids play outside because commuters are rushing through streets on their way to downtown, Maio said.
Rhiannon, though, said the measure sounded like just another general tax. “Property owners are taxed enough and as a renter I know that gets passed on to tenants,” she said. As an alternative, she proposes that the city better time traffic lights to keep cars from building speed through district streets.
Rhiannon has been most forceful criticizing Maio’s record on local environmental concerns. The district is home to the Berkeley Transfer Center as well as sections of Interstate 80 and the railroad, all of which add to local pollution. Rhiannon claims that Maio has blocked attempts to get air quality studies done and that she has ignored air pollution stemming from passing trains that kick up dust.
Maio, however said she initiated the first west Berkeley air study in 2000. Additionally she said she has supported switching the city’s sanitation fleet from diesel to environmentally-friendly fuels and has passed measures providing environmental education in public schools.
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