Since June, I’ve been going door-to-door talking to Berkeley voters all over town. I’ve now visited thousands of households, and everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve encountered dissatisfaction with the current mayor and his administration. The details vary, but one theme is constant: In Berkeley, of all places, people feel that they have lost control of their local government. My campaign is about reclaiming City Hall for the community.
Again and again, I’ve heard concern about the empty storefronts in Downtown and on our major thoroughfares. Tom Bates told the Contra Costa Times he’s not worried about business closing and leaving Berkeley. Yet in the past four years, we’ve lost Cody’s on Telegraph, Clif Bar, Power Bar, Radston’s, and other unique businesses. The City’s Office of Economic Development has stopped doing business attraction and retention. As Mayor, I will ask the Council to cut the red tape and to revive the OED, with a focus on promoting locally owned and operated enterprises. To make Berkeley business more accessible, I will push for a free shoppers shuttle that would circulate throughout the city’s neighborhood commercial districts. I will also ask UC to make its parking lots Downtown and near Telegraph easier for the general public to use.
The current administration balanced the budget with a lawnmower, making random, across-the-board budget cuts and eliminating mostly vacant positions, instead of pruning carefully to preserve vital services. That’s one reason why the Office of Economic Development stopped doing business attraction and retention. We should craft a City budget by targeting community needs. Our sewers are crumbling, our storm drains—where we even have storm drains—are falling apart, and our fire stations are closed on a rotating basis. A modern city needs a first-rate infrastructure. We need to monitor our current spending more closely and then commit ourselves as a community to funding our essential services.
One important source of budgetary relief would be a genuine fair-share relationship with the University of California. Our taxes are among the highest in the state, in part because the university pays for only $1.5 million for the $15 million worth of city services—sewers, fire and police—that it uses each year. Berkeley taxpayers are locked into this inequitable arrangement for 15 years, thanks to the disastrous secret agreement that settled the city’s 2005 lawsuit over UC expansion. Mr. Bates was the city’s lead negotiator for that agreement. He’s telling Berkeley voters that he got the University to pay the City $22 million. What he’s not saying: that’s $22 million over 15 years!
The City Council has the authority to void the settlement agreement. As Mayor, I will ask the Council to do just that and then to re-open negotiations with Chancellor Birgeneau. If negotiations fail, we should sue again. We should also follow the lead of the Santa Cruz City Council and place UC sustainable growth measure on the ballot; UCSC has responded by scaling back its planned expansion. To prevent future secret deals, I will ask the Council to pass a strong Sunshine Ordinance that gives citizens the legal right ot know how decisions are made in City Hall.
A vital economy requires change, but change must respect Berkeley’s unique character and enhance its quality of life. Today our flatlands neighborhoods are suffering from overdevelopment. The incumbent brushes off neighborhood concerns about “vertical sprawl” and traffic congestion. I will meet with and support residents who are working for responsible development. Another constant refrain in my door-to-door canvassing is that City permit processes are arbitrary and aggravating. I will with the City Manager and his staff to ensure that the City’s processes are transparent, efficient and fair.
My name appears in the voters pamphlet in support of Measure J, the updated Landmarks Preservation Ordinance. Measure J is the community’s response to Tom Bates’ developer-driven effort to undermine the city’s protections for its architectural heritage. Its passage will ensure adequate community input into preservation decisions and the same time preserve real affordable housing.
Gentrification is undermining Berkeley’s rich social and economic diversity. Many of the hundreds of new housing units that are officially affordable to low and very low income individuals are actually beyond the reach of those who cannot get into the market. I will ask the Council to deepen Berkeley’s levels of affordability. In January, 2004, Tom Bates tried (and failed) to weaken the city’s affordable housing laws and then told the Council: “I don’t like those kinds of constraints. I’m sorry. Maybe I’m a free market person.”
Public safety is a growing issue. We need fair and effective street safety and civility programs, not just on Telegraph but throughout town. In a major abdication of government responsibility, the incumbent mayor told the neighbors of a longtime drug house in April that the City would not help them. I will ask the Council to create a Neighborhood Law Corps modeled on Oakland’s award-winning program. Lawyers from the City Attorney’s office will build cases against the owners of problem properties—drug houses, abandoned buildings—and if necessary, take them to Superior Court.
I will bring to the Mayor’s office skills honed through many years of community service and leadership. I sat on the Planning Commission from 1997 to 2004. Two years in a row I was unanimously elected commission chair. As a planning commissioner, I initiated and then helped guide the community planning process that led to the city’s first new General Plan in 25 years. And I helped convene and then served on the UC Hotel/Conference Center Citizens Advisory Group, whose recommendations have been praised by the project’s developer. The Downtown Berkeley Association gave me its President’s Award for “exceptional leadership and consensus-building.” As a former professor who has taught at UC Santa Barbara and at Cal, I will approach the University administration in a spirit of unintimidated collegiality.
My supporters are Berkeley citizens looking for a mayor they can trust. I invite you to join them. For more information, please see my campaign website www.zeldaformayor.org.