Well, it’s Groundhog Day again in Berkeley. Just like in the movie...you wake up in the morning and they’re at it again, doing the same-old same-old…and my, does it get tiresome!
One more time, as the going gets tough, Tom Bates gets going—getting tough on the hapless homeless. As I’ve said too many times in this space, I still have in my garage a sign I swiped off a lawn somewhere that says “Assemblyman Tom Bates Supports Measures N &O”—which were a pair of initiatives cooked up by Bates and his wife the Mayor two decades ago to restrict panhandlers’ right to ask for money on the street. They were duly passed by Berkeley’s not-really-all-that-progressive electorate, but were later—at enormous legal cost to the city—thrown out by a federal judge for violating the First Amendment.
But now Bates is running for office—yet again, still at it even though he’s long past his pull date. So once again his PR apparatus, which operates at public expense out of his City Hall office, has planted single-source stories in several places which all show Bates Getting Tough on Ugly People on the Street.
In case you’re interested in three similar takes on the official version of Bates' new proposal to put an anti-sitting initiative on the November ballot, Doug Oakley’s got a report in the San Jose Mercury News, Lance Knobel has another one on the Berkeleyside site, and there’s one on the Patch site,
Needless to say, no one contacted the Planet about this proposal except several outraged homeless advocates.
It all fits neatly into place as November approaches. It’s apparent that once again the Berkeley City Council is going to have to ask the voters to increase funding to pay for the kind of city services that used to be taken for granted.
A series of polls seems to indicate that at the moment voters aren’t ready to approve the combination of bonds and operating funds which will be needed to fix city streets and storm sewers, which are suffering from catastrophic deterioration, and to restore the two public swimming pools which have been closed under the Bates regime. But they’ll probably have to come around by election time, if they don’t want Berkeley to completely fall apart.
At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, remarkably, despite Bates’ vocal opposition, Councilmembers Arreguin and Wozniak forged a compromise supported by all the other council members except the mayor, suggesting a package deal which would address both problems on the November ballot. It’s now in the hands of city staff, who have been asked to come back with language to be voted on at the June 12 meeting.
Berkeley is not alone in lacking funds to meet its expected obligations. The managerial class which runs most California cities was suckered by the financial engineering establishment (think Bain Capital) into risky investments which paid off bigtime when the investment industry was flush, enabling the managers to provide themselves with super-generous pension plans. Now that times are tough, cities are having to make up for the drop in investment income while still paying those big pensions, so money’s tight.
But no one on the Berkeley City Council has managed to connect the dots. At the same city council meeting where the decision seems to have been made to ask the voters for more money, councilmembers voted enthusiastically, effusively, to officially hire now-acting city manager Christine Daniel, the anointed successor to City Manager Phil Kamlarz, who is now enjoying luxurious retirement on a pension that is more than his working salary. Only Kriss Worthington expressed even the shadow of a doubt about the Daniel deal, questioning the extremely generous severance provisions in her contract.
As Kamlarz’ protégée, she should have been asked if she plans to continue his financial policies, now shown to have some serious problems. For as long as I can remember, the city’s budget process has consisted of dire threats of cuts to beloved social programs, each of which dutifully paraded its clients before the council and the public in heart-rending presentations at the hearings.
Then, at the last minute, the city manager would step into a phone booth and re-emerge in his blue jumpsuit and red cape to save the day, having “found” the needed funds “somewhere” in the city’s coffers. “Somewhere” it now turns out, was in the public works budget, as moneys allocated by council for dull, mundane projects like fixing potholes were just never spent by staff. Paid staffers from the city manager on down kept their own pockets lined and their public profiles heroic, in the expectation that Berkeley voters would always cough up on bond issues for streets and sewers in the long run.
Does Daniel have a plan for changing this scenario? Nobody’s asked her, at least not in public.
(And by the way, affirmative action seems to have been totally neglected in this hire. Granted, Daniel is female and Lesbian, but is it possible that there is a applicant from another minority group somewhere who might have wanted a shot at her job if there had been an open search process? Why didn’t that happen?)
Unfortunately, the money’s gone, and the streets are still a mess. Citizens—kids, adults, the (currently) able-bodied and the disabled—still need the affordable exercise opportunity that public swimming pools have always provided.
Could there be a better time for Mayor Bates to distract the voters from the manifold failures of his administration by going after street beggars once again?
Anti-sitting laws don’t even work—there’s a report out on the one-year anniversary of San Francisco’s law which documents what I saw for myself when I used the 24th Street BART station on Wednesday. Both worthy and unworthy street people are still there, folks, with their hands extended—as they are everywhere in 21st century urban America. And it’s the same story in Santa Cruz, the other city I visit regularly which has an anti-sitting law on the books.
But as a cynical political ploy, sit/lie initiatives like the one Bates is peddling once again work just fine.
Berkeley’s inner commercial districts—Downtown and Telegraph—are in Failed State mode. Even formerly cushy Solano Avenue is suffering.
But let’s just blame the panhandlers instead of the greedy commercial property speculators who gouge small businesses with unaffordable rents which create vacant storefronts…
Or the financial establishment which is sitting on the capital it should be lending to yes, the “job creators”…
Or the politicians like Tom Bates who exploit social problems to line their campaign coffers with contributions from landlords and developers?
Or—but there’s a huge list of culprits whose actions have contributed to Main Street decline in Berkeley and elsewhere, too numerous to list today. So let’s just go after homeless beggars instead. It’s so much easier, isn’t it?
Meanwhile, back in the real world, what Berkeley really needs is a fresh new mayor, one not so jaded and even with some smarts. Why won’t some civic-minded person run against Bates? There’s still time to mount a campaign.