The Nose on Berkeley's Yes on T Committee Grows Even Longer

By Becky O'Malley
Friday October 26, 2012 - 01:24:00 PM

Oy veh, as the wise men used to say in my old neighborhood. The election news just gets more and more annoying. A friend quotes her late father, complete with old country accent: “The shtupids, they’re everywhere.” Around the nation and even (or especially) here in Berkeley.

What’s even more annoying this week is how some participants in the political process have taken to making things up. At least in the last debate President Obama called out what’s-his-name on that big whopper about the non-existent apology tour.

Whoppers abound, there, here and everywhere this season. In Berkeley we have the coyly named Coalition for a Sustainable West Berkeley (listed in city filings as Coalition for a Sustainable West Berkeley for Measure T, hereinafter CSWBMT). They’ve been sending expensive glossy products to my house on a regular basis.

As documented here and also on berkeleyside.com, CSWBMT has claimed on a couple of their shiny mailers that they’re endorsed by Service Employees International Union 1021, the union local that represents public employees throughout Northern California.

And that was—a Giant Whopper, Berkeley-style.

How could this happen? Curiosity got the better of me last night, and I dropped in on a special meeting of Berkeley’s Fair Campaign Practices Commission, where I witnessed a remarkable performance which I might previously have thought could happen only in Chicago. 

Darrel DeTienne is a San Francisco guy who’s a dead ringer for Daddy Warbucks in the old Orphan Annie comic strip. Over the years he has fronted for a variety of developers and wannabes licking their chops over West Berkeley. Now he’s working for the CSWBMT. 

The commission was responding to a complaint about CSWBMT's untrue claim of SEIU 1021 endorsement which had been filed by Zelda Bronstein, a diligent civic watchdog (and Planet contributor) who is currently working with the No on T campaign. It was an informal hearing in which anyone present who wanted to offer information about what happened got five minutes to speak, in order for the commission to determine if it had jurisdiction over the subject matter. Commission secretary Kristy van Herick, from the City Attorney’s office, started off by expressing her doubts about jurisdiction, but the commission chose to hear what everyone had to say before deciding. 

And wow, did they have a lot to say! Bronstein led off with a rapid-fire account of how she’d discovered that the union’s political action committee had actually endorsed No on T despite contrary assertions in the CSWBMT mailer, and further, that a second round of copies of the piece was mailed even after the group had been informed that its claim of endorsement was false. 

And then de Tienne launched into a truly staggering recitation about why he’d made the phony claim in the first place. The gist of it was that he’d sent someone around to “the Permit Center” to round up supporters for his cause, who had persuaded a number of city planning employees to attend a meeting at Au Coquelet café, conveniently located around the corner from the Permit Center, to solidify their position under his guidance. 

His emissary in this mission spoke next—Michael Tolbert, a former planner for the city of Berkeley who’s been retired and living in Napa for the past 10 years. He recounted how he’d rallied his old buddies from the Permit Center to endorse this measure. 

Here I must digress to explain that Berkeley’s Planning Department, which runs the Permit Center, is completely supported by fees paid by those who use their services—in other words, by developers—not by the city of Berkeley’s general fund revenues. Although theoretically as public servants they should be looking out for the best interests of all the citizens of Berkeley, in actual fact they mostly look out for their own jobs. 

More development means more planners: what’s not to like about that? I imagine Tolbert found them easy to convince. 

De Tienne and Tolbert were followed by architect Joe DeCredico, the nominal co-chair of CSWBMT. My sources in Oakland, where he lives, tell me that he’s the guy who recommended Berkeley’s new planning director Eric Angstadt to Berkeley mayor and Measure T proponent Tom Bates. He confirmed the essentials of what his two associates had said. 

In crude terms which they won’t like, what I heard all three of them saying is that they thought the fix was in, and they were Shocked, Shocked, to discover that the Berkeley folks that they’d rounded up to support their cause couldn’t actually deliver 1021’s endorsement. 

In case you think I’m making this up, de Tienne handily provided for the record a complete chronology of how the whole process worked, on which his testimony was based. I didn’t get a chance to read it until this morning, but when I did my jaw dropped even further than it had when I heard his oral account last night. 

It’s appended here for your edification and amusement. 

Here’s just one juicy quote to whet your appetite: 

“9/20/12 Approximately 24 members of SEIU 1021 and Local1 attended a noon meeting at Au Coquelet Cafe Restaurant near the permit center. At that meeting Mike Telbert [sic] and co-chair Deborah Mathews made a presentation on Yes on Measure T and like with the firefighters they conducted a question and answer session. At the end of the meeting Sjdney Coulter, Vice President CSU- SEIU 1021, and Diana Aikenhead , Local 1 Vice President, explained the process of voting for or against an endorsement adding that they would get back to us later in the week or the following week. Mike Tolbert thanked all for attending. After the meeting, Mike and I walked back to the permit center to personally thank Sharon Crosby , Permit Center Manager and SEIU 1021 member, for her support and for allowing the majority of her staff to attend the meeting while she kept the permit center open.” [emphasis added]

Surely this is not the way things are supposed to work in Berkeley? The manager of the Permit Center lets all the employees take off to attend a one-sided presentation by advocates of a political ballot measure? Sounds more and more like Chicago, doesn’t it? 

The final speaker was Peter Albert, the co-chair of SEIU 1021’s political committee. He confirmed press reports that his local had endorsed against Measure T in early September, long before Tolbert and Matthews (a realtor and past chair of Berkeley’s Zoning Adjustment Board) held their meeting with Berkeley’s planning staff. He pointed out that SEIU rules don't allow local endorsement—that only his committee, which serves all of northern California, has the power to endorse. 

He said that he’d checked with three of 24 Berkeley departmental union reps to see why they had been listed as supporters of T. One said that his group was opposed, two didn’t seem to know what it was they’d agreed to, and none of them had checked with the rank-and-file before signing on to the Tolbert/Matthews/deTienne proposal after the Au Coquelet gathering. 

And again, when I looked at the material supplied by de Tienne, everything Albert said was confirmed in mind-boggling detail—read it yourself. Even though I’ve been watching Berkeley political shenanigans for at least thirty years, I never expected to see rumors of Planning Department chicanery displayed like this in front of my eyes, backed up by a written confession. 

Time and space problems prevent me from reporting further here on this amazing meeting, and since I hadn’t planned to report on it at all I didn’t even have my notebook with me. There was one very competent and fully-equipped reporter from another publication at the meeting, and I hope she will fill in the blanks in the account before long. Zelda Bronstein, a longtime Planet contributor, will probably have more to say. 

Keep watching this story—it’s only going to get bigger. 

(P.S. The Planet still endorses No on Proposition 32, but we begin to see why it has its supporters.)