Election Answers No Questions for Berkeley

By Becky O'Malley
Friday November 09, 2012 - 11:14:00 AM

Well, election day has come and gone, and have we learned anything?

One thing which we seem to have learned is that despite all the weeping and gnashing of teeth by certain parties, Americans seem to think that Barack Obama is doing as well as can be expected under the circumstances. That’s sort of a mandate: You have our permission not to screw up. Nothing wrong with that, but the guy’s still walking a tightrope.

The difference between 2008 and 2012 is that the penalty for trying something bolder is much less, thanks to term limits. Whatever he does, Obama will be out in four years, and that must feel like liberation.

Let’s hope he takes advantage of the opportunity and proposes trying something radical like—oh, I don’t know—taxing the rich. Dealing with immigration. Closing Guantanamo. Improving health care. Replacing No Child Left Behind with something better, not just more of the same. Pursuing a real Keynesian stimulus program instead of the watered-down imitation he tried in the first term. Spending the money on things we really need: not more school buildings, but more teachers. We all have lots of ideas about what he could do, don’t we?

Here in Berkeley, the situation is a bit different. The Mayor-for-Life, free from the nasty constraints imposed by term limits, has been re-elected by Berkeleyans who have a strong emotional investment in believing that—cue up the tune from Bernstein’s Candide—This is the Best of All Possible Worlds. In fact, all the incumbents were re-elected. No surprise—we love eating our organic lotuses, and we boast of having the best restaurants in the world to cook them up and serve them to us on silver platters .

Some fun has been made in other quarters of the headline in a local “news site” over a post-election insider interview with Bates: “Mayor Bates hails election as harbinger of change.” I’m not sure the headline writer didn’t have a certain ironic consciousness in writing that line—since by design not much is going to change under the new term won by the old regime. 

Passing Measure M, a deliberately vague bond issue which can and will be used to buy more of the same, was the satisfied citizen’s way of saying that all is well in his world—don’t bother me with the details, just send me the bill. Overtures by dissatisfied citizens to know more about what’s going on, Measures U and V, were soundly thrashed. And here another song that always pops into my head when writing about Berkeley should be cued: sung by one of the witches in The Wiz, “Don’t Nobody Never Bring Me No Bad News.” 

In fact, Bates and company seem not to have gotten the mandates for change that they’d hoped for in Measures S and T. There’s still a bit of excitement about what the final count will be. We’ve studiously avoided pseudo-scientific speculation based on incomplete data, but former Planning Commission Chair Rob Wrenn, who really knows his stuff, offers the best possible predictions at this point in time in this issue of what the outcome might be. 

It does look like a majority of those who cared enough to vote on Measure S, the anti-sitting ordinance, were not in favor of legislated change to already stringent penalties for being down and out on Berkeley sidewalks. This is not to say they opposed provision of adequate services to deal with obvious problems, they just didn’t buy the one-stop-shopping remedy proferred by the Downtown Berkeley Association (DBA, often called the Downtown Business Association, even by its supporters) and put on the ballot by the mayor’s majority. 

Measure T, spot-zoning of a few large parcels in West Berkeley, is still on a knife’s edge as of this writing, but here too there was no rush to drink the kool-aid which the mayor was pouring on behalf of the big landholders. Even if T passes, it’s obvious that the council majority can expect the same stiff opposition to attempts to bypass public process in land use decisions that it’s already experienced from West Berkeley residents, artists and small manufacturers. 

For both of these measures, opponents did a bang-up job of getting the word out despite having much less cash to spend than the corporate proponents who poured in the cash. At least $110,000 was spent on behalf of Measure S, mostly by commercial property corporations, and it seems to have lost anyway, thanks to hard-working citizen volunteers who still believe in civil rights for all. 

The story that still needs to be told is how much each side in all the local elections spent, and the best way to present it is by highlighting how much was spent to buy each vote. We’ll need the final tallies to do this calculation, and it will be tedious arithmetic, but it will tell us a lot. 

In fact, we’re so eager to see this result that we’re offering a prize to the first person who produces it (according to our strict mathematical standards) after the votes have been officially counted. We’re offering the winner a $50 gift certificate to use at Sweet Adeline’s Bake Shop, a local business in the Lorin District which courageously displayed a No on S poster in their window. 

Which brings us to another sticky subject. There’s a long list of small businesses posted on the Yes on S web site who were conned into endorsing what the DBA thought was the politically correct position. Some of them seem not to have signed up—I checked with my friends at Bill’s Trading Post on College, who have supported good causes for years, and the boss lady whose name was used said she’d never agreed to have her business’s name used and that she didn’t support S at all. On the other hand, we asked a student intern to call some of the others who’d endorsed S, and they confirmed that they had indeed signed on with John Caner, DBA CEO.  

Personally, I’m getting tired of the DBA’s meaningless “Shop Local” push—not all local businesses represent what used to be called Right Livelihood. I’ll still patronize Bill at the Roxy Deli, and Bobby at Bobby G’s pizzeria, both of whom declined to support Measure S and do what they can to help their homeless neighbors. But Yes on S has provided me with a handy list of local businesses to boycott, and I’m going to use it. 

So, then, what did last Tuesday’s local election mean for Berkeley’s future? In the main there’s no point in trying to answer that question until all the votes are counted—the county clerk’s office hopes that will be before Thanksgiving. Stay tuned, watch this space, and keep on truckin’.