The sad news of the sudden death of my close friend Patti Dacey came as a shock to me and many others in Berkeley community.
She had remarkably battled lung cancer, coming out of months of chemotherapy and radiation treatment but bouncing back in her typical form, looking great and going on walks to the Farmer’s Market and enjoying great food at local restaurants. She was an incredibly strong and courageous person, and I felt prior to her untimely passing that she would pull through it. So when I received the call that I long dreaded on June 8th telling me she had passed away during her long awaited trip to Europe I was stunned. I did not expect that she would have left us so soon. I was planning on meeting with her when she returned to Berkeley, to hear about her trip and fill her in on all of the latest about what’s been going on in city politics. Unfortunately I never had the chance to say goodbye to her, but I am comforted knowing that she passed away surrounded by her family which she loved.
I have been heartbroken over the past two weeks since Patti’s passing. I thought rather than feeling sad that I would share my thoughts about what Patti meant to me and our community.
In thinking about Patti I can’t help but remember the first time I met her. We were on opposite sides then, and it would be the last time we would be on opposite sides. We worked side by side on many issues over the last seven years: fighting for neighborhoods, historic preservation, the Downtown, rent control, affordable housing and for justice, and I enjoyed every opportunity to work with Patti.
I first met Patti in the spring of 2004, when I was a sophomore at UC Berkeley. I was representing the student government on a proposal to build a bridge over Hearst Avenue connecting two dorms. I attended a meeting of the city Public Works Commission who was voting on whether to support giving the University of California the air rights to build the bridge. I remember Patti’s raspy and strong voice speaking out forcefully why giving the University our air rights without anything in return was a bad idea. She made such compelling points that it persuaded me to give second thought to my position. Another fun memory of Patti was when we were part of a group of Berkeley activists who after the 2005 UC-City settlement agreement lobbied the city for an inclusive community process on planning the Downtown. I remember one Planning Commission meeting in which we took over the audience and Patti made quips, to provide levity and to also stir things up. It incensed the Planning Commission Chair so much that he was banging his gavel saying “Patricia, Patricia”. Patti loved to shake things up, and cause trouble for the status quo.
I really got to know Patti when she and I were both appointed by Councilmember Kriss Worthington as his representatives to the newly formed Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee (DAPAC), a commission tasked in coming up with a new plan for Berkeley’s Downtown. During the two year process I got to work closely with Patti. She made her points during meetings with great eloquence, skill and humor. She knew how to ease a very tense situation with her incredible wit. She also knew how to stick it to people who deserved it with her brilliant quips. Thanks to Patti we were able to build a broad coalition on the DAPAC which led to 17 of the 21 members supporting a vision for the Downtown. It’s hard to imagine 17 people agreeing on anything in Berkeley, but it happened thanks to Patti’s great coalition building skills, reaching out to members, building relationships and helping develop great strategies to move our agenda forward. One example of Patti’s great work is her critical role in drafting the DAPAC Historic Preservation Chapter, which she stopped from being watered down by anti-preservation forces.
As the Downtown Plan left the DAPAC it went to the Planning Commission which Patti sat on. Over the next year and a half, Patti and Gene Poschman defended the DAPAC Plan and fought hard to stop the plan from being gutted by the Planning Commission majority. She used her great strategic skills to stop bad amendments, and when she was in the minority she and Gene stuck to their principles and voted no. Ultimately the Planning Commission would eviscerate the DAPAC Plan. As the Plan went to the City Council, she, and Gene Poschman and I helped pull together a coalition of former DAPAC members, environmentalists and other community leaders to push for the adoption of the DAPAC Plan. We had to literally fight to get a seat at the table, because the Mayor and staff wouldn’t allow the DAPAC to make a presentation on its plan, contrary to City rules. Ultimately the Council adopted a hodgepodge of both plans, with a poison pill, Policy LU-8.3, which was a loophole around community benefit requirements. Incensed about the passage of this watered down Plan, Patti and I were leaders of the effort to referend the Downtown Plan. After an intense one-month non-stop campaign throughout the city, including harassment anti-petition forces, we submitted 9,200 signatures to stop the Council’s Downtown Plan. I remember feeling incredibly proud and basking in the victory with Patti who worked hard to make it happen.
We ultimately became the spokespeople for the opposition to the City Council’s high rise vision for the Downtown. We made a great team, and I loved having her as my debate partner. Together we would speak at community meetings, and win over the crowd. Ultimately we would end up fighting the City Council’s advisory measure R on the 2010 ballot, which unfortunately passed. In the end the Plan was back at the Planning Commission and Patti and Gene fought hard to make the plan better, pushing for community benefits, affordable housing and neighborhood protections.
Throughout the 8 year struggle on the Downtown Plan, Patti and I worked side by side. We also worked closely on so many other efforts including defending rent control, the effort to stop the Mayor’s revision to the Landmarks Ordinance and the successful campaign to defeat it, as well as my successful campaign to the Berkeley City Council. Patti was one of my campaign managers.
During her five years on the Planning Commission she was an incredible advocate for neighborhoods, preservation and social justice. She fought the pro-developer majority and yet even those she often disagreed with held great respect and affection for her. She would often bring a dull and serious meeting to life with her sense of humor, and was never afraid to speak truth to power. She stopped the commission from circumventing public process; she used her legal training to challenge staff, and used her great eloquence, skill and wit to fight for the needs of neighborhoods and everyday people.
Outside of the Planning Commission she was a resource for neighborhoods that were facing inappropriate development projects, code violations, or other issues. She sued the city when it was wrong and won, twice! So much that she was feared by certain developers and lawyers.
Patti was always on the right side of every issue, and she had great integrity and a passion for fighting for justice, whether it was an illegal and immoral war, or injustices happening in her own community. She was someone we could always depend on.
On a personal level Patti was a mentor, close friend and adviser. Someone who I trusted and who wouldn't sugar coat things but would always be truthful, and who had a brilliant mind and who could give me great advice on important issues. She had a big heart and was a loyal friend. She also helped me learn and grow as a person, and I am forever changed because of her. I owe her so much and I wouldn't be where I am without her.
Patti was a person of great courage, conviction, integrity, brilliance, and humor. She brought life to everyone around her, and made Berkeley a wonderful place. She has made a lasting impact on our community. Patti loved Berkeley and gave selflessly to improve her community. Patti represented the best of Berkeley.
Her passing is a tremendous loss for our city. Not only are we losing a dedicated public servant, but someone who was a champion for Berkeley’s values. A part of our city died when she passed. But we need to carry on her legacy and spirit. While we can mourn, we also have to organize and continue the many struggles that Patti so ably fought for.