New: Berkeley Mayor Uses Official Newsletter and Public Resources to Oppose Green Downtown Petitions; Arreguin Protests

By Becky O'Malley
Tuesday May 06, 2014 - 10:12:00 AM

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates has used his official online newsletter, the “Bates Update”, to oppose the “Green Downtown” initiative petitions which are now being circulated in advance of the November election, and Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, who supports the measure, has cried foul.

In a letter sent yesterday to City Manager Chris Daniel, Arreguin said that the recent issue of the email publication urges voters to be wary of “a measure that would cripple the voter-approved downtown plan." He says that’s “not an impartial statement but rather a negative statement which in the context of the overall email implies that voters should not sign the petition.”

The full text of the Bates letter can be found here . It uses as a return address the mayor’s official City of Berkeley email address, mayor@cityofberkeley.info, and the street address of Berkeley City Hall.

Arreguin also told Daniel that at Bates’ State of the City speech last Wednesday the mayor openly urged people to not sign the initiative, as the Berkeleyside.com site reported : “... he urged the community not to vote for a plan he said is designed to 'stop growth downtown,'the Green Downtown Public Commons Initiative."

The councilmember said that he believes that the State of the City presentation was organized by the mayor’s office and that its costs were paid from the Mayor's Office budget.

​He alleged that “These two public statements using government resources appear to violate the state law around misuse of public resources for political purposes and are also certainly contrary to the memo you sent previously discouraging political activity using city resources.” 

Daniels’ memo, dated March 25, 2014 and addressed to the mayor, councimembers and department heads, said that “it is extremely important to refrain from activities that may give an appearance of favoring or opposing any candidate or advocating the passage or defeat of measures.” 

Charles Burress (who formerly covered Berkeley as a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and has recently been hired by the city as an assistant to Mayor Bates to work on press relations) confirmed that the "Bates Update" is produced by city employees, including himself. He said he was not familiar with the Daniels memo.