The Berkeley City Council Passes--On Almost Everything

Becky O'Malley
Friday June 27, 2014 - 08:43:00 AM

Okay. This week we deserve the heroine medal for slogging through the better part of the video of Tuesday’s Berkeley City Council meeting so you didn’t have to do it.

Not only that, we’ve surfed the Internet to find for your amusement the best of (well maybe all of) the media accounts of the dreadful doings. What’s interesting is that the various reporters, at least as of this writing, enacted the Blind Men Describing the Elephant parable—that is to say they described just the small part of the whole that they were able to get ahold of. But all in all, it adds up to a sorry story. What the council didn't do far outweighs anything they accomplished. 

First, on the consent calendar, passed unanimously: 

37. Civic Center District Overlay Zone
From: Mayor Bates and Councilmember Arreguin
Request the City Manager to draft an ordinance establishing a Civic Center District Overlay Zone and to bring it to the Council for a first reading at the Sept. 9, 2014 meeting. The ordinance should be consistent with the Civic Center District Overlay section of the proposed initiative ordinance submitted to the City Clerk on April 8, 2014 and titled "Initiative Ordinance Amending Downtown Zoning Provisions and Creating Civic Center Historic District Overlay Zone."
Financial Implications: See report
Contact: Tom Bates, Mayor, 981-7100
This was predicted in the East Bay Express in a June 17 column entitled Can Bates Outsmart Anti-Growthers, Again? In his subhead, Robert Gammon (also the Express’s editor) explains it all: 

“Berkeley's mayor has put forward an ingenious proposal that could help derail a November ballot measure that seeks to stifle downtown development.” 

Gammon, an otherwise competent reporter, has never met a development he didn’t like, and in this instance he was happy to label Berkeley’s Green Downtown Initiative as anti-growth, facts to the contrary notwithstanding. But he called it correctly: Mayor Bates did orchestrate the enactment of the money language from the initiative on Tuesday, in an attempt to sink the rest of it in November. Councilmember Arreguin, the initiative’s main backer, even co-sponsored. We’ll see if Bates’ trick works in the fall election. 

Next, Berkeley council skips 'sexy' bond measure, puts parks maintenance on November ballot, by Judith Scherr, another generally competent reporter with a few blind spots. As I watched the item online, what was most notable is that those who opposed the bond measure were not present at the council meeting. Obviously, they’d made their point with Bates’ proprietary council majority in some back room somewhere, so they didn’t have to show up. Since it’s hard to get behind the Contra Costa Times pay wall to read the story, here’s the best quote from opponents in Scherr’s story: 

“Robert Collier, a leader in the community group that worked to formulate the bond measure, addressed the council during the mandatory public hearing on placing the bond on the ballot, which was held after the council approved placing the tax measure on the ballot. ‘For anyone to say that there is a factual reason to believe that one has a better chance over the other is simply not factual,’ Collier said, arguing that the campaign for the bond would ‘create much more excitement and would have many more foot soldiers than a parks tax campaign.’ Visibly angry, Collier added, ‘All these people here, whichever way we wind up voting on a parks tax in November, I think I can say without almost any exception, none of us will work for a parks tax. It's your campaign. Good luck.’
Moving right along, the Daily Cal featured this story: Berkeley City Council holds off on independent redistricting commission by Nico Correia. Students were the group stung worst by the council majority’s inexcusable gerrymandering of the district lines, which ended up locking co-ops out of voting in the so-called “student” district and engendering a referendum which will be on the November ballot, though too late to fix the problem for the next election. 


Finally, Downtown initiative put on ballot; city may lose millions in fees, written for Berkeleyside.com by Frances Dinkelspiel. As an editor and former card-carrying English Major, I may (or might) quibble with use of the hypothetical subjunctive to describe the finances in that headline. I would say "might", not "may". 

Nevertheless, her story adeptly catches the flavor of the unseemly display I saw on my screen in the council video: 

The majority of the Berkeley City Council exerted its political muscle Tuesday night by voting for a ballot description for the downtown initiative drawn up by Mayor Tom Bates that is less flattering than the ones offered by the city attorney and Councilman Jesse Arreguín, the main proponent of the initiative. Bates’ description of the initiative, which would require all buildings in the downtown area over 60 feet to meet high environmental standards that are now voluntary, uses terms like “impose significant new requirements,” and “restrict” and “reduce.” It also mentions a provision that would “reduce hours of operation for businesses selling or serving alcohol.” In contrast, Arreguín’s proposed ballot language used words like “modify,” “require additional fees and community benefits,” “affordable units” and “increase bicycle, handicapped car share and vehicle parking.” City Attorney Zach Cowan’s language included “eliminate streamlined permit procedures,” “reduce heights” and “require additional fees and concessions by developers.”  

“If the average person reads these they will not believe they are describing the same ballot measure,” said City Councilman Kriss Worthington. “One is describing it as evil incarnate and the other is describing it as the angel of mercy to save Berkeley.” 

Judith Scherr also noted the final passage on second reading of Berkeley’s truncated minimum wage ordinance. What she didn’t say is that it seems, if you believe what Carolyn Jones reported in the San Francisco Chronicle, that Mayor Tom Bates is continuing his attempt to do an end run around Berkeley’s ordinance, which could be repealed at any time, by advancing a proposal by the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce for a regional (and softer) version of the law: East Bay mayors looking to raise minimum wage together

Most of these stories allude to, without explicitly describing, the increasingly uncivil tone at Berkeley’s City Council meetings, largely created by Mayor Tom Bates. He often pretends not to notice the button-pushes of the three progressive councilmembers when they're trying to be recognized to speak. He almost shouts them down with his interruptions when they supposedly have the floor. Councilmember Linda Maio sits at his elbow and tries to mother-hen him into better behavior, but it’s getting harder and harder for her to intervene. 

Talking to advocates for some of the rejected proposals, I learned that several groups thought they had a deal with Councilmember (and rumored mayoral aspirant) Laurie Capitelli, only to have him renege at the last minute. Evidently he’s sweetness and light in negotiations, and then votes against what he’s supported (or even co-sponsored) on orders from….?? You can fill in the blank yourself. 

And if you have masochistic tendencies, you could always watch the council meeting yourself using the link below. But if you're sensitive—and here’s one of those currently popular trigger warnings—it ain’t purty. 

Get Microsoft Silverlight  

UPDATE: Berkeley council clashes over downtown development initiative