Berkeley's problems are not unique to us

Becky O'Malley
Friday February 24, 2017 - 06:03:00 PM

Regular readers of the Planet might be surprised, as I have been, to see that this issue contains contributions from current or former elected officials in three cities outside our usual Berkeley beat. But when you read them, you might discover that they’re on themes which have Berkeley resonance—it could happen here, and probably will. 

First, the obvious one. Richmond Mayor Tom Butts takes up the topic of lazy stereotyping by metropolitan papers of suburban cities (not as much of an oxymoron as you might think at first). He’s annoyed, rightly, by what might be called the Rough Richmond meme (a neo-clever term I’m never sure I’m using right.) Richmond is portrayed as being in the thrall of radical spendthrifts and worse, teetering on the brink of bankruptcy because of over-generous employee pensions and other extravagance.  

Now, there exists a worthy discussion of the topic of underfunded liabilities, but here’s the point: There’s nothing special about Richmond. Berkeley too has its panicky deficit hawks, as do many other cities, and they might have a point, but it’s a much more general situation with the statewide CALPERS pension system very much in the middle. It’s just easier to pick on Richmond than to explain the whole complicated ball of wax. 

Berkeley’s stereotype is one part that old familiar Bezerkeley( “they’re always coming up with wacky ideas”) and another part the “grey ponytails” dominion, a place populated by elderly liberals who inexplicably cling to homes which they could be selling for millions to wealthy younger people. 

Next, we’re uniquely soft on homelessness, of course. Many, and not just metro papers, believe that homelessness in whatever city they happen to be in is created by civic laxity, which causes homeless people to flock there. Many Berkeleyans will tell you that with a straight face. 

But it’s not so easy, as the former mayor of Albany, a real small town wedged between the urban towns (again, not an oxymoron) of Richmond and Berkeley, knows, since the down-and-out have spilled over there too. The challenge of dealing with what are colloquially called crazies without killing them is the same in all three cities. It’s a problem of the whole big society, not special for us. 

And speaking of the police, how about that Santa Cruz story? How often do you see the local cops holding a press conference to denounce Homeland Security? Not very often until now, because HS (or ICE, or whichever of its many acronymic subdivisions you might encounter) hasn’t been in the habit of raiding localities in exactly this terrifying way in the Obama administration (which did, however, deport more than its share in other ways.)  

Listen up, Berkeley, this too could happen here. In fact, it did happen here 75 years ago, as our Japanese American residents (mostly living west of Grove Street because of housing discrimination) were removed en masse by the fearful majority. You might think Berkeleyans would have known better, being educated and all, but nobody prevented it.  

The latest bunch of lunatic executive orders threatens especially two very disparate groups: those from countries where Islam is the dominant religion (except perhaps Christians from there) and the Spanish-speaking undocumented migrants from this hemisphere, most of them Christians but who cares about that? 

It’s been reported that the Santa Cruz police are now working on a new set of protocols which will enable them to detect and resist immigration raids disguised as anti-crime actions. If they actually do figure out how not to be fooled for a second time, perhaps the manual they’re proposing to create for this purpose could be shared with the Berkeley police.  

Also, I’ve learned that the Santa Cruz city council has not yet actually passed a sanctuary ordinance, just a sanctuary resolution, which is not binding, just advisory. Language intended to toughen up their stance has been in the works now through several city council meetings, but has been postponed repeatedly, despite the protestations of two councilmembers recently elected on a progressive slate but still a minority. Even the more moderate councilmembers are outraged by this new development, so they just might pass a tough ordinance next week. 

It's time for Berkeley’s new progressive majority to take a hard look at our own sanctuary ordinance (or resolution?) and to ask our police what procedures they have in place to prevent being fooled by the federals.  

One good idea proposed by my source on the Santa Cruz council is some sort of conference of elected officials from the progressive cities of Northern California to trade survival strategies. 

It’s a brave new world, folks, and we’re all in the soup together. Might as well learn to swim.