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Incumbent still has many goals

By Judith Scherr Daily Planet Staff
Wednesday September 06, 2000

Councilmember Betty Olds, 79, has served the community for more than two decades.  

Even before she won a seat on the rent board, on which she served for eight years before winning her council seat in 1992, she was a commissioner on the Zoning Adjustments Board. 

Olds’ council aide, Susan Wengraf, heads her campaign. The incumbent expects to spend about $15,000 on the race. 

A staunch member of the council’s moderate faction, made up of Mayor Shirley Dean, Councilmember Polly Armstrong and, sometimes, Councilmember Diane Woolley, Olds is a fiscal conservative, relative to the more progressive council faction.  

While she supported resolutions to put some tax and bond issues on the ballot, such as taxes for parks and the library, Olds opposed putting a new lighting tax before the voters. The $3 million that the council majority allocated to other projects, should have been directed to lighting, she said. 

Olds describes herself as an environmentalist and takes credit for blocking a new hotel proposed for the city’s waterfront.  

Probably the issue Olds has worked hardest on in the recent past is building a new fire house in District 6.  

Some close neighbors to the proposed site at Shasta and Park Gate roads have said they don’t want the station on their street. 

“I just want a new firehouse,” Olds said. An Environmental Impact Report is being prepared to look at impacts of siting the fire station there and Olds says that should give the neighbors the information they need. “We need the best possible response time,” she said. 

District 6 has special public works needs. Roads in the hills are in bad shape, she said.  

“It costs twice as much to resurface streets in the hills,” which have problems with water run-off. Undergrounding utilities is also a priority for Olds. 

Another problem unique to the district is land instability. 

“Houses are sliding,” Olds said. 

One of the things that the councilmember prides herself on, is working as a go-between to activate city bureaucrats on residents’ behalf.  

Olds pointed to the case of two senior citizens almost evicted by a landlord who said he wanted to move into their apartment. “I went to the owner and saw that they stopped the eviction,” Olds said. 

Olds said she is working for more citizen participation in council meetings by promoting civility among council members. “It starts with us as a council,” she said. 

She also wants streamlined meetings. “We should do something about people monopolizing the council,” she said. Meetings should end by 11 p.m.  

“If necessary, we should start at 6 p.m.,” Olds said. Meetings now begin at 7 p.m. 

She blames the progressive majority for the number of agenda items carried without action from meeting to meeting. “If the majority does not want to take up an item, they don’t bring it up,” Olds said. 

“Anything not (disposed of) within two meetings should be dropped,” she contended. 

When asked about the health disparity study, which showed that African Americans in the flatlands have much poorer health than the white hills dwellers, Olds said this is a concern. 

“There’s not a simple solution,” she said, noting that people can go to the doctor in Berkeley, but sometimes do not. Habits such as drinking and smoking need to be addressed, she said. 

“The main thing is doing a lot of outreach,” she said. “Education is the solution.” This will take time, she said. 

As for Berkeley’s housing crisis, Olds said the city needs more apartments, both market rate and affordable.  

But Olds said the fundamental question has not been addressed.  

“How many more people can we handle without becoming (another) San Francisco?” 

Instead of building more housing, one solution would be to work with the existing housing stock, with people renting out parts of their homes, for example. 

Olds has concerns about Measure Y, the ballot measure that stops landlords from moving into apartments they own. Had the measure simply addressed seniors and disabled people, she said she would have supported it.  

However, because it also targets people who have lived in homes for five years and mandates moving costs when a low-income renter is displaced, Olds said she can’t support it.  

Measure Y will cause landlords to rent only to students who they know will vacate the apartments every few years, she said. 

As for traffic, Olds said it’s up to the police to address the problem through enforcement. The city was supposed to get three new traffic officers, but got only two, she said.