Home to Grove Street Park, the South Berkeley Library, the Ashby BART Station and a struggling shopping area, District 3 sits roughly between Ellsworth and Sacramento streets and Dwight Way and the Oakland border. According to the 1990 census, the area had a median income lower than the city’s as a whole and home values were also below the rest of the city. The area is home to a little less than half the city’s African American population, a reminder of the times when African Americans were unable to live east of Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
The District 3 elections have been rocked by questions around candidate James Peterson, a member of the Zoning Adjustments Board, who accepted funds for his campaign from an applicant whose project was coming before the board. Peterson does not deny receiving the funds and recused himself from the vote on the project, as the city attorney recommended. The Daily Planet interviewed the three District 3 candidates before this news was revealed. These interviews follow.
Vice Mayor Maudelle Shirek is still fighting the good fight, standing up for the little guy, demanding decent affordable housing, living wages, job training, advocating for the rights of children, youth, seniors and others whose voice might get lost in city politics.
Why would an 89-year-old eight-time councilmember - the oldest elected public official in California - want to keep up the day-in-day-out battle, when she could settle into an easy chair and admire the work she’s done as councilmember since 1984?
“I guess I’m just stubborn,” Shirek said with a grin, then, becoming more serious, says, “I still have something else to do, to say, something else to accomplish.”
What are some of the incumbent’s more recent achievements? She reels them off: getting the council to fund job training, helping to relocate Berkeley Bowl to the old Safeway store site at Shattuck Avenue and Oregon Street, getting money into the city’s affordable housing fund, getting $1 million in federal dollars to upgrade the Ashby-Adeline avenues corridor.
When asked if she is anti business, as her opponent James Peterson has charged, the vice mayor smiles.
“I don’t think because I advocate social and economic justice, I am anti business, I think that’s pro-business” she said, explaining that the more people who have jobs – including homeless people – the more money they have to spend, enhancing the overall local economy. “As long as they’re jobless, what do they have to spend?”
She further points to her support of the Bayer Corporation, because of the local jobs and job training it has brought. Another pro-business activity Shirek points to is her support for the revolving loan fund which small South Berkeley businesses have used. Then she talks about her support for the South Berkeley Neighborhood Development Corporation which has brought housing projects with retail on the ground floor to the district.
She is also a strong supporter of the Ed Roberts campus at the Ashby BART station, the complex that will house offices for a variety of disabled support services. It will help revitalize the area, she said.
Among the challenges ahead for Shirek are getting positive changes at the Berkeley Black Repertory Theater. She’s been one of the strongest critics on the council the nonprofit’s current management practices.
Shirek and Peterson appear to agree on this subject, saying it is critical for the governing board to broaden.
“It needs a good community board, instead of it being owned by one family,” Shirek said.
When asked why the African American community in South Berkeley is not a visible force at City Council meetings, Shirek said people in her community organize more on the neighborhood level, with block and neighborhood associations. “People haven’t had an opportunity to fulfill their dreams as they should,” she said. “We’re still having repercussions from slavery.”
When Shirek came to Berkeley in the 40s there was only one black school teacher in Berkeley, one in Oakland and one in San Francisco – “all women”, she said.
Nevertheless, she added, “When the council does not listen, they come out.”
As for crime, Shirek pointed out that she has voted to hire more police. However, she said she thinks a more fundamental response to crime in Berkeley is to provide more job training and open a 24-hour center for young people. The schools are not doing their part, Shirek added.. They’ve eliminated courses for students who don’t plan to go to college, such as auto mechanics, and they need more counselors. The idea of one counselor for 700 students is appalling, she says..
As for what can be done about disparity between the health of the South and west Berkeley African American population and the Caucasian hills population, Shirek points to the $200,000 the progressive faction put into the budget for the city’s health department, funds that the vice mayor and Councilmember Margaret Breland pushed for, to use to fight the high rate of low birthrate babies. The community is meeting to determine how best to spend the funds, Shirek said.
Unlike Peterson, Shirek supports Measure Y, the eviction protection ballot measure. She said she knows several older people who have been put out of their homes, which Measure Y would shelter if it passes in November.
Shirek has long been outspoken on the need for affordable housing. “We have to advocate for the central government to do more. The federal government is cutting down on the number of Section 8 (low income) vouchers,” she said.
Even though she’s running hard along the campaign trail, Shirek is modest when it comes to her accomplishments. “People have helped me do it. I couldn’t do it by myself.”
District 3 residents might see Marcella Crump-Williams riding her bicycle around the neighborhood or know her in her capacity as block captain.
The City Council candidate for District 3 has little experience in formal city government. Instead, her heart has led her into the political arena.
Crump-Williams, who lost her employment at the Oakland Army base when it shut down, saw the suffering of a 95-year-old neighbor and decided to go into politics to remedy the wrong this woman and many other elderly people face.
The woman got sick and ended up, temporarily, in a nursing home. “I saw she was distraught,” Crump-Williams said. “I thought there would have been some way for a caregiver to come into her home so she didn’t have to be moved.”
The city should play a role in providing bonded, in-home care, she said. “When you take people out of their homes, it kills their spirit,” she said.
There’s another problem that Crump-Williams would take on, if elected to the City Council. In fact, it’s a problem she’s already begun to tackle on a neighborhood level. It’s the lack of true integration in her neighborhood.
“There’s a large number of Hispanics moving into Berkeley,” she said. She’s noted that the African American children and Hispanic children do not play together. “They live on the same block,” she said.
To help remedy the situation, Crump-Williams set up a block party and invited Brazilian dancers. They had the participants all stand in a circle and hold hands, Crump-Williams said. The result was that neighbors were holding hands with neighbors they did not know.
She said, she’s noted the divisions are more than skin deep. The Hispanics who are homeowners in her neighborhood do not associate with those living in apartments.
She’s learned even more since she got on the campaign trail. “I didn’t see a black face at the Berkeley Democratic Club,” she said.
Crump-Williams said she would address the issues that divide people in Berkeley, if elected to the council.
As for the question of the Black Repertory Theater, Crump-Williams said that she recalled the time “a long time ago” when there were more shows and more opportunities for children. She said she hopes to help the theater initiate new programs.
There are some new stores on the Alcatraz/Adeline avenue corridor, Crump-WIlliams said. But to help the business district along, she says “We need to have a refacing of the area,” she said. “It needs to look cosmetically up to date.”
Asked about the Ed Roberts Campus, Crump-Williams said she thought the buildings might be too big and block the sun from those nearby.
It could cause more people to come to the area so that the BART station might start charging fees for parking, she said. The project “seems experimental,” she said.
As for affordable housing, Williams said she is “for (affordable housing) for working people. The emphasis is on working,” she said.
As for crime, Crump-WIlliams says there should be a stricter curfew on young people loitering about. “They should be off the streets by 9 p.m.,” she said.
Crump-Williams said she would like people to know what’s going on at the City Council. She’s thinking of organizing people to rotate attending the meetings, one person from 7 to 8 p.m., another from 9 to 10 p.m. and so on, she said. Then people would get together and discuss the issues that relevant to them and see what their options were.
Crump-WIlliams says she is running on her own merits. “I’m not running against so and so,” she said. She’s hired a campaign advisor from San Francisco and said she wants to raise $5,000 for campaign materials, which she plans to have in both English and Spanish.
One sweltering day a couple of weeks ago, James Peterson, City Council candidate for District 3, insisted on wearing a suit jacket for a photograph. It wasn’t about ego. For Peterson, the image he portrays – especially to youth – says everything.
“If they see a James Peterson walking down the street with an Armani suit and a beautiful tie, they’re going to say, ‘I wonder what that guy does. Let’s talk to him. Maybe he can show us something different.’”
Peterson says he’s from the “old school” of good manners and decorum. He’d use these qualities on the council.
“I can help restore dignity and respect (to the City “Council),” he said, adding that he believes he can work with all factions involved in city politics. “I listen carefully,” he said. “I’m not an ideologue.”
It turns out that Peterson cut his teeth working for former Rep. Ron Dellums, D-Berkeley, with whom Shirek has a long association. Shirek appointed Peterson to the Zoning Adjustments Board.
Peterson currently works as a consultant on low-income housing tax credits. He’s working with Volunteers of America, arranging financing for the purchase of a building for a correctional facility for women and their children in east Oakland.
How does Peterson differ from the vice mayor?. “I may be more pro-business than Maudelle,” he said. “I’m not afraid for Berkeley to develop the city in terms of retail business and affordable housing.”
He’s all for bringing “dot-coms” to the city. “I am comfortable with e-commerce as a way of doing business,” he said. He does not support adding a sales tax for those doing Internet sales, and suggested that local independent booksellers get together and create their own web sale sites.
The Berkeley Black Repertory Theater, in District 3, has been soundly criticized in a city auditor’s report for poor management and for being run by one sole family.
“It clearly needs to expand its board,” Peterson said. “The board should include those capable of raising a substantial amount of funds.”
To this, the theater needs to reach out to the public, including the business community, he said.
“I want to see (the theater) on equal footing with the Berkeley Repertory Theater,” Peterson added.
Peterson blames the lack of development along the Adeline/Alcatraz corridor on the “lack of sophisticated leadership from the person who represents that area.” In contrast, Peterson says, “I personally know a lot about high finance.”
He supports the Ed Roberts campus, which he says could be a major source of revitalization of the south Berkeley business district. It is a proposed complex of offices at the Ashby BART Station to include offices for nine organizations that support people with disabilities.
“I propose to spend a great deal of time to put South Berkeley on an equal footing with the other parts of the city, including downtown and Fourth Street.”
As for the problem of crime in the District 3 area, the focus should be on children.
“We can clearly save the children,” he said. “Whether or not we have the capacity to save those who have chosen to solve their differences with guns is a monumental problem that’s clearly much larger than my existence.”
One solution may be a military-type school for youth who get in trouble, such as proposed by Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, “a camp-like program in which we can direct the young people in to teach the young people how to live, how to handle problems.” Berkeley should not create its own school, but hook up with Oakland’s.
Another part of the solution is opening children’s eyes to the world around them.
“We must make certain they are taken to the museum, to art galleries. They will be so impressed,” he said. “It will give their minds a new thought pattern and a new way to look at life.”
Shirek and Peterson take opposing views on Measure Y, which would restrict owner move-in evictions. “It is ill-conceived and poorly written,” Peterson said. “It will adversely and detrimentally impact small black property owners. It’s wrong to create a measure in response to one or two problem (landlords).”
As for the health disparity study that showed the great gap between the health of whites who live in the hills and blacks who live in the flatlands, Peterson asked the question: “How did we let it go so long?”
The answer, he said, is a nurse practitioner program, where nurses would go into the homes to address prevention and intervention.
Peterson has opened an office at 2471 Shattuck Ave. and said he has put $10,000 of his personal funds into the campaign, but does not know how much he will raise.