A day after Vice President Al Gore and Gov. George W. Bush bored the country to sleep during their first debate, Berkeley’s City Council hopefuls tried to pump new life into democracy at a grassroots election forum Wednesday evening, taped live at the Berkeley Community Media studios and broadcast on TV-25.
Titled the “Transportation, Housing and Environment Forum,” the tribunal was sponsored by the Bicycle Friendly Berkeley Coalition and other groups which focus on the environment and transportation issues.
Candidates opened with a statement on their vision for Berkeley’s housing, transportation, jobs and environment.
Each responded to the personal question asking for the “best and worst thing that you do for the environment.”
Nearly every candidate said driving a car was the worst thing that they do that harms the environment. Councilmember Betty Olds sparked controversy by admitting that she uses her fireplace five or six times during the winter.
“We’re very interested in letting the voters know how the candidates stand on this,” said organizer Jason Meggs of the Bicycle-Friendly Berkeley Coalition. “Livable city issues are very close to the heart of bicycle groups.”
Jane Bergen of the League of Women Voters moderated the forum, which will be broadcast five more times before the election.
The incumbents – Maudelle Shirek from District 3, Betty Olds from District 6 and Margaret Breland’s aide Calvin Fong, who spoke on Breland’s behalf – talked about their track records on the issues and the connection between transportation, housing and the environment.
“Margaret’s advocacy on housing, health care and education are some of the reasons that the National Women’s Political Caucus and the John George Democratic Club endorsed her,” Fong said. “Truly addressing the interconnectedness of jobs, housing, transportation and the environment could allow us to be the first and most sustainable city in the world.”
Fong said that Breland was unable to attend because she was resting after chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer.
“Housing, jobs and education have been the cornerstone for progressive values for decades. In recent years, health care and the environment have joined them in the ranking of top issues,” Vice Mayor Shirek said. “Today we understand the importance of linking together where we live, where we work and where we go to school. Understanding these links today is a practical necessity as well as my moral and political vision for social justice.”
Shirek, the only District 3 candidate at the forum, said she would actively support students for housing against “the corporation that is the UC,” and fight to provide affordable housing “come hell or high water.” .
Olds, who along with Shirek, is supported by the Sierra Club, said that her hills district has needs that are very different from the flatlands.
She talked about the need for better bus service in the hills “because not everyone can ride a bicycle.” Olds also said that she would have the courage to face neighborhoods which may not want to provide more housing, and said that she would like to develop housing with no parking.
Norine Smith, Olds opponent, did not disagree, but added that AC Transit service stops too early in the hills. She also said that she would work for shuttles, such as alternatively powered cable cars, that could pick up residents and shoppers at the three BART stations.
Smith also said she would ask UC Berkeley to turn the Underhill Parking lot into student housing.
The other District 6 candidate in attendance, Eleanor Pepples, said that she would work collaboratively with other groups and cross party lines and cross districts to push for more housing and the repaving of roads in her district.
District 2 candidate Gina Sasso, who said that this is her third time running for council, talked about the need to build more affordable housing. “It’s a right to sleep, not a privilege,” she said.
Sasso said she wants to put an end to gentrification, and said she would work to build low-income housing in the South Shattuck and South San Pablo areas.
District 5 candidate and AC Transit director Miriam Hawley said that, if elected, she would implement the city’s bike plan, make pedestrian and bicycle safety a top priority and “make it easier to ride the bus.”
Hawley said that she would work to increase bus ridership by providing a bus pass similar to the UC Berkeley “class pass,” adding signage and redesigning bus stops.
Landmark Preservation Commissioner and District 5 candidate Carrie Olson said she would push for public transit 24 hours a day. Moreover, she said that she would also work for a mode of alternative transportation that would run from the Rockridge or McArthur BART station to the university, then through downtown and down University Ave. to the Fourth Street train station.
“This would pull commuters to UC out of their cars and reduce the need for parking around the campus and free up Underhill for housing,” she said. Olson also wanted a car-free overlay district as part of the new General Plan.
District 5 candidate Tom Kelly said that streamlining the process that allows construction to take place, and getting that construction up to “green” standards, could alleviate the housing crisis and help revitalize the city.
Kelly also thought shuttles from BART at peak times would be effective. He talked about attractive pedestrian zones that could be linked with transportation options that could reduce the number of cars coming into the city.
Benjamin Rodefer, also a District 5 candidate, said he doesn’t believe that there is a housing shortage. He says the problem is pricing.
“We have to make sure that there is low-income housing and protection for everyone,” he said.
Rodefer also said that Berkeley’s revitalization should spread to south Shattuck, south San Pablo and along I-80.
He also called for incentives for using hybrid and electric cars, such as free parking for those vehicles.
“The small things can make a difference,” he said.
The forum will air on B-TV the following dates:
• 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 23
• 8 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 24
• 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 29
• 1 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 1
• 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 4