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Mayor’s State of the City address sheds light

By Judith Scherr Daily Planet staff
Friday May 04, 2001


Berkeley Lite is an occasional column illuminating, among others, those who’d like to shine us on.  

Thanks to Mayor Shirley Dean for lightening things up – or should I say lightning up – the usually ho-hum state of the  

city address.  

Having called for unity, our mayor put forward an underground park parking plan her naysayers say will be the lightning rod that galvanizes the opposition of park neighbors, environmentalists, preservationists and wanna-be mayors. 

Apparently, the speech was Shirley’s second State of the City address this year. The first was delivered to the Chamber of Commerce. Actually, the chamber, not the mayor, billed the address as the State of the City speech. The earlier speech wasn’t the real deal, said a mayoral staffer, in the absence of Dean who, Thursday, was traveling to yet another mayor’s conference. 

And for any who may have got the wrong message – an aide to the mayor inadvertently told a few people that the speech was an invitation-only affair – the event was open to all and, if a person had received one of the 1,000 personal invitations, confirmation was not necessary. 

While e-mail trees & letters to the editor since Tuesday’s talk have been punctuated with gasps and gags concerning the mayor’s plan to put parking under the historic Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park – which most of us find easier to keep calling Provo Park – there are a number of elements of the mayor’s proposal that should be considered seriously: closing Allston Way is a beautiful idea, saving high school students from the daily near-death experience of criss-crossing it. And extending the park across MLK, with the street diving underneath, is a wonderfully creative, albeit expensive, idea. Opening up the underground creek would be really cool.  

As for more parking, well, the city hasn’t even started doing what it should to get its staff riding public transit and biking to work. And the idea of a citywide bus pass is still making the rounds through various commissions and committees. The pass, probably one of the best ideas that has come out of city hall, should be brought to fruition before a penny more is spent on proposals for new parking. 

Speaking of spending millions, how ‘bout the beautiful new Longfellow school. OOPS. No lockers. Parents are furious and the kids’ backs are beginning to ache. That’s our tax dollars at work, a real irony if one parent goes through with her threat to sue the school board over it. 

But back to the State of the City speech, and those $7,200-$8,000 drawings depicting the mayor’s vision of downtown underground parking. There are a variety of views on how the drawings came about. Public Works Director Rene Cardinaux says he was already having a draftsman draw up pictures of the civic center, following discussions with the Alameda County Superior Court and downtown businesses. At the mayor’s request, he added the concept of underground parking. The total bill to the draftsman would be about $15,000, he said, with about half of that coming from the mayor’s request for designs of the underground parking. 

When the Daily Planet asked about City Council procedures and whether a mayor or council person could ask for such expensive things, Cardinaux added that before having the drawings executed, he followed the rules and got City Manager Weldon Rucker’s okay. 

Rucker tells it differently. “He’s getting things mixed up,” he said when told what Cardinaux had said. Rucker says he ordered the entire set of drawings, following discussions with the courts, schools and downtown interests. “It did not necessarily come through the mayor,” he said, explaining: “I’m saying that I ordered (the drawings).” 

Mayoral aide Barbara Gilbert had a third recollection. She said she thought the mayor had made use of old drawings from years ago when the underground garage had been discussed. 

While the mayor was doing her thing on Tuesday, down the street – by coincidence? – Dean’s arch rival was holding court, celebrating GLBTQ (gay lesbian bisexual transgender questioning) victories for the year.  

Timing of the event aside, kudos to those who spoke, especially the cop who stood up and “came out,” as they say, to her fellow city staffers and the community. Says something for our fair (just) city and for evolving attitudes in our police department. 

Speaking of kudos, congrats go to John Geluardi, city hall reporter, for picking up an honorable mention in news reporting at the Peninsula Press Club awards event last week.  

The story of this week, however, goes to our sports desk. Figure this – the newly named head of the UC Berkeley Athletics Department not only has minimal management experience, but was on the search team for the job and was not among the finalists. Go Bears. 


On a very somber note, we at the Daily Planet offer our heartfelt condolences to the family of Nambi Phelps, the Oxford School fourth grader who died Tuesday morning. We made a conscious decision not to go to the school to interview distraught friends and teachers or to contact the grieving family. There is no greater tragedy for a parent than to lose a child. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family.