First-ever event unlike usual State of City talk
The first-ever People’s State of the City Address served up good food, good music and plenty of ideas for the city’s future.
In contrast to a traditional State of the City Address that usually reflects a chief executive’s vision, organizers, which included Councilmembers Margaret Breland and Kriss Worthington as well as Rent Stabilization Board Chair Max Anderson, sought to “offer a ‘peoples’ State of the City Address, expressing many snapshots arranged in a collage of voices, reflecting a kaleidoscope of opinions and visions for the near future,” according to the event program.
About 200 people attended the event, which featured more than a dozen speakers who addressed a comprehensive array of issues including energy, housing, disabilities and racial diversity. While the subject matter covered the most serious issues facing the city, the event wasn’t without a sense of fun and celebration.
Organizers provided a spread of Latin, Middle Eastern, African and vegetarian food and, between brief speeches, the audience was entertained by the sounds of local jazz singer Gwen Avery and the debut of The Nancys, a group made up of women named Nancy, which included former Councilmember Nancy Skinner, former Zoning Adjustments Board Chair Nancy Carleton, Public Works Commissioner Nancy Holland and former Arts Commissioner Nancy Gorrell.
“I thought it was fun and very informative,” event host Worthington said on Wednesday. “There were lots of interesting ideas and the compelling memory of the night is the interplay of all these issues.”
The event was inspired by Mayor Shirley Dean’s State of the City Address on May 1, Worthington said.
Dean, who leads the moderate council faction – organizers are part of the progressive council majority – said on Wednesday that she would like to withhold comment on the ideas presented until she had time to review a tape of the event.
Councilmember Dona Spring presented an energy plan that called for putting a bond measure on the 2002 ballot that would raise funds to pay for every home and apartment building to become energy independent by installing photovoltaic panels. Spring estimated the cost per household would be $28,000. (A recent report from the mayor’s office estimated the cost to be closer to $10,000, or even less with state energy rebates.)
“The City of San Francisco is floating a bond measure to raise funds to solarize municipal buildings. Berkeley would be the first city to float a bond measure to solarize all of our residential structures,” she said. “This will free Berkeley forever from the tyranny of the price gouging energy companies.”
Among a variety of suggestions for a sustainable energy plan, energy advocate Cynthia Wooten Cohen called for reducing energy use by providing low-voltage, fluorescent light bulbs to every resident who requests them.
UC Berkeley student activist Howard Chong called for more state funding for student housing. “We have a housing crisis,” he said. “Seven percent of students, according to a ASUC survey, have ‘couch surfed’ and over one-half of a student’s income goes toward rent alone.”
Chong criticized the university for not originally creating housing in its multi-million dollar Underhill Project that included a parking garage and dining hall but no housing until students “camped out on the chancellor’s lawn” and “the press shamed the university, only then did housing get added to the Underhill Area Project.”
He then called for the university to work with students in solving the problem. “I challenge the university to open up its books and doors and include students and community members in the decision-making process,” Chong said.
Commission on Disability Vice Chair Karen Craig said that Berkeley has fallen behind Oakland and San Francisco in meeting the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, approved in 199. Craig said the disabled community would like to see a Department of Disability created that would oversee disabled projects including building accessibility, transportation and traffic safety issues.
Other speakers included School Board President Terry Doran who promoted “small learning communities” at Berkeley High School, which he said would counter a sense of isolation among students.
Former Councilmember Nancy Skinner praised Berkeley residents for achieving the goal of reducing garbage and waste to 50 percent of what it was 10 years ago. She then challenged residents to stop generating the remaining 50 percent.
Bicycle Boulevard Coordinator Sarah Syed suggested the city start an employee alternate transportation incentive program that would inspire businesses to do the same.
“Our city should lead by example and launch an employee-incentive program, like the city of Alameda, which gives its employees $2.50 per day for using non-automobile commute options.”
The Nancy’s were invited out for an encore performance. They were joined by Rent Stabilization Board member Paul Hogarth who led the audience in a few verses of “We shall not be moved” to end the evening.
Worthington said he had received a lot of positive feedback from people who attended the event. He added it was a lot of work to put together and he wasn’t sure if there would be a People’s State of the City next year.
“The return of The Nancys was my favorite part,” he said. “That was some of the most fun of the whole evening.”
Syed said she enjoyed the event. “I thought it was really positive,” she said. “It’s nice to hear from a variety of people about what the real state of the city is. I hope it happens next year.”