It’s the underwear, stupid!
That’s how you gauge the health of a city’s economy.
And Berkeley’s not doing so well, if you ask Mayor Shirley Dean.
In fact, as she told some 60 Chamber of Commerce folk at a $30-a-pop lunch at the Radisson Thursday: “When you want to buy underwear, you have to drive to Walnut Creek.”
“I don’t want Berkeley to become another Walnut Creek,” moaned the diminutive mayor peeking out from behind her bully pulpit.
Walnut Creek, like Emeryville, Oakland and El Cerrito are not beautiful, she said. Berkeley is. Or would be without those ugly weeds in the overgrown median strip running down University Avenue. People would shop in Berkeley if it was beautiful – and if there were the things here that people needed – like underwear, for starters.
And why does the city lack undies for sale?
The answer’s transparent.
It’s the renown ANTI-business climate, promoted by the council majority – Spring, Worthington, Shirek, Breland, Maio, all part of the mayor’s foe faction generally called “progressive” (which the Hearst Chronicle has more recently taken to calling “leftist.”)
Dean reminded the crowd – which had one eye on her and one on a tantalizing sundae-looking cholesterol-packed dessert – about when Eddie Bauer’s was under construction and city planners were out daily, tape measures in hand, making sure the remodel didn’t push its boundaries beyond what the codes allowed.
“This battle is what it’s like to bring new businesses to the city,” she said. “We need to remember history so we don’t forget it.”
The mayor’s example of planning department overzealousness exemplifies the foundation of a Bad Business Climate in Berkeley.
Another anti-business measure Dean cited is the likelihood that the council majority will vote to keep new office space out of West Berkeley in favor of saving the space for manufacturing, light industry and artisans.
Still another example is the fight against the addition of parking downtown. And the mayor says she can’t find one group in the city to support her call for underground parking at civic center – Chamber Prez Reid Edwards says his group is yet to take a position on it.
“Berkeley seems on the brink of sending a message, ‘Don’t come here,’” Dean said.
And why’s the mayor so bent on drumming up local business? It’s the senseless way our cities are supported. Our legislative fathers and mothers in Sacramento (and the “wisdom” of Prop. 13 voters) have made the local sales-tax base a critical element in fueling city economies. The more Berkeley’s business thrives, the more money flows to city coffers.
In Berkeley, sales tax makes up about 14 percent of the city’s general fund, which pays police, firefighters, parks, much of public works and more.
So if you have to drive to Walnut Creek to buy your socks, you’re depriving the city of services. And if someone from Walnut Creek buys his boxers in Berkeley, he’s supporting our city’s economy as well.
Which is, of course, why some folks might ask why the Berkeley Chamber held a “mixer” in Richmond last week….
(Edwards explains that people outside the city belong to the Berkeley Chamber - such as businesses that do business with Berkeley business...)
Still, not everyone has a problem finding undies this side of the Caldecott. One public official I chatted with (admittedly in my COSTCO-bought briefs) in the locker room at the Y on Sunday said she can sometimes find underwear at Ross Dress for Less. But you can’t count on it, she said, unless you don’t mind tiny orange pumpkins on your underpants, and pink socks. She finds shorts for her husband at the above-mentioned Eddie Bauer, while Chamber Prez Reid Edwards gets his at Ross’ as does Toxics Division Manager Nabil Al-Hadithy and Dave Fogarty, who works in economic development. Dave’s boss, Bill Lambert, who lives in Oakland, however, gets his underwear near where he lives – at Sears or Long’s, he says.
And Mayoral Nemesis Kriss Worthington – also at the chamber event – (he complains they actually made him stand just outside the door since he just wanted to hear the speech and hadn’t paid for lunch) – swears people can find reasonably-priced underwear at Bancroft Clothing Company on Bancroft Way and some fancier men’s boxer’s at Bill’s Men’s Shop on Telegraph.
“Yes, there might be some people who go to Walnut Creek (to buy underwear),” Worthington said. But it’s a myth “to say you can’t buy here and that you have to go far away.”
Worthington called Dean’s focus “suburban mall envy,” and pointed to Blockbuster Video and Barnes & Noble as businesses that don’t deserve city support. They came in and built one-story businesses, rather than building up and providing housing, he said.
The former interim executive director of the Telegraph Avenue Area Association, Worthington says that he’s asked the chamber president for equal time for the council progressives to address the body – but not at a lunchtime meeting. Edwards said he’s open to it.
The real question to ask, when Worthington and his buddies come before the chamber to talk economics, is not whether more parking should be built or whether parking meters should be abolished – the key will be whether, underneath it all, Worthington will be sporting Berkeley bought briefs.
Stay tuned to this space…