To the Editor:
In her campaign for re-election, Mayor Shirley Dean wants credit for triggering downtown revitalization. In reality, Ms. Dean was a roadblock, not a beacon, for the progress of downtown and its arts district.
Downtown renewal got rolling with a big push from the city’s office of economic development in the latter 1980s, with leadership from then-Mayor Loni Hancock. A city proposal led to the first urban Main Street program in California, and Berkeley has gone on to win a shelf-full of awards for its Main Street implementation. Retail space vacancies plunged from 19 percent to less than 5 percent before Dean became mayor. Shirley Dean’s contribution: She annually proposed to strike the office of economic development from the city budget and attacked the Main Street application.
Dean supporters have also misrepresented the land deal that led to the expansion of the Berkeley Repertory. In reality, with critical guidance and support from then-Mayor Hancock, the office of economic development’s Dave Fogarty and I negotiated the deal to make the rep’s neighboring property available for a new theater, in exchange for reduced Rent Board penalties for the seller. The key meetings were held in my office and the details are recorded in my journal. The Rent Board merely signed off on the penalty waiver.
Neil S. Mayer
Founding Director, Office of
City of Berkeley