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Doyle House Leaves Rift Behind

Friday May 23, 2003

The following letter was addressed to Mayor Tom Bates: 


I am very disappointed that although a majority of city councilmembers expressed an interest in calling for an emergency meeting to discuss saving the historic Doyle House, you did not arrange one. I urge you to make a public statement explaining your lack of action which paved the way for a Berkeley city founder’s house to be demolished. You owe the citizens that public statement, I believe. 

You regard increasing the civility of our City Council as the most important job of your first 100 days in office, yet you have just made hundreds of people leery of you. You had the opportunity to act as peacemaker, to lead this city and bring people together. In this important situation, you spoke one way but acted another, and left a severe rift in this city.  

We feel betrayed. The developer’s needs alone were met by the city. So many citizens were ignored on a matter that seemed simple: requiring a developer to grant a little time to move the Doyle House one block. The developer owed this city (from which he profits greatly) civility regarding a project funded through state money. Since BAHA’s lawsuit ended less than two weeks ago, how could the developer have been committed to act so suddenly with no regard for the house moving plans that were quickly forming through great efforts by so many? 

The Planet quoted you as saying that the developer and BAHA should not have chosen to fight it out in court. But BAHA tried to save the house by starting a public discussion provided for in California environmental law. This process was not chosen by the city. As mayor, you did nothing to resolve this conflict — at the final minute you said you wanted to save the Doyle House, yet you did not call the council together. Your actions differed from your assertions in a manner which seems ominous for Berkeley. 

In a debate during your election campaign, you said you were for preservation and claimed that if elected you would be a strong ecological mayor. But you did not stop the destruction of the 100-plus-year-old virgin timber of this house, which now has been turned to splinters and thrown away, not being recycled or reused. You said your most important focus is education. What, Mr. Mayor, does this teach school children? That in this town, fast money is more important than fair treatment of its citizens. We’ve learned that our mayor does not care about the history of our town fathers, or about the many people who cared deeply about this house, the last wooden structure from the 19th century in the heart of the city (one which was in the city’s own Downtown Plan). The landmarks of a town give it a sense of continuum, yet we hear talk of disbanding the Landmarks Commission. What are we to think now? 

I feel sad I cannot plead with you over the Doyle House because I know it’s now over. But as the hopes and history are hauled off for good, I want you to know that we will not forget and will be more vigilant in the future. This was my first interaction with the new administration, and I walk away sobered, saddened and wary.  

Mr. Mayor, you owed the people of Berkeley your skills to resolve this matter without leaving so many people angry and mistrustful. I believe it was well within your power. You could have considered all parties and proven yourself a true leader. 

Thank you for your attention. I am very sorry to have to express this, my honest opinion, to you, Mr. Mayor, but I can’t make this go away. 


Richard Schwartz