When Tom Bates was running for mayor, he never said that, if elected, he would ensure that Shirley Dean’s supporters would take over the Planning Commission. But that’s exactly what just happened.
On March 10, the Planning Commission held its annual election of officers. Harry Pollack was elected chair with the votes of the Dean supporters on the commission—Susan Wengraf, David Tabb and Tim Perry. Pollack was nominated by former Dean supporter and current Tom Bates appointee David Stoloff. The two progressive commissioners who were present, Gene Poschman and myself, abstained.
In 1998 Pollack donated $150 to then Mayor Dean’s successful bid for re-election. Dean appointed him to the Planning Commission in June 2002. After Dean’s defeat by Bates, Pollack was re-appointed to the Commission by Councilmember Gordon Wozniak, who had just beaten Bates’ candidate Andy Katz for the District 8 City Council seat.
Next at the March 10 meeting, Stoloff was nominated for Planning Commission vice-chair by Tabb, a leader in Dean’s political vehicle, the Berkeley Democratic Club (BDC), and Councilmember Betty Olds’ appointee. Stoloff was then elected vice-chair with votes from Perry, Pollack, Stoloff, Tabb and Wengraf. Poschman and I voted no.
While Stoloff supported Bates in the 2002 mayoral race, he donated $400 ($250 in the regular election, $150 in the runoff) to Dean’s 1994 mayoral campaign and $50 to her 1992 District 5 City Council run. Voting for both Pollack and Stoloff was Wengraf, another BDC leader, sometime Dean campaign manager, and aide to Councilmember Olds.
The real shocker here, though, is that the day before the commission election, Councilmember Margaret Breland, one of the council progressives, called her Planning Commissioner, John Curl, and told him that she was replacing him that very day with Tim Perry. Curl, one of Berkeley’s most reliably progressive and public-spirited citizens, had been one of the most diligent members of the Planning Commission since coming on in June, 2001. Tim Perry, on the other hand, had been an ardent supporter of Shirley Dean’s 2002 re-election bid. Perry contributed $250 to Dean’s 1998 campaign. In 1994 he and his wife Linda gave Dean $350 ($100 in the regular election, $250 in the run-off). Perry’s earlier, five-month stint on the Planning Commission as District 5 Councilmember Mim Hawley’s initial appointee had ended after some of Hawley’s constituents and others complained about his rudeness at commission meetings. Hawley replaced Perry with David Tabb.
Tom Bates would have us believe that none of this matters because his election inaugurated an era of good feeling between Berkeley progressives and Shirley Deanites. “We don’t have any sides,” he asserted in his first State of the City address. “We have problems; we have points of view; we work together as a team.”
It’s true that council meetings have become more cordial. But anyone who believes that the new collegiality on the council or off it (I’m thinking of the recent fundraiser held for the mayor by BDC regulars Betty Olds, Maggie Gee, Mim Hawley and Harry Weininger) is proof that there are no longer “sides” in Berkeley politics should consider the differences between David Stoloff and the progressives on the Planning Commission.
In his 16 months on the commission, Stoloff, a former UC planner, has aggressively fronted for the university, doing his best to fend off any challenge to UC’s authority and will. By contrast, the progressives on the commission have tried to get UC to respect the needs of Berkeley and its citizens. Where the progressive commissioners have sought the widest feasible public participation in the planning process, Stoloff has repeatedly tried to curtail citizen input. In February of 2003, he unsuccessfully attempted to keep members of the public from engaging in dialogue with UC representatives at a commission workshop on the Southside Plan. At the commission’s Feb. 25 meeting, Stoloff first pronounced “unnecessary” the 25-member citizens’ task force on the university’s proposed downtown hotel and conference center. He then did not vote to approve the task force membership and meeting schedule.
Finally, there is Stoloff’s involvement in John Curl’s ouster. Stoloff has said that he knows who called Breland and asked her to pull Curl, but that he is “not at liberty” to name names.
For progressives, the recent events at the Planning Commission are a disaster, and the worst is probably yet to come. That disaster is the work of many hands, but the person who bears the lion’s share of the blame is Tom Bates. The mayor has told John Curl that he had nothing to do with Breland’s replacing him on the commission with Tim Perry. At some level, then, Tom Bates recognizes that what happened was wrong. What he doesn’t seem to have grasped is that even if he didn’t call Breland or know anything about the machinations that resulted in Curl’s ouster, he is deeply implicated in that wrong.
For over a year, Tom Bates has blown off many private complaints about David Stoloff’s unrestrained advocacy of UC, his hostility toward citizen participation and his habitual alliance with the Dean supporters on the commission. The mayor’s indifference to these appeals suggests that he shares his Planning Commissioner’s views of democratic process and land use policy, at least as these things concern the city’s biggest and most expansionary landowner, the University of California. Those are essentially the views of Shirley Dean—carried to extremes that Dean may have dreamed of but never voiced, much less realized.
Like myself, many Berkeley progressives saw Tom Bates as an alternative to Shirley Dean and worked very hard to help him beat her in 2002. If he maintains his public silence about the Deanite takeover of the Planning Commission and his commissioner’s role in that takeover, progressives should start wondering how much of an alternative to Shirley Dean Tom Bates is after all.
Zelda Bronstein is a member of the Berkeley Planning Commission.