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Norine Smith Will Challenge Betty Olds for Council Seat

Friday July 23, 2004

Councilmember Betty Olds will face a familiar challenger this November. Norine Smith, a waterfront commissioner who in 2000 barely managed to garner one third of Olds’ vote in a three-person race, is taking another run at the District Six council seat Ol ds has owned since 1992. 

“I’ve got a chance,” said Smith, a retired head of two computer consulting firms. “At first I didn’t think so because Betty’s so entrenched, but I think people want a change.” 

Olds is considered one of the council’s more conservative members and has coasted to reelection three times.  

Paul Kamen, Smith’s colleague on the Waterfront Commission, has also been rumored to be challenging Olds, but he said Thursday a run would be extremely unlikely and that there was no way he could beat the incumbent. 

Smith said she started thinking she could win while walking the steep slopes of District 6, which extends from part of Hearst Avenue through the northeast Berkeley hills. She said she was encouraged that a political independent who counts progressive councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Dona Spring as friends would get such a warm response from residents known to drift more towards the political center. 

“It’s fun to ring the same doorbells and have people tell you how happy they are to see you running again and how sorry they were that you lost,” she said. 

If Smith succeeds this time around, she promises to put the voters’ interests first. 

“I’d vote however the neighbors want,” she said. “I consider the city to be the sum of its ne ighborhoods.” 

Smith is running on a three-point platform: Environmental protection, neighborhood preservation and fiscal responsibility. 

She wants Berkeley and Caltrans to revisit a planned wall—comprised of trees and cement—at Aquatic Park to shield pa rts of the city from car emissions along I-80. And, unlike Olds, Smith opposes an estimated $275,000 extension to the bay trail that would necessitate chopping down nearly 100 trees in the Berkeley Marina. 

Smith, a vocal advocate for 2002’s Measure P, wh ich would have lowered height limits for new developments on several Berkeley streets, said she would fight against out-of-scale projects, whether they were proposed by the university or by private developers. She hesitated to name her supporters, but sai d Martha Nicoloff, the co-author of Berkeley’s neighborhood preservation ordinance, has endorsed her. 

On finances, Smith wants the city to deepen spending cuts and opposes the four tax hikes the City Council has placed on the November ballot. Olds, one o f the council’s most adamant tax opponents, supported only the tax increase for the library. 

Smith praised Olds as “a strong lady” who has recently taken a stronger stand on preservation, but said she could be a more vigorous voice for the environment, preservation and sound fiscal management. 

One area where Smith knows she can’t match Olds is fundraising. Last year the incumbent outspent Smith roughly five-to-one.  

“Every day before the election Betty sent out a beautiful glossy pamphlet,” Smith said. “If I didn’t know better I would have voted for her too.”