Prostitution Opposed, Marijuana and Trees Ignored: By MATTHEW ARTZ

Friday October 29, 2004

Last summer members of the City Council seemed ready to fight three citizen-initiated measures on the November ballot that would promote decriminalizing prostitution, liberalize medical pot laws and set up a board to protect trees. 

But as election time has rolled around the only initiative that city leaders have opted to contest is one whose author insists is purely symbolic. 

“This won’t change anything,” said Robyn Few, author of The Angel Initiative (Measure Q), which would make prostitution the city’s lowest police priority, require police to make semi-annual reports of its programs to curb prostitution and require the City Council to lobby the state to decriminalize the world’s oldest profession. 

When the measure was placed on the ballot three months ago, police agreed with Few. Police spokesman Joe Okies said the force would continue to perform sting operations on San Pablo Avenue, the city’s main drag for street walkers. So far this year sting operations have resulted in about 70 arrests, he said. 

But City Manager Phil Kamlarz said Thursday the city hasn’t determined if police would be able to conduct the stings if prostitution is the force’s lowest priority. Even if the measure passes, Kamlarz said the city will be required under state law to enforce prostitution laws. 

While the city now says it is unclear on the ramifications of the measure, Councilmember Linda Maio has been rounding up dollars and support from San Pablo Avenue merchants to defeat it. As of Oct. 16, the Campaign Against Measure Q had raised $7,864. 

“If they don’t enforce the laws, we’ll be inundated with prostitutes,” said Jack Fox, the owner of a San Pablo Avenue transmission shop, who contributed $100 to Maio’s effort. 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who has remained neutral on the measure, said he didn’t think Fox’s contribution was money well spent. 

“It’s all political rah-rah,” he said. “All the measure says is that it would be a low priority, which it already is.”  

But Brad Smith, the treasurer of the No on Q campaign and Maio’s legislative aide,” insisted that the measure wasn’t symbolic and that law enforcement could help prostitutes seek help. 

“Without the hammer of the criminal justice system there is no opportunity to get people into recovery programs,” he said. 

Although Measure Q doesn’t initiate programs to assist prostitutes, Few said the measure’s passage would symbolize to prostitutes what they can accomplish politically. 

If voters pass Measure R, medical cannabis users and collectives could also claim a mighty political achievement.  

The measure would give the city’s three cannabis dispensaries by-right zoning privileges to move their operations to any avenue zoned for commercial uses, allow licensed patients to grow as much marijuana as they deem is medically necessary, transfer oversight of the clubs to a panel of club officers and authorize the city to provide medical cannabis if federal authorities raid the dispensaries. 

The measure is the culmination of a contentious year between medical cannabis advocates and the city. In February South Berkeley neighbors pressured the city to prevent a club from moving to the intersection of Sacramento and Russell streets and then in April the City Council voted against a compromise measure to increase the city’s marijuana plant limit for individual patients from 10 to 72. 

“This is all a reaction to what the city has done to us this year,” said Charlie Pappas, a medical cannabis user who was featured on the Measure Q campaign’s mailing sent to Berkeley residents. 

The promotion was funded in part from large contributions from the cannabis dispensaries, but city leaders have opted not to raise money to fight the measure. 

“There’s just so much we can do,” said Councilmember Betty Olds. “We have our own campaigns to run.” 

Mayor Tom Bates said a lot of the sting was taken out of the cannabis measure earlier this month when the council passed a quota limiting the number of cannabis clubs in Berkeley to three. 

Asked about Berkeley’s proclivity to support medical marijuana—the city voted 86 percent in favor of the Compassionate Use Act which decriminalized it—Bates said he thought Berkeley voters “will see through this as an effort to get past local zoning rules.” 

When it comes to caring for the city’s 40,200 public trees, Bates thinks the city’s forestry department can do a better job than a proposed Berkeley Tree Board. 

“It spends up to $350,000 on stuff the city is doing just fine,” he said. 

But local environmentalist Elliot Cohen said the city’s failure to save trees near the public library and its acquiescence to removing more trees in the Berkeley Marina necessitates the ordinance. 

Cohen’s proposal creates a new board to encourage the planting of healthy trees and regulate changes to trees on public land. Anyone seeking to work on a public tree would have to get a license from the tree board, and any development that might affect a public tree would require a “tree impact report.” 

City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque wrote that the ordinance would interfere with the council’s authority over city property, forcing it to get tree board permission to remove public trees. She said the ordinance would interfere with the city manager’s charter authority to administer city departments and personnel by specifying that the Tree Board would use two staff members and would mandate a specified number of trees to be planted annually. 

City staff estimated the cost of the proposed new Tree Board would run to $250,000 once it was operational and that to provide staffing the city would have to transfer two Parks and Recreation Department employees.  

Cohen countered that city staff had misread his initiative and were inflating the cost as part of a campaign of scare tactics.  

He said his proposal capped staffing at two full-time employees ($200,000), but under normal circumstances the Tree Board would require only about one quarter to one-half of the time of only one staff member.