Heated words and testy tempers at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting suggested that race remains very much an issue in Berkeley politics.
The spark that raised temperatures was Councilmember Kriss Worthington’s resolution calling on councilembers to cast a wider net when making appointments to city commissions, committees and boards in order to reflect the community’s diversity.
As part of the process, Worthington proposed semi-annual diversity surveys.
Councilmember Gordon Wozniak declared that each councilmember’s benchmark shouldn’t be the city as a whole—except for the mayor, who is the only member elected on a citywide vote.
Instead, he said, appointments should reflect each member’s district.
“Councilmembers can appoint from the city as a whole,” said Darryl Moore, nothing that many members appointed commissioners from outside their district.
“It sort of smacks of the quota system,” said Councilmember Laurie Capitelli, and, as for the survey he said, “I don’t like seeing more busywork for my staff.”
But if there were to be a survey, he said, “you might want to include attendance,” meaning whether appointees actually attend their respective bodies. “Also longevity, and I also would like to see [which are] multiple appointments.”
The decision on the appropriateness of appointments should be left up to voters, he said.
“There is no quota system proposed,” said Worthington, who said the intent of his resolution was to send a clear indication that appointees should be included from all parts of the community.
A survey by UC Berkeley students from Worthington’s district revealed that “Asians and Latinos were hardly represented at all, and African Americans were represented at levels below their percentage of the population.
“The students who have done this have done us all an enormous favor by showing us that there were gaping holes in representation,” Worthington said.
Councilmember Linda Maio said that while she thought there were flaws in the survey—particularly the issue of gender—she would support the proposal.
Councilmember Betty Olds agreed with Capitelli, calling the proposal “silly,” noting that “there are certain people on the council who support this who haven’t filled all” their appointments.
Her comments rankled Councilmember Max Anderson, who declared, “This speaks to the core of the city. At the end of the day it is what you do as councilmembers to contribute to the diversity of the city. It is a simple, fundamental proposition—while some of us may see this as something that doesn’t matter. But at the end of the day it’s important.
“This is 2005. In 1950 people said they couldn’t find ‘quality’ black people, Latinos and Asians, but that’s a poor excuse today.”
“If it’s to be meaningful,” Capitelli said, “we should include gender, sexual orientation, whether they’re white collar or blue collar, age—so let’s bring it all in.”
Wozniak said “this is a rather flawed survey, It has a number of flaws.”
When it came to students, he said, “There are some boards where I don’t think any student could qualify,” singling out the city’s loan and personnel boards, “where members were required to have real-world high-level public or private sector experience.”
Besides, he said, “I have appointed four students and only one is currently serving.”
Bates noted that that his appointments included many people of color. He also faulted the student survey. “It seems like a lot of symbols, of smoke and not much substance.”
“If we were living in a world where race didn’t matter and age didn’t matter, it would be an issue,” Worthington said. “But every year Asians and Latinos have been frozen out of participation” as well as students, “and every year African Americans are under-represented.”
Worthington offered to pull the item from the agenda so councilmembers could example the statistics for flaws.
“I don’t see why we have to hold it over,” said Councilmember Darryl Moore.
“It needs some work,” said Bates.
Worthington then faulted Wozniak’s contention that students weren’t qualified for some boards, nothing that graduate students came to the Haas School of Business with significant real-world experience. “Students are heavily concentrated in [council] districts 7 and 8 yet district 8 [Wozniak’s] has had almost no students for years.”
Bates tried to placate Worthington, to which the resolution’s sponsor shot back, “No one ever got elected to the Berkeley City Council saying they wouldn’t appoint any Latinos or Asians to the commissions.”
“This whole thing is silly,” said Olds. “It’s degrading.
“Emotions are high,” said Bates. “We need to work this over,” proposing to hold it over till the council’s Dec. 13 meeting.
“I would like it to include sexual orientation, income” and other factors, Capitelli said.
“Time out. Time Out,” said Bates. “We’re going to move on to the next item.”
“I don’t want this to be held off because someone’s uncomfortable,” said Anderson, “If anyone needs any proof that [the issue of] race is alive and well,” noting that “clouding the issue with income” and other issues would hype the fact that “racist housing practices for years have concentrated African Americans in certain parts of this city.
“So you’re putting off Darryl and me?” the council’s two African American members, “Lets talk about reality, about the policies that have brought us to where we are.”
“There are also problems with gender and ageism,” said Bates.
The item will be back on the agenda on the 13th.
The UC student survey revealed that while Asians and Pacific Islanders comprise 17.6 percent of Berkeley’s population, they make up 5.2 percent of commission appointments.
Chicanos make up 9.5 percent of the city’s population, and only 4.2 percent of commission slots.
African Americans make up 12.3 percent of Berkeley’s population and 10.3 percent of commission appointments.
Students, a major pillar in Worthington’s constituency, comprise 20 to 25 percent of Berkeley’s population and 8.1 percent of appointments.
The council also:
• Adopted on second reading the Ellis Act relocation fees to be paid by property owners to tenants who are evicted when rental properties are taken off the market.
• Directed City Manager Phil Kamlarz to begin talks with the Clif Bar food company to find ways to help the firm remain in Berkeley.
• Adopted a resolution opposing the execution of Stan “Tookie” Williams.
• Voted to send to the planning commission for fine tuning a proposal to end the so-called “4+4=4 loophole” that allows developers to avoid providing low-income housing or fees by dividing projects up into apartment and live/work units.
• Adopted a near relative policy barring supervisory nepotistic relationships in community agencies that receive city funding.f