EDITOR’S NOTE: The Daily Planet has invited all the mayoral candidates to write a regular commentaries. Previous editions included contributions from Zelda Bronstein and Zachary RunningWolf. Of the officially declared candidates, only Richard Berkeley has yet to respond.
Four years ago I entered the race for mayor with a simple promise—that we would turn a new page in Berkeley’s political history by setting aside the old political divisions and working together to make Berkeley the very best it can be. I pledged that we would take decisive action to help our kids and schools, make Berkeley an environmental leader again, create more affordable housing, and build a new partnership with the university.
We have made great progress. Our city is working together and solving problems like never before. But there’s a lot we still need to do—and that’s why I have decided to seek re-election as mayor of Berkeley this November.
In 2002, I promised to be a champion for our kids. We have made remarkable strides. Working in partnership with our schools and community agencies, we created a wonderful new program—Project BUILD—that is providing nearly 1,000 low-income Berkeley children with UC student tutors and mentors to help with their reading, exercise, and nutrition. We are funding the entire $360,000 price tag of this program with private donations and federal funds provided through UC Berkeley’s Cal Corps program.
We created Berkeley Champions for Kids, a program that promotes, coordinates, and recruits volunteers and resources for local youth programs. And recently, we announced new grants to place city public health nurses in our elementary schools and begin a groundbreaking new joint effort to bring city mental health and other social service programs to children and families at the schools.
Of course, we have much still to do. My goal is to ensure that every Berkeley child has access to quality pre-school and after-school programs and to find new and innovative ways to combat violence among our youth.
Working together as a community, we have truly made Berkeley an environmental leader again. Since 2002, Berkeley reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 14 percent—double the requirement of the Kyoto Protocol and more than any other city has documented. We created a novel new program to share part of our fleet of hybrid cars with the community as part of the City CarShare program—saving the city budget $450,000 and reducing the number of cars on our streets.
In fact, two recent national studies ranked Berkeley among the 10 greenest cities in the country. But we are just getting started. I am working with community partners to achieve an ambitious new goal—reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions to zero and lead the country away from a climate-change nightmare.
I promised to bring new development of affordable and workforce housing to our downtown and transit corridors. With skyrocketing rents and home prices, Berkeley is quickly becoming unaffordable to all but the wealthiest among us. To begin to address this crisis, we have approved more than 1,400 units of new housing, including more than 500 units of permanently affordable apartments and condominiums, in the last three years. This housing is bringing vitality to our downtown and providing working people with a real chance to live in Berkeley rather than just commute here. This new housing is located on major thoroughfares and downtown in order to maintain and protect our existing neighborhoods.
Again, there is more we can do. While more than 200 of the new affordable housing units have been set aside for very low income people and families, we need to focus more effort on affordable housing that reaches those who most need it, including housing with support services for homeless people and “emancipated” foster children trying to stabilize their lives.
In 2002, I pledged to restore the broken relationship between the city and UC Berkeley. After a serious dispute over the university’s Long Range Development Plan, we reached an agreement that increases total contributions to the city from the $7.5 million in the previous agreement to more than $22 million, reduces new parking by 45 percent, and allows our community a real voice in future university development. In particular, the university is now required to work collaboratively with the city on new development in the downtown rather than simply use its Constitutional exemption from all local laws and regulations to build whatever it wants. The San Francisco Chronicle editorialized that the agreement “could serve as a model for many other California communities that have similar symbiotic relationships with a public university.”
When I ran for office, I did not know that the city was on the brink of the worst budget crisis in its history. We worked through some extraordinarily tough choices, cutting more than $20 million from the city’s budget and reducing the city’s workforce by more than 10 percent. I am proud to report that our budget is balanced. Now, we must continue investing in crucial infrastructure and social services to meet our pressing needs.
If we had not set aside our old divisions and worked together—as City Council and as a community—none of this could have been accomplished. There certainly have been disagreements, as well there should be when we face difficult decisions. But the council has worked together with respect and civility. We have an opportunity in November’s election to reinforce our commitment to civil and inclusive involvement in Berkeley’s political life.
Because of our shared vision for what Berkeley can be, a broad cross section of more than 300 of Berkeley’s elected and community leaders have stepped forward to endorse my re-election—including Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Supervisor Keith Carson, a majority of both the City Council and the School Board, and 10 former city councilmembers from across the political spectrum.
I have been truly honored to serve as your mayor and look forward to continuing our work together.
Tom Bates is the mayor of Berkeley and a former state assemblymember.