Beier Challenges Worthington Again for District 7 Seat

By Judith Scherr
Friday May 19, 2006

Supported by councilmembers Betty Olds, Laurie Capitelli and Gordon Wozniak, George Beier, 42, has jumped into the proverbial ring, challenging incumbent, nine-year Councilmember Kriss Worthington, 51, for the second time. 

Beier received 35 percent of the vote in a 1998 attempt to unseat Worthington, who won 61 percent of the vote.  

While he hasn’t served in an elected capacity, the challenger has spent years in public service, having sat on the Zoning Adjustments Board and the Waterfront Commission; he is currently serving on the People’s Park Community Advisory Board and is president of the Willard Neighborhood Association. 

“My life is about service,” said Beier, who retired two years ago when he sold a successful software business.  

The contrast between Beier and Worthington—who plans June 1 to officially announce a reelection bid—will offer a choice to Berkeley’s majority-renter, half-student district that includes the celebrated, yet underperforming, Telegraph Avenue commercial district. 


Crime and People’s Park 

Reportedly, sales are down on Telegraph Avenue and panhandlers and disoriented people, highly visible in the area, are often blamed for scaring shoppers and committing crimes.  

“We need some radical changes to the status quo,” Beier said. 

As member of the People’s Park Advisory Committee, Beier said he would target drug sales in People’s Park: “We should think about putting [security] cameras in People’s Park,” he said, underscoring his belief that addicts commit petty crimes. “If we can put cameras at Ashby and San Pablo [avenues] to stop speeders, we can install cameras in People’s Park to stop drug dealing.”  

Asked to comment on the idea, Worthington quipped that the only place for cameras in the park is “putting a camera on the stage to film the many interesting and novel performances in the park.” But “filming the average person in the park is intruding on his rights,” Worthington said. 

While Beier said he would push the council to hire more drug enforcement officers, Worthington said it is important not only to hire more police, but to make sure there is cooperation between UC police and Berkeley police. 

Addressing the issue starts by restoring cuts made two years ago of two Telegraph Avenue bike cops and a team of social workers for the area, Worthington said. The council voted Tuesday to include the funding in the proposed 2006-2007 budget. 

Beyond policing efforts, Beier supports drug treatment and is a board member of the non-profit Options Recovery Services. 

“I have compassion for people who are drug addicted,” he said. Worthington is a longtime supporter of needle exchange, which prevents addicts from getting HIV/AIDS as a result of sharing needles, and advocates drug treatment on demand.  

Both Beier and Worthington advocate stepped-up use of the park. 

“The more people in the park, the safer it will be,” said Beier, who envisages a park café where people who frequent the park would train and work, an idea Beier credits to the park advisory committee. He is also calling for a memorial to the Free Speech Movement. 

Worthington said he doesn’t think the café is a bad idea but plans should come from park users. 

“Having the university force things on the community is counter-productive,” he said, pointing out that the advisory committee for People’s Park is hand-picked by the university.  

“One of the key problems is that the university has demanded unilateral control,” Worthington said. “There used to be a more cooperative approach between the city and the university.”  

Worthington said he has helped promote events in the park such as the annual Residential Hall Assembly and chess tournaments. 

The area needs stability, Beier said, advocating more long-term area residents that include condominium-owners. As for new construction, buildings height should be constrained. “I’m all for affordable housing, but these buildings are too big,” he said, questioning the bonus height given to developers who provide affordable units.  


Telegraph shopping  

With the announced demise of Cody’s Books on Telegraph, both candidates are calling for a sharper focus on economic development there. Both support fast-tracking permits so that businesses move quickly into empty spots. 

“We need to address the nightmare of Berkeley’s zoning mess,” Worthington said, pointing to the fact that members of the public who wish to speak have to come to the Zoning Adjustments Board meetings at 7 p.m., although action on the issue of interest may take place at midnight. 

“That hurts small business,” he said. 

Beier says the city should do more to help Telegraph Area promote itself. There’s too much bad press, he said. “It’s still wonderful, vibrant. We don’t need to air our dirty laundry in public,” he said. “We need to control the message.” 

Worthington underscored the importance of highly-visible bike cops and social workers on the avenue. “A feeling of safety is important,” he said. Cuts in bike cops and social workers two years ago, a relatively small savings, came at a high cost to the neighborhood, he said. 

Similarly, Beier said the goal of his focus on drug enforcement is to encourage shopping on Telegraph. 

Asked what citywide issues he would address, Beier said he is more focused on improving District 7 at this time. Given that the Berkeley Property Owners Association has touted him on its website as “in all likelihood the next city council member from this student-heavy district that is crucial to citywide politics,” the Daily Planet asked if Beier supports the BPOA-sponsored condominium measure, now circulating as a petition to go on the November ballot. 

“I don’t know enough to speak to it,” he said. 

Worthington addressed condominium conversion, saying that facilitating the conversion of 100 units each year to condominiums allows homeownership while not depleting the city’s rental stock. The impact of the BPOA’s proposal to allow some 500 units a year to be converted would hurt renters, Worthington said, adding that the city must find a way to prevent speculators from buying apartment buildings to convert to condominiums.  

While Worthington is best known for his progressive role on the council, advancing measures to impeach Bush, fighting for the city’s Living Wage Ordinance and supporting workers on strike, he said what gives him most pleasure as a council person is addressing individual needs.  

For example, he is now working on behalf of 103 people whose homes border Oakland and Berkeley, who have suddenly been administratively transferred to Oakland voter status, though they have always voted in Berkeley. He also pointed to his advocacy for a woman overcharged for 12 years on her trash bill. 

Through the budget process, Worthington said he’s advocated for affordable housing, protecting nonprofits to “save and strengthen the social safety net,” and increasing the fire department budget. 

Implementing programs such as additional police and permit reform will take money, Beier acknowledges. He said he thinks the voters will tax themselves for these services, but first city government needs to show it is can work efficiently.