Public financing of election campaigns is one way to shield public officials from the influence of big money. But when the question of placing a measure on Berkeley’s November ballot calling for public financing for all local elected offices came before the City Council Tuesday, councilmembers hesitated.
In a 7-0-2 vote, with Councilmembers Linda Maio and Max Anderson abstaining, the council decided not to take immediate action, but recommended to the city’s Fair Campaign Practices Commission a ballot measure that would allow candidates for the mayor’s job—and not other posts—to voluntarily participate in a publicly-funded campaign.
The FCPC will address the issue at its June meeting and report back to the council, which then could vote to put a “clean money” measure on the ballot.
Much of the hesitation comes from the experience of the election two years ago in which a similar proposal lost, winning only 41 percent of the vote. Some councilmembers said it was too soon to try again.
“The voters gave us a message,” Councilmember Laurie Capitelli said.
Saying that she was worried about “voter fatigue,” Councilmember Linda Maio, said she supports the measure in principle, but that this year’s November ballot is too packed to include this one.
Councilmember Kriss Worthington, however, argued that it is timely to support a ballot measure that would affect all local candidates: Jack Abramoff’s corruption has been well publicized; a state-wide “clean money” initiative will likely be on the November ballot, and the local League of Women Voters is backing the measure. (The organization did not participate two years ago because they thought the measure would be lost among the many local bond issues on the ballot.)
Councilmember Darryl Moore said public financing is important “for many of us, people of modest means.” It allows “participation of people of color [and] begins to level the playing field,” he said. “Let our voters in Berkeley decide.”
Capitelli said he was most concerned about the cost, estimated by proponents at $300,000 to $450,000 per year, using funds that could otherwise be spent on projects such as a youth center or affordable housing. (The proposal to fund only the mayor’s race would cost the city considerably less.)
Besides, Capitelli said “We don’t have any Jack Abramoffs in Berkeley.”
Councilmember Betty Olds agreed: “There isn’t any corruption in Berkeley.”
Rebuilding after disaster
The council also decided to ask the Planning Commission to write an ordinance by November, allowing people to rebuild “habitable structures” after a disaster exactly where the destroyed structure had been. The new building would not exceed the height and square-footage of the former structure.
“These provisions should apply to everyone in Berkeley, including properties with open creeks,” said former Mayor Shirley Dean, speaking at the public comment period before the council meeting.
Councilmember Dona Spring, who would have preferred an ordinance that causes people to rebuild away from creeks, said in a phone interview Thursday that “unfortunately,” the proposed law would not include exceptions to preserve creeks.
Rebuilding structures close to creeks will be permitted, unless modern-day engineering standards cannot be met, she said.
Both Spring and Councilmember Kriss Worthington called on the council to support the recommendation as it had been originally written—specifying its application only to homes.
Their motion was defeated and the council voted 8-1, with Worthington in opposition, to support rebuilding in place for all “habitable structures.”
Saying it was premature, the City Council turned down a proposal to put an advisory measure on the November ballot supporting Community Choice Aggregation, through which several cities would get together to run their own energy company.
The council is still waiting for a complete report on CCA feasibility, which will not be ready until February or March of next year.
Urging the council to move forward with CCA, environmentalist Tom Kelly wrote the council: “As a Community Choice District, we can help to make that transition from dirty, polluting sources of energy to sources that are clean and healthy.”
The vote against putting CCA on the November ballot was 8-1-1, with Councilmember Dona Spring abstaining and Councilmember Kriss Worthington voting in opposition.
Bikes on sidewalks
By unanimous vote, the council lowered the fine for bike riders riding on sidewalks from $278 to $53, changing the violation from a misdemeanor to an infraction.