Ten Questions for Councilmember Laurie Capitelli

Jonathan Wafer
Friday June 16, 2006

1. Where were you born and where did you grow up, and how does that affect to how you regard the issues in Berkeley and in your district? 

I was born in Palo Alto, came to Berkeley when I was about six months old, went back to Palo Alto after kindergarten, grew up in Palo Alto, graduated from Palo Alto high school and bounced around for a couple of years, came back to Berkeley as an undergraduate, graduated in 1969. 

My family has a long history in Berkeley. My grandparents lived here. When I first came back to Berkeley we lived on El Camino. Then we moved down in the flatlands on Woolsey. When I came back here as a student I lived in the south campus area. Then I lived in the apartment in Walnut Square above a guy name Alfred Peet who opened up Peet’s Coffee a year after I moved in. 

Then I taught high school history and social studies for seven years in Martinez. Living in Berkeley. Got married in 1968. Had our first child in 1970 and our second child in 1972. A daughter and a son. They both went through Berkeley schools, graduating from Berkeley High. 

In 1978 I got a real estate license and I started practicing real estate. A couple of years later I did a small development on Henry Street where I built four new town houses. I’ve worked in various aspects of real estate all of 27 years. I’ve lived in my house which is in my district since 1972. So I think I know my district pretty well. 

A lot of the problems in my district are kind of nuts and bolts. Particularly over the years as a small developer I learned about the difficulties and the political nature of the permit process. I can understand how that frustrates homeowners and business people. I’ve been on Solano Avenue as a business man since 1978. I know that street very well and that neighborhood and I have lots of friends in that district. 


2. What is your educational background, and how did that help prepare you for being a council member? 

I graduated from UC Berkeley in political science. I wasn’t really a great student until I got focused on deciding I wanted to be a teacher. Probably what I learned best from being a student at UC was how to find information when I needed to find it. I went on and got a teaching credential and taught high school for seven years. 


3. What are the top three most pressing issues facing District 5? 

I think two issues that are coming up in the next six months. 

One is creeks and how to regulate them. And balance that against homeowner’s rights. 

[One issue] we’re looking ... is the Landmarks Preservation Ordinance, looking to be, I hope, fair and equitable as we revise that ordinance. That’s an issue people are concerned about. 

And I think the third is kind of nuts and bolts: Infrastructure kinds of issues. Sewers, streets, sidewalks, those kinds of things. 


4. Do you agree with the direction the city is heading in. Why or why not?  

I do. I think the city is moving in a direction towards working towards consensus. For a long time this city has had individuals in our community that have taken really strong, sometimes rigid positions, unable or unwilling to see another perspective on an issue. I think in the last few years, before I came on the council, I think we were moving in a direction where I think we were working towards consensus. And I think we’ve seen that with the creeks issue. With the preservation issue and with many other issues. 


5. What is your opinion of the proposal to develop a new downtown plan and the settlement with the University of California over its LRDP? 

I think those are two separate issues. I’m encouraged by what’s occurred so far in the downtown. The hopeful rebuilding of the Shattuck Hotel. The potential construction of a hotel conference center. The construction of housing in the downtown I think has been great. It’s brought more people into the downtown. The junior college [Berkeley Community College] opening this fall. The Seagate building hopefully will go under construction in the next six months. Library Gardens is going to come on line towards the end of the summer. Lots of new housing in the downtown. 

There’s been lots of development in the Theater District. Kimball’s East is hopefully going into the UC Theatre. There’s lots of activity. I’d like to see some more small retail in the downtown. And I think I will as more people live in the downtown and there’s the demand for it. 

On the LRDP, some people have made claim, and I think incorrectly, that somehow the university has taken over zoning or development of the downtown. That’s just not the case. And if anybody reads the settlement agreement with the city, they will see that. 

The fact of the matter is we operate at a huge disadvantage to the university. The university operates independently when it owns land and wants to develop it. And what we have to do is get them to the table to negotiate so that community interests are protected and UC can meet its needs. 


6. How do you think the mayor is doing at his position? Are you considering running for mayor, and if so, what changes would you try to make?  

I endorsed Tom Bates. 


7. Has Berkeley’s recent development boom been beneficial for the city? What new direction, if any, should the city’s development take over the next decade?  

I think it’s been a great benefit. People living, working, walking around shopping in the downtown has been a great benefit to the downtown. And I think you have seen some substantial development along transit corridors, University and San Pablo, Shattuck and Telegraph. I think that’s where we want to focus. 

We have some exciting new projects coming along in public transportation. We have the bus rapid transit that will be coming up from Oakland. And potentially we have a ferry system developing in the next ten years. And that will most likely be at the bottom of University. 


8. How would you characterize the political climate in Berkeley these days? 

I think we are operating more with a consensus than in the past but I think we still have a ways to go. 


9. What is your favorite thing about Berkeley? 

I love the physical layout of Berkeley. I love the buildings. I work in real estate. I go in and out of homes all week long. I love our neighborhoods. The small shopping districts. I don’t think there’s a community in the Bay Area where you can go and find as many really vibrant neighborhoods as you see in the Adeline/Alcatraz area, the Elmwood area, around Monterey Market and the Solano area. I think these are some of the jewels of Berkeley. 


10. What is your least favorite thing about Berkeley? 

The traffic. Too much traffic. There are far fewer people living in Berkeley now that lived here when I came here finally in 1964. There are fewer people but twice as many registered cars. 

I certainly am put off by how contentious we seem to feel. We need to maintain the level of discourse in this community. We could be a little more community driven, more consensus driven.