Public Comment

Commentary: No Public Policy by Fiat

By Sam Herbert
Friday June 30, 2006

Before the 2004 election for City Council representative for District 3 I knew little about Max Anderson. I knew he had powerful friends among the city’s leadership. I had heard he was into development for South Berkeley. I asked friends of mine whose opinions I valued, if they thought Anderson could be trusted to represent all the voices in South Berkeley, equably and honestly. The comments and observations of these friends were discouraging. 

Laura Menard entered the race late on, as a direct response to an unfulfilled need in this community: a voice that speaks for everyone in District 3, not just select sub-groups. Lacking the friends-in-high-places Max Anderson enjoyed, not to mention his well-financed campaign (he outspent Menard, 8 to 1), we were not surprised when Anderson won the seat. 

Soon after the election, we invited Max Anderson—our new City Council representative—to a meeting of ROC (Russell, Oregon and California streets). The ROC neighborhood group is organized, well-established, and active. Everyone from the surrounding area is welcomed to meetings, encouraged to speak up and participate as part of the larger community. Anderson came to the meeting, but he did not make a favorable impression on anyone. He showed disinterest or disapproval of ideas discussed by the group. When asked what his own interests were, he outlined suggestions which were all about development. There was a real disconnect with the community. 

Since then, the only times we have heard from or about Max Anderson were when he was trying to perpetuate a scheme against the interests of the community. One example was his advocacy for the (Dual Diagnosis) Mental Health Drop In Clinic. He went to the council with a request for a substantial raise in city funding, even though our tax dollars are already subsidizing this poorly-run organization. There is no accountability—then or now—about how they spend that largesse. They don’t even have a system for case management, to control treatment, follow-up, or any aspect of the clientele they purport to serve. That so-called service organization is a disservice to the community. And what was Max Anderson’s interest in the Clinic? His wife was on the Board of Directors. She has since resigned, under the protest from the surrounding community. 

Then came the altogether sneaky attempt to get the City Council to rubber-stamp approval of a grant application to the state to “study” a massive scale construction project in our midst: the so-called “transit village” at the Ashby BART Station. Under no circumstances should this construction project have been broached without prior agreement and substantial community involvement. And by “community involvement,” I do not mean the approval of the SBNDC. This is an inbred, self-selecting cabal of like-minded individuals, whose commentary should in no way be mistaken for community opinion. If you don’t believe me, try to join that organization, which is supposedly open to the public. Try to get anyone on the phone. Try to get a response to your call if you do get an answering machine. Or try to get a response from Max Anderson’s office. Then, should you manage to succeed that far, try finding out about any of the meetings they hold in private, belying the claim that they are open to comments and opinion of the community. 

The very rationale for the transit village is erroneous. Those of us who commute to work by BART already walk to the Station. Those who use BART, but live too far away, or cannot manage to walk that distance, drive to the BART lot or park on the streets in residential areas. Local parking is already crowded, and often, it is difficult to find a space in front of your own home. Add a substantial number of new residents to our area and you make a bad situation intolerable. Further, I maintain there is no housing shortage. There is no underserved subgroup that needs housing. There is no reason or rationale for any new construction without our prior agreement, and certainly not at the expense of the demise of the Flea Market. Max Anderson, you do not have our permission to reconstruct South Berkeley as a reflection of a personal plan for your aggrandizement. Should such a boondoggle succeed, how much of the funding would find its way into your pockets, or those of your friends? 

I do not blame the task force, selected to “study” the plan, and retroactively (I suspect) give it some respectability. I believe the task force members are trying to do the right thing, but trying to rectify a plan that was conceived in deception puts them in a tricky position. They are requesting elucidation from the city as to their role, from here on, since the grant application was denied. I think the answer to this ought to be pretty simple, unless you are Max Anderson or Ed Church. 

Trust is always something to be earned. Once lost, it is difficult if not impossible to regain. We don’t trust you, Max. I don’t trust you.  


Sam Herbert is a Berkeley resident.