City Council Kills ‘Clean Money’ Ballot Proposal

By Judith Scherr
Friday July 14, 2006

Claiming there was no time, no local need and insufficient public interest, the City Council killed a proposal Tuesday to put public financing of city elections on the November ballot. 

“I simply cannot do it,” said City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque, who would have had the job of preparing the Berkeley measure for a final council vote by July 25, the council’s last session before its summer recess. 

A similar state-wide measure to finance elections with public money, however, has qualified for the November ballot. 

Casting his vote to oppose the measure, Mayor Tom Bates, who had consistently voted in favor of public financing for the mayor’s race—and had helped write Measure H, the 2004 ballot measure in favor of publicly-financed elections—agreed it would be “physically impossible” for the city attorney to get the job done. 

Also voting in opposition were Councilmembers Laurie Capitelli, Betty Olds and Gordon Wozniak. Councilmemnber Linda Maio abstained. 

In a phone interview Thursday, Fair Campaign Practices Commissioner Stephen Bedrick called Bates’ vote “bizarre.” The commission had endorsed putting the referendum on the ballot by a 7-1 margin. 

“Tom Bates has been a major supporter [of publicly financed elections] over the years,” he said, arguing that the city attorney could get the measure written in a timely way—she would simply need to rewrite parts of the measure placed on the ballot two years earlier.  

“I don’t think the public is going to buy the mayor’s explanation,” he said, noting Albuquerque had already argued that she hadn’t time to do the work, when Bates voted in support of the measure, which had come to the council two weeks before. [It was voted down at the time, but brought back to council Tuesday by Councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Darryl Moore.} 

“The public needs an explanation from the mayor,” Bedrick said. 

Reached by phone on Thursday, Bates said there was more to his “no” vote than simply believing there wasn’t enough time to prepare the referendum.  

“I felt the ingredients for a campaign to come together were not there,” he said. 

With the state vote planned on the question, “we have an opportunity to see how well Berkeley does,” he said. 

If it looks like there is support, Bates said he would campaign for the measure to go on the 2008 ballot. 

Professing her support for the concept, Maio abstained, saying, in a brief interview after the council meeting, that she thought placing the measure on the Berkeley ballot would cause voters to be confused between the local and state measures and, in the end, hurt the state public financing initiative. 

Capitelli said his concern was the expense the measure would incur. Public funding for the mayor’s race alone would cost the city about $300,000 annually. 

Calling the suggestion that there’s influence peddling in Berkeley “a lot of hooey,” Councilmember Betty Olds, said “crooks” are found on the state and national levels, but not in Berkeley.  

“If you can be bought for $250, you’re a cheapy,” she said, referring to the city’s $250 campaign contribution limit. 

But Moore argued that “there’s a perception in the city that some people are influenced by contributions of $250. {The measure] would help clean up that perception.” 

Speaking before the council in favor of the measure, Bedrick argued that publicity for the state “clean money” measure would, in fact, help the passage of Berkeley’s referendum. 


Delayed business  

With lengthy discussion on the Landmarks Preservation Ordinance and warm water pool (see related articles), the council delayed some of its scheduled business: 

• A public hearing on transportation fees—fees that developers would have to pay when they develop new housing and businesses to mitigate new traffic—was technically opened, although the public did not speak to the issue during the regular council meeting. The public hearing and council vote are scheduled for July 18. 

• The question of support for union organizing at the West Berkeley Bowl was put off until July 25. 


Alcohol policy reform 

A presentation by the Berkeley Alcohol Policy Advocacy Coalition, a group that targets negative behavior that results from drinking and alcohol sales, pointed to a number of problems in Berkeley. 

The group tied criminal behavior to the location of alcohol retailers, especially where there is a concentration of these outlets. 

They also detailed problems among those under 21-years of age: alcohol sales without checking IDs, binge-drinking, serious personal problems when drinking (sexual assault, thoughts of suicide) and more. 

In the fall, the council will address the coalition’s proposals to regulate alcohol beverage delivery. 

These proposals include training alcoholic beverage servers to perform their jobs responsibly; making the party host responsible where underage drinking is permitted; making it more difficult to obtain permits for alcohol retail establishments and instituting an annual fee for staff to do the outreach, education, monitoring and enforcement required.