Public Comment

Commentary: Let Them Eat Bush!

By Barbara Gilbert
Friday July 14, 2006

To paraphrase a famous ruler dealing with citizen discontent, “Let them eat Bush.” 

On June 27, 2006, the Berkeley City Council, in its infinite wisdom and guile, passed a crowd-pleasing measure guaranteed to distract Berkeley voters from local woes, divert press coverage away from local candidates and issues, bring forth a larger number of machine-oriented voters than might otherwise be motivated, and forge a righteous and self-righteous sense of togetherness and Berkeley boosterism despite the sorry state of the Berkeley  


So our wise councilors decided, against the advice of our sometimes-sensible City Manager, to oh-so-fearlessly and bravely promote the impeachment of President Bush and to be the first American city to put it on the ballot. Profiles in courage! 

Will Berkeley voters and the press rally around this red herring, let our city dog be wagged by its tail, hitch their wagons to this falling star, scape this goat, and fall for all the other clichéd aspects of this unanimous City Council policy breakthrough? 

In the excitement and press coverage of the Bush Bash, I hope that our voters do not forget about the secret settlement/sellout to UC and the loss of Downtown planning control and of maybe about $15M annually in UC reimbursement for City services. 

I hope that our voters and press do not forget about the secret deal to remake the Ashby/Adeline area into a high-density transit village without so much as a by-your-leave from the local residents and institutions. 

I hope that our voters and press do not forget about the multimillion dollar boondoggle known as the Brower Center/ Oxford Plaza, cleverly designed to bring yet more non-taxpaying residents, buildings, and institutions into our deteriorating Downtown and to do away with a major Downtown parking lot for several years.  

I hope that our voters and press do not forget about Berkeley’s extremely high crime rate. 

I hope that our voters and press do not forget about the sorry state of the City’s Housing Authority/Department, which is on HUD’s list of extremely troubled and incompetent agencies, in the midst of a fraud investigation, and once again asking for million dollar bailouts from the City’s General Fund. 

I hope that our voters and press do not forget that our City has the highest number of employees per resident, that City employees get 53% in benefits on top of their high salaries, that Berkeley’s local tax/fee burden is the highest in the state, and that the average Berkeley homeowning taxpayer household has an income of under $100,000.  

I hope that our voters and press do not forget that our once-beautiful foliaged City is being transformed into high-rise heaven filled with rabbit-warren apartments and paved-over side yards, and that the only real plutocrats in Berkeley are (mostly Democratic) developer high-rollers. And our venerable landmark preservation/ neighborhood preservation protections will be lost unless Berkeley voters remember that there is more on the ballot than Bush. 

I hope that our voters and press do not forget that Cody’s, Radston’s, Ifshin’s, Habitot Children’s Museum,Tupper and Reed, ActI/Act II Theatre, and many many other venerable institutions and people are getting out of Dodge despite the fact that the City has a multimillion dollar economic development program and staff. Hello? 

I hope that all of our elderly, disabled and family-possessing residents understand that they are ignominious gas-guzzlers and polluters because they stubbornly refuse to get with the program by biking around town with the more physically-abled and waiting for transit on dark crime-ridden streetcorners with the more fearless of our denizens. 

Enough diatribe. You get the point. I admit that like other centrist and sensible Democrats, I believe that impeachment is a distraction, not doable or justifiable, and not a substitute for sound national policy alternatives and good electoral politics. REGARDLESS, BASHING BUSH IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR LOCAL POLICY AND POLITICS. 

As a protest against this distracting measure, I intend to abstain on it in November. I hope that many other Berkeleyans will do the same or at least just quickly check a box and quickly move on to more immediate local matters and candidates. 



Barbara Gilbert was a District 5 Council candidate in 2004 and is active in many Berkeley civic organizations.