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Safety, Housing at Center of District 7 City Council Race

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday September 12, 2006

Both Telegraph Avenue area candidates, incumbent Kriss Worthington and challenger George Beier, wrap themselves in the “progressive” mantle, but the two are distinguished by their support within the community and by their approaches to issues affecting students, particularly public safety and housing. 

While 11-year District 7 incumbent Worthington puts public safety on a par with housing and student representation, Beier, president of the Willard Neighborhood Association and a waterfront commissioner, says housing and representation are important, but public safety takes precedence. 

Students comprise about 50 percent of registered voters in District 7, according to both candidates, although they tend to vote less than others in the district. 


Public safety 

The Telegraph Avenue area’s high rate of property crime compared to the rest of the city and the impact of crime on student life and on the commercial strip, whose revenue at $98 million has declined over the last decade, thrusts the question of public safety into the election spotlight. 

Both incumbent and challenger say additional services for homeless people, more lighting and more policing are key. 

Beier focuses on changes in People’s Park he says is a haven for drug dealers and users. “They’ve found 1,000 needles in People’s Park in the last eight months,” he said. 

A member of UC Berkeley’s People’s Park Advisory Board—the university owns the park—Beier chairs its Usage Committee and points to his success in getting the university to put $100,000 into a redesign study for the park.  

Consultants will determine the redesign. Beier said he hopes it will include more open space, as in Willard Park, and putting a café at one end of the site. 

“The key is usage,” Beier says. “We need people in and out.” 

In an earlier interview, Beier advocated installing cameras in the park to catch drug dealers, but has had second thoughts. “That remains to be seen,” he said. 

Worthington’s platform has called not only for more police—reinstatement of those lost to budget cuts—but for better, more targeted policing.  

“I led the fight against taking the police and social workers off of Telegraph Avenue” when there were budget cuts a few years ago, Worthington said. He also led the charge to put the police and mental health services back on the avenue, for which he got full cooperation from the council after the closing of Cody’s Books pointed up the need. 

Worthington is also calling for better use of police. They should prioritize arrests, he said. People found with small amounts of marijuana should be left to themselves, but those dealing hard drugs should be prosecuted.  

“There’s a fine line, a balancing act—how do you stop the hard drug dealing, without cracking down on every single student who ever tried a joint?” he asked. 

Pedestrian lighting is part of the package of Telegraph Avenue improvements passed by the council in the spring—not more street lighting, Worthington explained, but lighting that illuminates sidewalks. Beier is also calling for more lighting, but it should be on side streets as well as Telegraph, he says. While Worthington says that is a good idea, he says the expense makes it prohibitive. 

Worthington would like to initiate a 24-hour-a-day pager service for the use of students, businesses and residents with problems. The person on duty who responds to the page would decide whether a social worker, a police officer or someone from public works was needed. The city should fund the service, Worthington said. 

“The business district has nearly $98 million in sales per year. Can’t we afford the cost of a pager and a person?” Worthington asked. He said he won’t introduce the plan to council until he has a sense that his colleagues will pass it. 

Beier is calling for additional emergency call boxes near campus. 

Student housing 

Worthington says his record shows strong advocacy for student housing—working both for more units and for better quality.  

After a fire in which a student died, Worthington went to the city Housing Advisory Commission with students and got a rental housing safety inspection program created, a coordinated effort between the city of Berkeley’s planning and housing departments, he said. 

And in 2000, Worthington says he wrote letters, rallied with students, and even camped out as part of student protests pressuring the university to build 900 new units of housing. 

Beier also says habitability is high on his list of priorities. In his role as Willard Park Association president, he’s called for CAL Housing (ASUC City Affairs Lobby and Housing Commission) to fund a website where students can “rate the landlord.” Does he empty the dumpster? Does he have a manager on site? Has he tried to evict a tenant without good cause? 

“Hopefully we’ll get that done in the spring,” he said. 

Worthington points up his housing credentials with his support for pro-tenant slates for the Rent Stabilization Board as opposed to landlord-backed slates. He says contributions to Beier’s campaign show that he’s supported by landlords, citing Beier contributors Ed Munger, who Worthington said fought to wipe out commercial rent control, and Michael Wilson, president of the landlord group Berkeley Property Owners Association. 

Beier would also like to see more housing for long-term residents on Telegraph itself, with quality apartments or “workforce” condominiums, especially for people in careers such as teaching who could not otherwise afford to own their home.  

“We need more eyes on Telegraph,” he said.