Ten Questions for Councilmember Olds

By Jonathan Wafer
Friday September 15, 2006

By Jonathan Wafer 

Special to the Planet  


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 grew up on a farm in Missouri. I was born in 1920 and I lived through the Great Depression. It’s made me pretty conservative from the standpoint of expenditures. I grew up in a small community and went to a school of 5 students. My high school had only 42 students. So I wasn’t exposed to the big world until I went off to college at the age of 16. 


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

In the day that I was ready for college most woman took home economics. It never occured to women that they could take all these other things. So we were really kind of stuck with that. My mother was one of the first college graduates in her class at Kansas State College. So I went there and took home economics and my twin brother started at the University of Missouri. And my mother asked me to transfer there which I did. Then I learned at that school that the outstanding school for home economics was Iowa State. So I transferred there for my last two years and graduated in 1941. 


3. What are the top three most pressing issues facing your district?  

Fire safety is a very important one. Because we live right next to Tilden Park; and the history has been that if there’s a terrible fire it will probably come out of the park. So we’re very concerned with fire stations and fireman and keeping brush cleared back. 

The second issue, probably, is crime. We’re very fortunate that we don’t have really bad crime in our district. We do have a lot of home break-ins and car break-ins and car thefts. People, like they are everywhere, don’t know how terrible it can be so they’re very concerned about what we do have. It’s hard to convince people that they need to lock their cars because the police are not going to be driving up the hill and see somebody in the process of stealing cars. 

The third issue is parking. Many of the hill streets are narrow and there is parking on one side. So we do have parking laws or wars at times, but not often. Since there are no sidewalks, that also means that we can’t have the streets swept. So we do have a problem with a lot of debris on streets such as dust and leaves. 

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

Mostly I agree with it. I’m very concerned about the fact that we’re making the city so dense. And I think it’s time for us to stop and realize that not everybody who wants to live in Berkeley can live here. 

The very things that have attracted people to Berkeley are going to be lost in the process of building up all the blocks with housing, so that the problem of cars, transportation and just the density of the city increasing at such a rate, to me, is not a good thing. 


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? 

Well, I don’t think we will settle the downtown problem until we have something downtown for people to come to. When we first moved to Berkeley, and we’ve lived here for 53 years now, we had Hinks, which was a huge department store. And if they didn’t have it at Hinks they had it at a department store nearby. So we don’t have any of that now. 

There’s really nothing downtown that I can think of except the library. And the parking is so difficult that I wouldn’t dream of going to the main library. I go out to the North Berkeley Branch library. 

So there are two problems. The first problem is there is a perceived lack of parking. And I think that it’s a very real problem. Until they solve that, the kind of businesses I think we need to create a good downtown are not going to come. 

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?  

Hardly, at age 85. I think he’s trying to do, as all mayors do, a good job. Mostly he is. I certainly support him in most of his endeavors. It’s a pretty thankless job. Every mayor needs the support of his council and he is really fortunate that he has it because some don’t. 


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 we need to slow down on housing. Nobody else agrees with me. I think that you can get to the point of no return. I’m not going to name any particular projects because they’re still in the works and it would not be fair to them. But we need to think very seriously about how crowded we want the city to be. 


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

It’s just like it always was. It’s contentious. It’s always been that way and it always will be. I think it’s a good thing that the citizens are so concerned about their city. It’s certainly not true of a lot of places. I am bothered by the fact that so many of the homes that are sold now are sold for such a high price that the husband and wife have to have jobs away from home. So when people come home so worn out and tired, going to a city council meeting is pretty low on their list of things to do. So I’m wondering if people will show less interest in city politics. Then we will have a changed climate. I doubt it because taxes are extremely high and most people try and protect themselves from having their taxes increased. We will see. 


9. What is your favorite thing about Berkeley? 

I think my favorite thing about Berkeley is just the way people are in Berkeley and what our values are. The university, of course, is important even though it’s a problem. I live in the hills and I love the views of the Bay and the terrain. It’s wonderful. I think Berkeley has some of the best people I’ve ever met. 


10. What is your least favorite thing about Berkeley? 

Again, the fact that we’re trying to make it so dense it’s not going to be livable.