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Wozniak, Overman Face Off in District 8 Race

By Judith Scherr
Friday September 29, 2006

Upstart UC Berkeley student Jason Overman, 21, catapulted late into the District 8 race by announcing his decision to run only last month. Campaigning with the vigor of a youthful attack dog, the Washington, D.C., transplant has picked up a fistful of endorsements. 

The race is a study in contrasts. Incumbent City Councilmember Gordon Wozniak, 62, a retired research scientist and adminisrator at Lawrence Berkeley Labs, has a history of 35 years in Berkeley. In contrast to Overman, though winning few of the prized organizational endorsements, Wozniak is piling up contributions to support his race. 

The mandatory July 31 campaign finance report, which covers the first six months of 2006, showed that Wozniak netted $24,000, while Overman hadn’t collected any campaign funds at all. Wozniak spent $72,000 in his successful 2002 race.  

While Wozniak seems to have Overman beat on the money side—new campaign finance statements come out next week—the organizational endorsements often bring with them troops on the ground to staff phone banks or knock on doors. 

Overman’s endorsements include the Alameda County AFL-CIO Central Labor Council, the Alameda County Democratic Party Central Committee, and all the local Democratic clubs except the Berkeley Democratic Club. Overman is also supported by councilmembers Dona Spring, Kriss Worthington and Max Anderson and 18 senators of the Associated Students of the University of California. 

While Wozniak has picked up the endorsements of only the Firefighters Association and the “moderate” Berkeley Democratic Club, he’s captured the support of some high-ranking public officials, including state Sen. Don Perata and Assemblymember Loni Hancock. He has the local endorsements of Mayor Tom Bates, former mayor Shirley Dean and councilmembers Laurie Capitelli and Betty Olds.  

On the campaign trail, Overman, elected to the Rent Stabilization Board in 2004, speaks more about what he characterizes as his opponent’s failures than his own achievements or plans.  

Wozniak says of Overman: “He’s young, he’s bright, he’s articulate—it’s good to have a challenger. It makes you work harder.” 

In separate interviews, the Daily Planet queried the candidates about their accomplishments and positions on specific issues.  

Asked what he sees as one of his most outstanding achievements during his four-year term, Wozniak points to his efforts to attack the high rate of work-related injuries among city employees.  

Wozniak asked the city manager for quarterly reports on the question to focus attention on it. “It was a joint effort,” he said. Supervisors were trained and management paid more attention to the issue. Injuries have gone down by about a third and city savings this year are around $500,000 to $1 million, he said.  

As his major accomplishment during his tenure on the Rent Stabilization Board, Overman points to his efforts helping to craft the city’s Condominium Conversion Ordinance, a law that limits conversion of rental apartments to condos to 100 each year and provides tenant protections. 


Housing issues 

Overman is a fierce opponent of Measure I, a ballot measure that would replace the new condominium ordinance he helped to write; up to 500 units each year could be converted.  

“That would have a devastating effect,” Overman said, arguing that only about 15 percent of sitting tenants would be able to purchase the units they live in.  

“It’s creating homeowner opportunities for a limited number of people on the backs of tenants” (whose rents would likely rise due to limited supply), he said, criticizing Wozniak for refusing to oppose the measure. 

Wozniak said he likes neither the existing condominium law—he voted against it when it came to the City Council—nor Measure I.  

The existing law went overboard on tenants’ rights, he said. “I didn’t like the idea of a lifetime tenancy. I thought it was too sweeping.”  

On the other hand, he said, Measure I goes too far in the other direction. He said he doesn’t like the fact that the measure would eliminate all tenant protections.  

There are elements in the measure that Wozniak said he likes, especially the 5 percent given to the tenants for the down payment. He thinks the measure could go further. “I think the city should match that,” he said. 

And rather than allowing for 500 conversions annually, Wozniak said he thinks conversion of 200 to 250 would be better. 

Helping low income people get housing is important, Wozniak said, but middle class people also have unmet housing needs. New UC staff and faculty cannot afford homes in Berkeley. 

“We have the jobs here, but not the housing,” he said, adding that if they could live in Berkeley, that would cut down on traffic.  

Criticizing Wozniak for not fully supporting low-income housing, Overman points to two developments Wozniak voted against which Overman said he would have supported. 

Wozniak explained his vote against the downtown Oxford Plaza. The units were too expensive, costing $350,000 each to build, he said. Despite the cost, Wozniak said he had voted to approve early funding of the project, but when the developer asked the council to forgive property taxes for seven years, he could no longer support the mounting costs. 

Wozniak said his opposition to the senior housing at Sacramento and Blake streets was because the project will house people with Section 8 (federal) vouchers. This will not have house new people, but transfer the locations where they live, Wozniak said. 

“I don’t think that’s a good bang for your buck,” he said.  

Overman said he understands Wozniak’s concerns, however, “He didn’t provide a creative alternative. I would have said: ‘If there’s a way to make it more cost efficient—absolutely.’” 


Settlement agreement with the university 

Wozniak voted to sue the university over its development plan and fees paid to the city which the city deemed insufficient, but he also voted to approve a closed-door settlement agreement.  

“We got the best deal we could,” Wozniak said, contending that to continue with the lawsuit would have cost the city at least $500,000. The agreement gave the city “substantially more than we had got in the past” and opened the door to working together on a downtown plan, he said. 

Moreover, “To fight the university on everything and never compromise is not a good strategy,” Wozniak said, arguing that the state should give the city funds to compensate any detriment the university brings. 

In contrast, Overman said he would have voted against the settlement, holding out for a better deal. And he would have strongly protested settling the suit behind closed doors.  

“It shut out the community from the development process,” Overman said. “We need to let the sunshine in. If this city values open government and transparency, it was wrong for the city attorney to keep the public and council away from the bargaining table.” 

Wozniak agreed that the process should have been more open. 

“This was an oversight on our part,” he said. “Our attorney’s office basically asked the university that neither side would disclose the terms of the settlement.” 

Later, the city said it changed its mind about disclosing the agreement, but the university refused the request. 


Clean money and IRV 

The candidates see the mechanics of getting public financing of elections in Berkeley differently, though both say they support it. Overman said he would have voted to put a measure on the Berkeley ballot to let the voters decide; Wozniak voted against it. 

“People are desperate to live in a country where elections will no longer be bought or sold,” Overman said.  

Wozniak said he supported Berkeley’s clean money initiative two years ago, which lost by a wide margin. The proposed ballot measure was substantially the same, he said, arguing that it was too soon to go back to the voters with the same plan.  

Similarly, Overman said he is a strong advocate for Instant Runoff Voting and Wozniak has questions about the way it is practiced in San Francisco—and could be practiced in Berkeley—with people limited to ranking three choices, rather than having to rank all the candidates. 


Campaign information is at: and