REALITIES AND ILLUSIONS
Editors, Daily Planet:
In a recent Berkeley Daily Planet editorial, Becky O’Malley commented on the sad state of Berkeley “progressives.” It’s refreshing for once to read a clear and concise description of the complacency that many old guard members of Berkeley Citizens Action exhibited by endorsing Mayor Tom Bates, while at the same time ignoring his role in the “economic cleansing” of this city by UC and other moneyed interests.
There seems to be a very disturbing trend happening here in the Bay Area regarding our political leadership. Candidates come forth sincerely expressing how “progressive” they are. They say that they will stop big money and the special interests. However, once in office, they radically change their opinions, and suddenly start supporting the very special interests that they once condemned. The reasons they give are to the effect that they must be “realistic” and “pragmatic.” Recent examples of this are the sudden shifts in the loyalties of Jerry Brown, Ignacio De La Fuente, and, of course, Tom Bates.
Why is this occurring? Let me offer an example. Recently, a member of the Berkeley City Council was asked why the council did not more aggressively challenge the university in its expansion plans. The reply was words to the effect that “They have too much power in Sacramento.” Statements like this show that, even in “Progressive Berkeley,” it is unelected bodies who are answerable to no one who make the real decisions that affect our lives. Knowing that the up-front oppression of the Republicans won’t work in a place like the Bay Area, the powers that be have instead used more devious methods to keep us in line. Candidates will preach unity and recite a litany of accomplishments during an election. But while they are in office, they must without question follow the bidding of these powerful interests or face the end of their political careers, or worse.
To quote Lakota activist and poet John Trudell: “We know about the reality of freedom, and the illusion of freedom.”
It’s one thing to condemn Bush and his cohorts, but let’s clean up our own house first. The immediate thing we can do is to support by whatever legal means possible the campaigns of independent candidates who are not beholden to the Democratic Party, UC, or other representatives of the monied interests. The time has come to turn our backs on the Democrats and other tired political groups, and to build a genuine independent movement of citizens throughout the Bay Area. Publications such as the Berkeley Daily Planet are at the forefront of this, and do deserve our continued support.
John F. Davies
WE CAN’T HAVE IT ALL
Editors, Daily Planet:
I am not going to use this valuable space to lament the increased traffic congestion, pollution, leakage, threat to small business or any of the other tangible and very relevant arguments against Target and other major developments that are proposed here in Alameda. You’ve heard them all by now. My argument is about what is intangible; the part of Alameda that will be permanently altered if this enormous store is built. It’s a change that cannot be represented in graphs, or charts, on fiscal reports or even environmental impact reports. Alameda is so special and it is naïve to think that you can make big changes in its landscape and not have it trickle down into all aspects of life here on the island.
While our current leaders and their developers are claiming to be progressive in their development tactics, truly progressive developers are spending trillions of dollars trying to create perfect housing developments around the country. These developments are pedestrian friendly, have central parks, create community spirit and are an attempt to revive neighborhoods that have been ravaged by a strip mall mentality. These progressive developers are trying to duplicate what we already have right here!
We can’t have both. We can’t be quirky and quaint and safe and have all of life’s modern conveniences. The problem is that once we find that out it may be too late. Is a trip to San Leandro that big a deal if it protects something so special? The change will be gradual and some of you may not even notice it, but it will still affect you in ways you may not even recognize. A little busier, a bit more crowded, a few more minutes to park, stress levels rising just a bit, increases in petty crime, noise levels up, and missing that conversation with the regular clerk you knows your name and makes you feel important. I’m not just demonizing Target alone. It’s the whole “bigger is better” mentality that accompanies “closer is better” too.
Please consider these words when you visit the polls. I am for the “Action Alameda” slate, but there are other great candidates who also support careful growth. Our current city council and our Mayor are not listening to what we as citizens of Alameda have said. I sat through many meetings regarding our general plan and big box retail was NOT what we said we wanted here on our island.
I’ll leave you with a final example. In my past life I was an editor. I would put together a video montage for my clients and they would always walk in and say “Wow that is awesome. I love what you did- Can we just change that one shot?” I would oblige and then they would request we change one more. This would inevitably continue until they stood back, I pressed play and they said “I hate it!” I would always save the first version and at the moment where they thought all was lost I would pull up the original and punch play. “Perfect!” they would always say.” Keep it just like that.” If only we could keep a version of Alameda to revert back too.
Editors, Daily Planet:
J. Douglas Allen-Taylor’s Oct. 6 article about Fiscal Crisis and Management Team (FCMAT) makes some excellent points; however, he left out one part of the story. That is, the role of county superintendent of schools. By law, that official is supposed to oversee budgets of local school districts and prevent them from overspending so that FCMAT would not be needed.
In Alameda County the superintendent of schools has allowed two school, districts to go bankrupt: Emery and Oakland, and several others are in serious financial trouble: e,.g., Berkeley, Hayward, Livermore.
The Grand Jury has looked into this, and in several of its reports have pointed out that the problem is that county superintendents are elected officials and need not have any expertise in school finance to run for and hold office.
Not only in Alameda County, but in other counties as well, the county superintendents frequently do not act swiftly enough to intervene in local school districts’ budget crisis. And this is where the legislature came to their rescue, by passing legislation which established FCMAT. FCMAT is the cavalry coming in when the county superintendents fail in their duties.
FCMAT has a cozy relation with county superintendents, and they have carte blanche hiring consultants. They don’t have to go out to bid. For a governmental agency it has unprecedented independence. Frequently, the consultants they hire are recommended by the county superintendents and they belong to the “old boy/girl” club; e.g, California School Boards Association, Association of California School Administrators. These same groups have well-paid lobbyists who happened to have lobbied for Perata’s Oakland bailout bill. Is that what is called “conflict of interest?”
No one oversees FCMAT. It was never audited until Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg in 2003 insisted that there be an audit of FCMAT finances. She was concerned that FCMAT’s budget had ballooned from $562,000 in 1993 to $36.5 million, 2001. And it keeps on growing.
LET THE SPIN BEGIN
Editors, Daily Planet:
Rick Hutchinson of City CarShare wants everyone to know how wonderful Patrick Kennedy is to donate one of his parking spaces at UC Storage for a City CarShare truck. What they don’t tell you is that Mr. Kennedy’s business is already operating with less than half required the parking and none of the required off-loading areas. Also not mentioned is the fact that UC Storage is not zoned for this use. a battle neighbors fought and won several years ago when the business began illegally renting out Ryder Trucks, turning our neighborhood into their Ryder Truck Lot. Contrary to Mr. Hutchinsons claim, neither City CarShare, Mr. Kennedy or the City of Berkeley had any discussions with, or sought input from nearby neighbors. The City CarShareTruck and signs appeared illegally the same way the Ryder Trucks did. The fact is since acquiring the property in January Mr. Kennedy has been building on stop at the site. Generators running at all hours, Trucks illegally double parking and off loading on Ward Street. Work even began on the cell phone antennas before the matter even went to the ZAB, let alone approved. It does not matter how wonderful City CarShare is, given the fact that it’s a prohibited use at a site already lacking parking and loading areas, being stuffed once again down neighbors throats the same way it was done before, like it or not, it’s wrong. Donating heavily to the campaigns of many of our elected officials has bought Mr. Kennedy free reign in Berkeley. Lets remind City Officials this is Berkeley, not Kennedyville and it belongs to us.
DOES IT MATTER WHO IS MAYOR?
Editors, Daily Planet:
I never engaged in local politics before I moved to Berkeley. Had I been asked for an opinion about the office of mayor for any of the scores of other towns or cities in which I resided previously, my response would have been a shrug. Berkeley changed my mind.
Shirley Dean was, and is, a fantastic person. I came to know her when I appealed to the city for help in stopping the drug-related violence that plagued South Berkeley. It amazed me to find that her door was always open, and her responses were always direct and practical. Both Mayor Dean and her entire staff were invariably kind, sensible and organized. She listened to everything I had to say, and while she didn’t agree with everything that fell out of my mouth, I always left her office knowing that she listened well. I strongly believe that, had Shirley Dean been mayor of anywhere else than Berkeley, her hard work and reliable ethical standards would have been much better appreciated. I told her then, and I still maintain, she provided better leadership than Berkeley deserved.
An impasse devolved, often enough, from the scenario in which a rational mind tried to arbitrate the disparate voices of conflict. Assuming a leadership role in Berkeley is like trying to herd cats. It was not hard to understand why a slim majority of Berkeley voters would be drawn to Tom Bates. He talks their talk, he knows their lingo. He is comfortable with the political cant that masks backroom deals. He knows how to use the disorganization of the city to his advantage. When Tom Bates was elected Mayor he succeeded in providing, at long last, the leadership Berkeley deserved. When Tom Bates stole all available issues of the Daily Cal on the eve of the election, we learned everything we needed to know about the man. What you see is what you get.
Over the past years of the Bates administration, I stayed away from local politics. I spoke up only when policies were floated (or worse, implemented) with the potential for disastrous effects on the community. Open and frank discussions with public access became a thing of the past, and opacity of public government a memory in Berkeley. Taken together, 10 years’ worth of observations of these two mayors have taught me the following:
• Elect a person of honesty, whose behavior reflects integrity and reliability.
• Elect a person you can talk with, who both communicates and listens well. Encountering double-speak or questionable ambiguities from a candidate ought to set off warning alarms.
• Ask, what are the top five agenda items each candidate hopes to accomplish as mayor? No one can do it all, nor can they complete too many goals well. Are the candidate’s objectives and priorities in line with yours? And yes, it does matter.
I am supporting Zelda Bronstein as the next mayor of Berkeley. I find in her an honest person, approachable and friendly. She listens very well, and her responses are always reasonable. My opinion is that Zelda is a rational problem-solver who will be good for the whole of Berkeley.