Business for Better Govern-ment—the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce political action committee (PAC)—has fired the first salvo of its campaign against Measure J.
A first-class postcard mailer from a non-union printer, mailed in Carlsbad, began arriving in Berkeley mailboxes this week, full of charges certain to provoke controversy in the waning days of campaigning before the Nov. 7 election.
“I think it’s a pack of lies,” said Laurie Bright, one of the two principal sponsors of the initiative written to update the city’s controversial Landmarks Preserva-tion Ordinance (LPO). “It’s full of flat-out misrepresentations.”
Laurie Capitelli, a Berkeley city councilmember who endors-ed the anti-J mailer, acknowledged, “Yes, it’s a campaign piece,” adding quickly, “but yes, I agree” with it.
“It’s unfortunate we live in this world of 30-second sound bites and 10-word messages on post cards,” Capitelli said.
The Chamber PAC filed its campaign finance statement with the city on Thursday afternoon, reporting that it had spent $39,600 on mailers in opposition to Measure J.
Other endorsers of the anti-J mailing, listed prominently, were:
• Mayor Tom Bates;
• Councilmembers Max Anderson, Linda Maio, Darryl Moore and Gordon Wozniak;
• Assemblymember and Bates’ spouse Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley);
• Landmarks Preservation Commission member Burton Edwards;
• Planning Commissioner Harry Pollack;
• Liveable (sic) Berkeley board member Alan Tobey and
• Sally Woodbridge, an architectural historian.
Asked about specific allegations made on the postcard, Chamber President Roland Peterson said, “I haven’t looked at the mailer in a few weeks, but most of the information we have came from a few folks in West Berkeley.”
Asked who in West Berkeley, Peterson offered one name, Michael Goldin, an interior design architect and a leading figure in the West Berkeley Business Alliance.
Goldin, reached late Thursday afternoon, said, “I’ll have to call you back,” then complained that this newspaper had published his home address, which was the location of a meeting held by Measure J opponents.
The front of the mailer features a photo of Celia’s Mexican Restaurant, a 1946 building at 2040 Fourth St. that was the subject of a controversial February 2005, historic designation by the Landmarks Preservation Commission later overturned by the city council.
Beneath a photo taken of the building’s least attractive side, complete with fire escape, is the headline, “ANOTHER LANDMARK? Designated a landmark because Boy Scouts may have met there!”
Peterson said he couldn’t comment on the text because “I have to admit I haven’t looked at it (the mailer) in a couple of weeks.”
But the Landmarks Preservation Commission finding that designated the building a Structure of Merit emphasized that the structure had been designed by prominent Bay Area architect Irwin Johnson, who designed several noted structures and one residential historic district in Oakland.
Designed for a now-defunct paint company, the structure later housed offices of the Mount Diablo Council of the Boy Scouts of America.
“There’s no ‘may’ about it,” said Bright. “The Boy Scouts did meet there.”
Among the allegations raised in the mailer are charges that Measure J:
• “gives total control over your property to unelected officials,” apparently meaning the LPC, which is appointed by city councilmembers. Bright said control isn’t total because all commission decisions may be appealed to the city council, as was the case with the Celia’s designation.
• “requires only 25 people to create a Historic District.” Rival legislation drafted by Mayor Bates and Capitelli, which was placed on hold after Measure J qualified for the November ballot, also called for 25 signatures, a number Bright said was the suggestion of the state Office of Historic Preservation.
• “removes state historic standard of integrity from our landmarking process,” which Bright said was a blatant lie. “The standard isn’t included in our present ordinance, but we added it to Measure J as one of the criteria that can be used in designating a local property,” he said.
Bright said Measure J gives less power to the LPC than the Bates/Capitelli ordinance, which would subject all residential alterations on older homes to the LPC, “while ours doesn’t.”
Because Chamber of Commerce officials cut their calls short, a reporter wasn’t able to ask how much the organization had spent on the mailer.
The PAC held a $250-a-head fundraiser at Goldin’s home on Sept. 21, attended by about 40 members and invitees. The invitation described the event as “one of the most important fundraising events for the future of Berkeley.”
The money was raised to fund opposition to Measure J and to support Bates and City Council candidates Raudel Wilson and George Beier.
Bright said he believed the mailer was designed to incorporate the results of a mysterious and costly mid-summer poll that presented a large number of Berkeley voters with a long and detailed list of possible arguments against Measure J, asking if they would be more or less likely to oppose it if each argument were true.
“This was clearly done in response to that poll,” said Bright.
No one has claimed responsibility for the survey, conducted by Communications Center Incorporated, a 19-year-old polling firm with calling centers in Washington, D.C., Spokane and Lakeland, Fla.
Caller ID identified the calls as coming from the Spokane area. Questioned by a reporter, a representative of the firm refused to identify who had signed their checks.
Because no one filed to report it as a campaign expense, the poll is currently under investigation by the city’s Fair Campaign Practices Commission.
Capitelli said he had no idea who had sponsored the survey.
Measure J’s sponsors had also sent emails to Bates and Capitelli asking them to debate the ordinance in a gathering that would be broadcast by KPFA radio.
“We never got an acknowledgment from Bates, but Laurie Capitelli did respond this afternoon,” Bright said Thursday.
An email from the councilmember’s office declined the invitation, noting that the proposed moderator Gianna Ranuzzi. had expressed support for Measure J.
Roger Marquis, Measure J’s other sponsor, replied with another email, offering Capitelli the option of picking a different moderator, “someone you feel will be fair and impartial.”