Public Comment

Commentary: Say No to Slash-and-Burn Politics

By Wendy Markel
Tuesday October 31, 2006

Wednesday, Barack Obama speaking about his book, The Audacity of Hope, said “Americans were yearning for an end to slash and burn politics.” Unfortunately, the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce BBG PAC wasn’t listening. On Thursday, a no-holds-barred-we-don’t-care-about-the-truth hit piece urging No on Measure J appeared in Berkeley mailboxes. This hit piece is so over-the-top that people should vote YES on Measure J just to send the message that cheap shots mailed from Southern California have no place here.  

Seeking to demonize the current LPO (Landmarks Preservation Ordinance which Measure J makes permanent), the piece displays a picture of Celia’s Restaurant and claims this is a landmark. Absolutely false! At most, Celia’s was considered as a structure of merit but nothing becomes a landmark or a structure of merit until the City Council decides to either let the designation stand or review it. The council chose to review it, and Celia’s never was designated anything. Strike One!  

The anonymous authors of this piece go on to claim that Measure J “violates state law” and “may cost millions in litigation.” Here are the real facts! For 32 years, no court has invalidated any part of the current LPO. No case has been lost nor have damages been paid because of our LPO. No judge has ever issued an order that the LPO violates the law. 

Six years ago, the state certified Berkeley’s LPO as being in compliance with all state and federal laws. Nothing in Measure J changes this certification. Every California city faces state law deadlines regarding development applications. Berkeley routinely notes these deadlines as part of our zoning permit process to ensure that timely decisions are made. Strike Two! 

Among the other wrong claims made by the PAC are that Measure J:  

• “Gives total control over your property to unelected officials.” False! Your elected City Council makes the final judgment about historic resources 

• “Removes state historic standard of integrity.” False! Measure J includes integrity in its standards.  

• “Slows even minor home owner upgrades for up to one year.” False! This is the most laughable claim of all because the mayor’s ordinance waiting to be enacted if Measure J is defeated includes not only making it easier to demolish historic resources but it requires that all permits for exterior repairs to older structures, whether a historic resource or not, be reviewed by the Landmarks Preservation Commission! Under the mayor’s proposed ordinance it will be easier to demolish a 100-year old Victorian than to obtain a permit to pave your driveway. Strike Three! 

Worst of all, this is being paid for by unknown individuals who are spending $40,000 to defeat Measure J. The names of the contributors, their addresses and the amounts contributed have not been disclosed under Berkeley’s campaign laws. We may never know who they are. 

On the other hand, everyone can learn everything about the Yes on J campaign by visiting their website:  

So, toss that No on J card into the recycling bin and vote YES on Measure J. You will be saying loudly and clearly that you want to protect our neighborhoods and the environment by not demolishing buildings that should be re-used, and, most importantly, you won’t let developers buy this election! 



Wendy Markel is president of the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association. Her title is used here for identification purposes only.