Public Comment

Commentary: Chamber of Commerce Is Out of Touch

By Rob Wrenn
Tuesday October 31, 2006

The Daily Planet recently reported that Al Gore came to Berkeley to support Proposition 87. Berkeley residents might be surprised to learn that our Chamber of Commerce has come out against Prop 87, even though a large majority of Berkeley residents will certainly vote for this proposition that deals positively with our nation’s oil addiction by taxing oil companies to fund alternatives to our current oil dependency and to reduce oil consumption. 

In fact, the leadership of Berkeley’s Chamber of Commerce has long been out of touch. A conservative group, who are not representative of most Berkeley business owners, let alone residents, dominates the Chamber and routinely takes Republican positions in a city where 90 percent of the residents voted for John Kerry. 

In addition to opposing Proposition 87, the chamber is also opposed to Proposition 89, the campaign financing measure backed by Berkeley’s representative in the Assembly, Loni Hancock, who sought to establish a similar reform through the Legislature. The Berkeley Chamber of Commerce has also declined to support Proposition 86, the cigarette tax initiative that will fund emergency rooms and health insurance for children. 

Our Republican-minded chamber leadership has opted to support two inexperienced and unqualified candidates for City Council: George Beier and Raudel Wilson. Both have served only very briefly on city commissions and lack a working knowledge of how city government works. Apparently, the chamber leadership thinks they will be pliable, knee jerk development supporters. All development is good from this conservative chamber point of view, regardless of whether it is environmentally sound and whether neighborhood residents support it or not. 

The chamber knows that there are few Republicans in Berkeley so they tend to support those Democrats who are most likely to support a laissez-faire, anything-goes approach to development of our city. By contrast, both Kriss Worthington and Dona Spring have a history of supporting sustainable development projects with positive environmental impacts. 

Both Kriss and Dona are concerned about global climate change and want the city to take positive steps to deal with the challenge it poses, by supporting “green building", solar power, improved transit service, Eco Pass free transit passes to encourage transit use, and other measure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. All levels of government, federal, state and local, need to be part of an effort to slow global climate change so that the world can adapt to difficult challenges (rising sea level, more severe weather, severe heat waves). 

If you live in City Council District 7 or Council District 4, you’ve probably received hit pieces from “Business for Better Government” attacking Kriss Worthington and Dona Spring for allegedly being anti- business. This literature is full of lies and distortions of both incumbents’ positions. The hit piece provides no documentation and no dates for the alleged positions taken by the incumbents. 

You might get anonymous hit pieces with “Permit No. 157, Carlsbad, CA” appearing with the postage paid info. Whenever you receive election literature in the mail or at your door, check to see who produced it. Beware of anonymous literature and beware of last-minute hit pieces. They are sent out late to make a response difficult. 

In addition to being out of touch on current ballot initiatives, the Chamber leadership has a history of being out of touch with the values shared by most Berkeley residents. They supported Arnold Schwarzenegger’s special election initiatives that were overwhelmingly rejected in Berkeley and statewide. They have opposed virtually every progressive ballot initiative and council action, including the living wage ordinance that requires people who contract with the city to pay decent wages to their employees. They opposed domestic partner benefits when it was introduced. 

Many residents have also already received the chamber’s “Vote No on Measure J” mailer which is rife with inaccuracies about that measure which would continue Berkeley’s commitment to historic preservation, as was reported in the Planet. To be an informed voter in Berkeley, you need to be aware of the current chamber leadership’s conservative, pro-all-development bias and their propensity for spreading misinformation. 

The current leadership of the chamber is giving the business community in Berkeley a bad name; they need to be replaced with people who are more in tune with community values. 


Rob Wrenn has served as chair of both the Planning Commission and the Transportation Commission.