Public Comment

Commentary: Buying a City Council Seat

By Rob Wrenn
Friday November 03, 2006

As the Daily Planet has reported George Beier is the biggest spender in this year’s local elections. In fact he has set a record for the most money ever spent on a City Council race. He had spent $72,150 as of Oct. 21. It’s quite likely he will top $100,000 before he’s done. To put this in perspective, Mayor Tom Bates had only spent $52,375 by October 21 and he is running citywide in all eight districts. 

On top of the $72,150 that Beier has spent, the Chamber has, so far, spent $9730 to attack Kriss Worthington. So a total of $81,880 had been spent by Oct. 21 to help elect Beier. A large chunk of this money comes from Beier himself; with another big portion from real estate interests and other special interests. 

The strategy being used by the Beier campaign is clever, though not new. It’s been done before. It works like this: 

The Beier campaign puts out literature that doesn’t even mention Kriss, albeit with misleading statements about crime and transit. His literature is “positive.” Meanwhile, other groups supporting Beier, in this case the Chamber of Commerce, sling the mud and engage in the negative campaigning. Beier can then say, as he has, that he has nothing to do with the negative campaigning. 

But the real question is: will he repudiate the false and misleading statements that are being made on his behalf by an organization whose support he has welcomed? As of the writing of this letter, he has not. 

What is Beier doing with all the money he has spent? Well, he can pay professionals to run his campaign and can pay for polls and for people to drop literature at people’s doors and to put signs on utility poles (which is not actually legal in the case of wooden poles). 

Most City Council candidates can’t afford pollsters and have to rely on volunteers. Their campaigns are usually run by people who receive a small stipend at best. 

Another thing that a wealthy candidate like Beier can do is pay for lots of slickly designed campaign mailers, which Beier has done. Two of his mailers are very misleading. 



One mailer is about crime and makes the false assertion that District 7 has the city’s highest crime rate.  

While it doesn’t say so, the mailer’s data is crime per acre data, which, of course, inflates the crime rate in District 7, because District 7 has the highest population density in the city. District 7 has more people per acre than any other part of the city. The legend on the mailer’s map of crime indicates that it’s for a period of less than a year and is for some types of crime, not all crime.  

When the Police Department make reports to the council about crime and especially when they compare crime rates in Berkeley to crime in Oakland, Concord, Richmond, and other nearby cities, they use crimes per 10,000 population.  

If you want to estimate the probability that someone will be a victim of a particular type of crime, crime per population rather than crime per acre is the way to do it. When you look at crime per 10,000, you will find that District 7 does not have the city’s highest crime rate, especially for violent crime such as murder and robbery. The basic pattern of crime in Berkeley is not very surprising: it’s lowest in the hills, highest in parts of South and West Berkeley (especially violent crime) and somewhere in between in the neighborhoods south of the UC campus. There seems to be a relationship between average incomes of residents and crime. 

2003 is the most recent year for which the FBI’s uniform crime report statistics are available by Census Tract. You have to be careful with more recent, more raw data, especially if you are comparing cities or areas within cities. And you need to look at trends over time because there are lots of year-to-year fluctuations in particular types of crime. If you want to look at the city’s crime statistics, you can find them on the city’s website.  

In my District 7 neighborhood (part of Census Tract 36), crime has fallen substantially since Kriss Worthington has been in office. But I would hesitate to suggest, as Beier does, that whoever happens to be in office is responsible for the current crime rate or trends in crime rates. A lot of factors affect crime. The real question is what can elected officials do about it. 

It’s a matter of public record that Kriss Worthington fought to restore cuts for police on Telegraph made during the city’s post-9/11 budget crunch and to ensure adequate staffing. In October 2003, he co-sponsored a Council item with Mayor Tom Bates to do so; his item was pulled by Councilmember Wozniak, who happens to share a campaign office with George Beier. Kriss has been a consistent supporter of community policing; even before he was first elected in 1996, he was involved in the Berkeley Safe Neighborhood Committee. George Beier talks a lot about crime, but what has he actually done? 


Bashing transit 

George Beier also sent out a mailer than falsely claims that Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) with dedicated lanes for buses on Telegraph will “cause gridlock on Telegraph.” What is his evidence for this? A traffic study? Some other analysis by a traffic engineer or transportation planner? The fact is that he has no evidence. Traffic analysis has been done for the BRT EIR, which will be released by the year’s end. 

We won’t know all the details on an intersection by intersection basis until then. But we already know based on statements that AC Transit’s Jim Cunradi has made publicly on various occasions that gridlock will not result on ANY portion of Telegraph under any of the BRT alternatives being considered. Why is George Beier bashing an effort to improve transit without waiting to get all the facts? 



Rob Wrenn is a former Chair of Berkeley’s Planning Commission.