Slamming what they called the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce’s Karl Rove approach to local elections, some 125 people demonstrated Wednesday on the steps of Old City Hall to “say no to big money and big lies.”
Followed by a march to the University Avenue Chamber of Commerce office, the protest targeted the Chamber political action committee’s “hit pieces” attacking incumbent council-members Dona Spring and Kriss Worthington and the Yes on Measure J campaign.
A recent filing with Alameda County shows that the Chamber PAC spent at least $61,793.58 on the effort.
Addressing the hastily called noontime gathering, Worthington said people in Berkeley want “integrity and democracy,” not the “big lies” the Chamber PAC is delivering.
“Thousands of dollars were spent by vested interests,” Spring added, pointing specifically to Chamber PAC contributions of $5,000 by Patrick Kennedy’s Panoramic Interests, and $10,000 contributed by Wareham Development to the effort.
“The community will not put up with the distortions and lies,” Spring said, “We’re fighting for our community standards. I’ve never seen the elections sink this low.”
While the Chamber pieces paint Worthington and Spring as anti-business, claiming, among other things, that they opposed the West Berkeley Bowl, Spring underscored that she, Worthing-ton and Councilmember Max Anderson abstained on a Bowl vote, holding out for a resolution in support of a union at the market. All three voted their support on the second reading of the resolution before the council after the pro-union resolution was prepared, she said.
Moreover, Spring said, contrary to statements in the chamber mailer, “We did vote for more police officers and outreach workers” for Telegraph Avenue and downtown. “Business left Telegraph because of high rents and Internet sales,” she added.
Worthington said he would have no problem if the Chamber sent out mailers about the true issues that divide him from them, such as his strong support for the Honda strikers and Claremont Hotel workers.
“We can’t ask what’s the matter with Kansas without asking what’s the matter with Berkeley,” said former Landmarks Commissioner Patti Dacey, speaking for the Yes on J ballot measure.
“The lies against Measure J are a degradation of the democratic process,” Dacey said, pointing to the mailer’s assertion that the measure is a “violation of state law” and blasting the mailer’s contention that the measure would remove the state historic standard of integrity.
Correcting the record, Dacey said, in fact, the ballot measure would “integrate the standard of integrity into local law.” (The standard of integrity relates to the degree that changes are made in a structure over time.)
At the close of the rally—which included District 8 challenger Jason Overman, representatives of the No on Measure I campaign and mayoral candidate Zelda Bronstein, and a representative from the Yes on Prop. 89 committee—protesters marched the several blocks from Old City Hall to the Chamber of Commerce office a few blocks away on University Avenue. There, Worthington delivered a letter, calling on the Chamber to “issue an immediate correction to the inaccurate information that your organization has disseminated to my constituents.”
From behind a locked metal gate at the Chamber office on University Avenue, Chamber President Roland Peterson read a prepared statement, which distanced the Chamber from its political action arm, Business for Better Government.
“It is …important for all to realize that the Chamber of Commerce is separate and distinct from the Business for Better Government PAC,” he read. “There is only a casual affiliation among the two, such as a shared address.”
Peterson’s statement describes the Chamber PAC as a “grass roots movement of different local coalitions from West Berkeley and throughout the city, concerned citizens and small businesses alike, from the flatlands to the hills, who want to make Berkeley great again … This is not, we want to stress not, big business interests, but local interests, committed small business and the community fighting for positive change.”
The statement goes on to argue, “We need to keep our tax dollars in Berkeley.”
A look at the 34 Chamber PAC contributors filed with Alameda county on Oct. 26 for the period of July 1 to Oct. 21, however, indicates that the bulk of the $38,000 raised (the rest is in loans to the PAC) came from large businesses, almost half of them located outside Berkeley. In addition to San Rafael-based Wareham Development and Panoramic Interests, large contributions came from San Rafael-based Seagate Properties, Inc., which contributed $5,250, Emeryville-based Teece Family Foundation, which contributed $4,000, and Berkeley-based Ruegg & Ellsworth, which contributed $3,000.
Among other contributions from outside Berkeley was a $1,000 donation from Oakland-based Bisno Development Co., $500 from the president of San Francisco-based Pacific Property Asset Management and six $250 contributions.
While the Chamber’s filings did not indicate where the money was spent, the mailers were posted from Carlsbad. Daily Planet calls to Peterson on Thursday for further explanation were not returned by deadline.