Editorial: Hit Pieces Damage Chamber’s Reputation

By Becky O’Malley
Friday November 03, 2006

The arrival of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce’s latest Measure J hit piece in mailboxes all over town on Wednesday generated a remarkable explosion of outrage from Berkeley citizens—it’s jammed our e-mail box. We’ve printed the largest Planet ever today, but it hasn’t got room for everything. You can read last-minute contributions on the web and in Tuesday’s paper, if you’re still undecided. 

In view of the crush, I’ll keep my own remarks brief. The Chamber PAC’s choice of an ugly section of chain-link fence topped with barbed wire as this week’s Swift Boat photo selection marks them as—what? yahoos? philistines? Babbitts?—no, they probably don’t understand such fancy literary epithets. They’re ignorant, that’s for sure.  

I first encountered the Chamber’s clueless political action committee a few years ago when they came out against a ballot measure to fund emergency attendants for disabled people. The Chamber president at the time was the manager of Berkeley Honda, a nice fellow from whom my family had bought two cars. I called him up and complained, he paid attention, and within a week the Chamber had overturned the foolish action of its PAC. But they don’t seem to have learned much from that experience.  

The photo is of the backside of the old California Ink Company factory, which was designated a historic resource in 1986—the year Loni Hancock was elected mayor— because it was then the oldest continuously operating factory in Berkeley. The designation was a tribute to the old Berkeley where honest businesses employed solid decently paid working people to produce useful products—beauty had very little to do with it. Today’s Planet reprints historian Susan Cerny’s 2001 article about the history of Cal Ink, along with Daniella Thompson’s haunting pictures of the site in its current neglected state. The Landmarks Commission, according to their October 1986 minutes, designated just four of the many buildings on the site “because of their historic importance and intact physical condition” on a 5-1-1 vote. The decision could have been appealed to the City Council, but no one challenged it at the time. If the buildings have been allowed to decay in the last twenty years, it’s the fault of the city of Berkeley for not enforcing its own laws.  

The Chamber PAC has told disgraceful lies not only about Measure J, but also about the voting records of Councilmembers Spring and Worthington. A reader brought another of the Chamber’s last minute mailers to the Planet office on Thursday morning. This one features doctored photos of the 4th Street Cody’s with “Closed” superimposed on it, and of the Berkeley Bowl on Shattuck labelled “West Berkeley,” accompanied by consummate distortions of votes on those businesses.  

The politicians and others whose names are prominently featured on Chamber mailers have yet to repudiate them. Voters who don’t like this kind of politics should cast protest votes for opponents of candidates listed as endorsers, namely Bates, Hancock, Maio and Wozniak. They should also make their views known to Chamber members, who are listed on the Internet.