10 Questions for Councilmember Max Anderson

By Jonathan Wafer, Special to the Planet
Tuesday November 07, 2006

1. Where were you born and where did you grow up, and how does that affect how you regard the issues in Berkeley and in your district? 

I was born in Decatur, Ill. It was a medium size town of about 80 to 100,000 in central Illinois. My father was an employee of the AE Stanley Manufacturing Company, a grain manufacturing company in the city, a big employer. My father was also a staunch member of Allied Industrial Union, which was the union that represented the workers there. He was a laborer, worked there for close to 30 years.  

I have two sisters, one older and one younger, and one younger brother. We had a good childhood growing up there. We had issues that most African-Americans had growing up in the mid ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s. All of my siblings went to Eisenhower High School, a relatively new high school. It was built in 1959, and I think we received a pretty good education. The city was, by and large, pretty integrated, although we still had some issues such as drug store and soda fountain segregation issues, but the schools were all integrated. 

I was a student athlete, played football, basketball and some track while I was there. I think it contributed to my future outlook by, first of all, providing me with a good education. Secondly, I grew up with a lot of friends and family and had a close-knit community there. In 1963, upon graduation, I and some friends, enlisted in the Marine Corps. I spent four years in the U.S. Marine Corps in California and Hawaii. Then I spent a year in Philadelphia. And a year in Vietnam. I was discharged in Philadelphia, got married and later had a daughter in 1969. She lives out here in the Bay Area. My second wife and I were married almost 25 years ago and have been living in Berkeley since 1985. I Immediately fell in love with Berkeley when we moved out here, California in general, but Berkeley in particular. We had friends out here that helped us make a decision to move out here a year or so before we actually did move here. They showed us around a bit and introduced us to the culture and the people out here. One of the kind of underhanded things that they did was they would call us when we lived in Philadelphia. They would call from Berkeley in January when it was 70 degrees here and tell us how nice the weather was. So we finally came out to visit here in 1984. Sure enough, it was 70 degrees. And we visited Yosemite, made the rounds, rekindled some acquaintances that we had with people who lived out here that we had known. So in 1985 we decided to move out here—my wife, my daughter and myself—and have enjoyed being here ever since.  

2. What is your educational background, and how did that help prepare you for being a councilmember? 

I went to community college in Philadelphia and studied to become a respiratory therapist. I became a respiratory therapist earning an associate degree in applied science. Later I went to nursing school at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia and earned a bachelor’s degree and became a critical care nurse in the early ‘80s and have been so ever since. When I came to Berkeley in the mid ‘80s, I went to graduate school in city planning and public health at UC Berkeley. The training and education in public health and in city planning certainly contributed to my understanding and educational underpinnings for later political activity. I actually became interested in going to graduate school in those two disciplines while serving on the Planning Commission in Berkeley from 1989-1996.  


3. What are the top three most pressing issues facing your district? 

I think the pressing issues have to do with providing opportunities for our youth. That’s one category. Insuring that we have opportunities in terms of education and for developing life skills, back-to-school programs and also things like financial literacy. And to that end I’ve been working with councilmembers Moore and Capitelli to explore the possibility of creating a youth center for the youth in South and West Berkeley. I’m meeting with some county officials to pursue that even further. 

We are all interested in crime and crime prevention and efforts to make South Berkeley a safer place to raise a family and live and work as we all can. And I’m a strong supporter of neighborhood organizations that dedicate themselves not only to prevention but to building a sense of community in our town. 

The other important issue is this on going problem with health disparities in the city between the African-American and Latinos and more affluent areas of the city. Four or five years ago reports came out from our health department that highlighted those disparities. The city has responded over the years to try and create programs that deal with some of those health disparities. For instance, we have a program to help reduce the disparities in low birth weight babies that were being born in our community and in the hills and the flatlands. Life expectancy is a continuing gap between the hills and the flatlands and we will continue to work on those issues. So that’s probably the three top issues: youth, crime prevention and health disparities.  


4. Do you agree with the direction the city is heading in? Why or why not? I agree that the city is making some efforts to improve its financial base and create affordable housing to make this a more livable city for all of its residents and pursue development that is environmentally friendly and creates jobs for young people in this city. I agree with the general direction the city is going in. I think we need more affordable housing but it should be housing that can house families. Also, I’m a very staunch supporter of building houses at the transit village to reduce our dependency on automobiles and promote a healthier environment in the city. 


5. What is your opinion of the proposal to develop a new downtown plan and the settlement with the University of California over its LRDP? 

The state constitution gives the university extraordinary powers and exempts them from compliance with our local land use regulations. It’s a harsh fact to deal with. It’s in the constitution so it’s very difficult to get around it. I think the settlement that the university and the city hammered out was a reflection of those harsh realities. I think it represents an opportunity for the city and the university to work together in a mutually beneficial way to improve the pace and substance of the development in the downtown area, especially where the city and the university share common space and interests.  


6. How do you think the mayor is doing at his position? Are you considering running for mayor, and if so, what changes would you try to make? 

I’m not interested in running for mayor for now or the foreseeable future. I’m more interested in working closely with the council and with the community to try and improve conditions in my community. I think the mayor is doing a very good job. I don’t always agree with him on every issue. He makes an effort to reach out to people on the council to get their opinions and their input, and I think he is head and shoulders above the last mayor we had.  


7. Has Berkeley’s recent development boom been beneficial for the city? What new direction, if any, should the city’s development take over the next decade? 

Well. I think development of a city is part of its ongoing life. Cities that don’t engage in some kind of appropriate development tend to wither. Certainly we don’t want that fate for Berkeley. We have a big enough problem operating this regional economic environment that favors places like Emeryville, which dedicated a great deal of its resources to retail development. The realities of big box shopping areas like Costco and others detract from our economic well-being in the city. The city, I think, needs to and is beginning to develop strategies especially around bringing industries that are favorable to the environment. I think we ought to look more at training a cadre, especially young people, in an environmentally friendly realm. And I’m willing to do whatever I can to help promote that. 


8. How would you characterize the political climate in Berkeley these days? 

I think that the political climate here in Berkeley is not unlike the political climate in other communities, much of which is dictated by soaring housing prices, by the continuing and escalating effects, I think, of Prop 13 that was passed in the mid ‘70s that has had quite a detrimental effect on public funding of essential services and schools. I think we are increasingly finding a very difficult environment in which to work, when you combine that with the direction of the national government, which seems to be in the firm control of corporate America. The national government has participated in the undermining of affordable housing by reducing HUD funding. We still have a serious problem with health care in this country that’s not being addressed as it should be with an effort to institute a single payer system that would insure that everybody in this country receives health care coverage. So these all contribute to a political climate where there is a lot of distrust of government. There is apprehension about the future. We have to forge a future that everybody can feel that they can participate in and have a stake in and we have a lot of work to do. 


9. What is your favorite thing about Berkeley? 

I like its diversity. It’s a struggle that we have to continue to wage. It’s being mitigated with rising housing costs, and the failure to produce the kinds of living wage jobs in the city that can afford people an opportunity to buy a home and raise a family here. But these things are worth fighting for. The good thing about Berkeley, I think, is the ongoing and deep reservoir of compassion and concerns and egalitarianism in this city that has stood up over the years and makes Berkeley a continuing center for guidance for the rest of the country in terms of initiatives we take and stands that we take. And I hope we continue to be the cutting edge for ideas and actions.  


10. What is your least favorite thing about Berkeley? 

The traffic. When I first moved here in the mid ‘80s there wasn’t really a rush- hour traffic jam. But for the last 10 or 12 years it’s been escalating and there’s many more cars on the streets. Many people are not taking full advantage of public transportation. And to that extent that we can work on the macro environment in terms of reducing pollutants is very important. But we also have to work on the micro environment in terms of how we live our lives in this small city on this small planet in this solar system.