Editorial: Election Proves Times Are A-Changin’ in Berkeley

By Becky O'Malley
Tuesday November 07, 2006

For an editorial published on election day, we have two choices. We can ignore the election, thus insuring ourselves against the embarrassment of incorrect predictions in the eyes of Wednesday and Thursday readers. The downside of this choice is that many if not most votes are cast on Tuesday, election day itself, the first day this issue is on the newsstands, which means that undecided readers who turn to the Planet for last-minute guidance will be disappointed. Alternatively, we can, one more time, re-hash the issues which became important during the campaign, getting in one last word about our take on the action. 

We will choose a third way, always the easiest. We’ll make fun of corporate media in general and the Chronicle in particular.  

One of our goals in taking over the Planet was to improve coverage of the urban East Bay, both by doing a better job ourselves and by egging competitors on to try harder. We feel that we’ve succeeded beyond our wildest expectations in both goals. Many stories have come to light in these pages in the last three years which previously were not covered or poorly covered. And the Chronicle has finally gotten off of its Beserkely kick, no longer viewing quirky behavior as the only thing worth covering in Berkeley. It has assigned a variety of reporters, some of them pretty good, to trying to make sense of the local scene. But they still have a way to go. 

First, we should note that the Chronicle has endorsed Schwarzenegger for governor and Bates for Berkeley mayor. Endorsements from big chain papers almost always reflect big corporate interests rather than reader preferences, so no one should be shocked by that, or even particularly critical. The paper’s editorial board did set up a “debate” between Bates and his opponent Zelda Bronstein, but it has yet to see the light of day. It was never posted on the paper’s website (unlike the one between Schwarzenegger and Angelides). One is tempted to suspect that their boy didn’t do as well as they’d hoped, but there’s no way to know.  

Sunday’s paper carried a game but ultimately unsuccessful attempt by the latest hapless reporter assigned to the Berkeley beat to make sense of what’s happened in this election. She’s obviously been reading the Planet, unlike some of her predecessors, but she still doesn’t quite get it, though she knows that times have changed, e.g. her comment that “in a redefinition of what it means to be left in Berkeley, home-owning progressives have joined with moderates to push for landmark preservation and to fight development.”  

Well, in some cities and in the olden days in Berkeley it might have been homeowners vs. renters, but in Berkeley recently some of the most vocal opponents of big box condo development are tenants still protected by rent control, who fear that their beloved and inexpensive old apartments are being torn down for new uncontrolled construction. Landmark preservation, once focused on the protection of glamorous historic and architectural resources, has taken on the additional job of what used to be called neighborhood preservation, conserving modest but charming rental housing in the flats as well as architect-designed masterpieces in the hills.  

Another statement that’s off the mark is this one: “The city also has a better relationship with UC than it used to, as UC prepares to undertake an extensive downtown development.” The city sued UC over the first phase of its massive expansion plan, but backed down at the last minute when Bates and his claque on the City Council lost their nerve. But the advisory committee whose majority was appointed by Bates and his city council allies has proved to be unexpectedly feisty in its discussions about the future of downtown with hired planners, so that one’s not over yet. And now the city is again threatening to sue, this time over UC’s latest plan: to build a mega-complex to serve sports fans and professional schools right on top of the Hayward fault, in a location which will cause major problems when the next earthquake or fire emergency happens, as it surely will. Town-gown relations aren’t approaching nirvana yet. 

This election is not one which holds the future of Berkeley in the balance. If Tom Bates wins one last hurrah, that doesn’t mean he’s home free two years from now, if indeed he runs again. The scuttlebutt is that he and his bride, Assemblymember Loni Hancock, will walk off into the sunset holding hands sometime before their terms officially end, making it possible for them to anoint their successors without any nasty primary elections getting in the way. But if that doesn’t work, the 2008 Berkeley election could be even more interesting than this one. And speaking of scuttlebutt, we’ve been told that both a mayor’s aide and a councilmember’s spouse have been opining around town that the Planet will be shutting its doors after this election is past. That’s wishful thinking, not true but not surprising.  

A paper which takes on an attempt by the local Chamber of Commerce to manipulate an election might be expected to face some problems in the advertising department. But oddly enough the major contributors to the Chamber’s aggressive PAC are not the owner-operated local businesses who advertise in the Planet. They’re mostly out-of-town developers who have never advertised here, even though signs now proclaim many vacancies in their big ugly buildings.  

Our loyal local advertisers are not funding the Chamber PAC—no surprise to us. Many of them are not even members of the chamber. For example, a quick check of the online list shows neither Rasputin’s nor Moe’s, two backbones of the Telegraph Avenue merchants’ community and frequent Planet advertisers, as chamber members.  

But in this slowing economy, we’re starting to think more of ways to pay the cost of publishing the paper other than advertising revenue. We’re wondering if readers would be interested in supporting the Planet by subscribing, with or without home delivery (which might be expensive). If it’s an idea which appeals, send an e-mail to subscriptions@berkeleydailyplanet.com or call us at 841-5600. Let us know what you’d be willing to pay. 


—Becky O’Malley 


P.S. I can scarcely believe it. On Monday after the above was finished, we got another lying postcard denouncing Measure J from the Chamber of Commerce PAC. On this one the picture on the face directly contradicts one of the untruthful bullet points on the back. The lie? “Gives total control over your property to UNELECTED officials.” The facts: The picture shows the roof and pediment of a historic house, home to one of Berkeley’s founders, which the Landmarks Preservation Commission did identify as a historic resource—but their designation was overruled by the elected City Council on appeal, and it was demolished, just one of the attractive older buildings which have been destroyed with council collusion in the past few years. The “Darling Flower Shop,” pictured in front of the house, was never designated a structure of merit as the caption claims. You can see for yourself the Ugly Box which replaced it, the “Touriel Building” complete with Ugly New Darling Flower Shop, on University near the corner of Milvia. Candidates Hancock, Bates, Maio and Wozniak have again allowed their names to be used on this deceitful document.