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Hills Opposition Doomed Measure J

By Rob Wrenn, Spcial to the Planet
Friday December 08, 2006

Voters in the hills and more affluent neighborhoods of Berkeley provided the strongest opposition to Measure J, the landmarks preservation measure on November’s ballot, assuring its defeat. 

Measure J got its strongest support in neighborhoods where voters have supported progressive candidates for many years. South Berkeley and student precincts voted for the measure, though typically not by large margins.  

In areas where new development has been taking place in recent years and where neighbors have battled developers, voters were more likely to vote for the measure than were voters in areas where little change has taken place or been proposed. 

The Alameda County Registrar of Voters has now released the official “Statement of Vote” with results from November’s election. The statement, which can be viewed online at the Registrar’s Web site, includes precinct-by-precinct results.  

Turnout in this year’s election was up substantially in comparison to 2002, the last gubernatorial election. Almost 5,000 more votes were cast this year and turnout increased from 59 percent to 66 percent.  

Turnout was, however, down sharply compared to the 2004 presidential election, when turnout hit 77 percent and over 60,000 votes were cast, the highest turnout since 1984. In Berkeley, turnout has historically always been higher in presidential election years.  

A record number of absentee ballots were cast in this year’s election. Almost half the ballots were absentees compared with 37 percent in 2004. Absentee voting is much more common in the hills and in homeowner areas than in areas where tenants and students make up a majority of voters. 


Measure A 

The local issue that generated the most interest this year was Measure A, the school district parcel tax measure. More votes were cast for or against this measure than were cast for mayoral candidates or for any other local ballot measure. 

Berkeley voters continued their 20-year tradition of giving strong support for financial measures to help local schools. Measure A won easily; achieving more than the required two-thirds vote in every precinct in the city. Opposition to the measure from the North East Berkeley Association (NEBA) apparently influenced few District 6 voters.  

The fact that the measure was renewing two already existing school parcel taxes at existing rates probably contributed to the measure’s particularly large margin of victory.  

Citywide it garnered 79.7 percent of the vote. The original parcel tax measure, 1986’s Measure H, won with 76 percent of the vote. Two bond measures and two additional parcel taxes for the schools passed with percentages ranging from 72 percent to 83 percent of the vote in subsequent election years. 


Measure J 

Of all the local measures on this fall’s ballot, Measure J was the most hotly contested. Supporters gathered signatures to place it on the ballot after the City Council took steps to change the city’s Landmarks Preservation Ordinance. 

Most preservationists, including the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, supported the measure. The measure was strongly opposed by developers and by the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce. Business for Better Government, the Chamber’s PAC, reported spending over $60,000 to defeat the measure.  

Most City Council members came out against Measure J, but the division on the Council did not reflect the usual “progressive”-“moderate” split. Traditionally “progressives” on the Council represent and get their votes from tenants, students and from a sizeable chunk of homeowners in the area south of the UC campus and in the flatlands of Central, South and West Berkeley. More affluent homeowners in the hills and North Berkeley are the political base for “moderates.” 

Measure J was backed by progressive District 4 councilmember Dona Spring and by moderate District 6 councilmember Betty Olds. Opposing J was moderate District 5 councilmember Laurie Capitelli, but also progressives Max Anderson and Linda Maio.  

Mayor Tom Bates, elected with progressive support, opposed Measure J and has strongly backed the proposed changes to the landmarks law. Former mayor Shirley Dean, whose political base was in District 5 and in the northeast Berkeley and Claremont hills, supported the measure, signed the ballot argument in favor, and contributed financially to the campaign.  

Yet Measure J passed in Mayor Bates’ own precinct, albeit by a narrow two-vote margin, but lost in all the hills precincts that gave Shirley Dean her strongest support in her four campaigns for mayor. 

In fact, all 28 precincts (out of 100) that voted in favor of Measure J are precincts where voters favored Bates over Dean in the last mayoral election. Measure J passed in only two of eight council districts: District 3 (South Berkeley) and District 7 (the Telegraph Ave. area). Measure J was narrowly defeated in District 4, Dona Spring’s district in Central Berkeley.  

Voters in Districts 5 and 6, both moderate strongholds, rejected J by large margins (64-36 percent and 63-37 percent respectively). But progressive voters were clearly divided. While winning narrowly in Districts 3 and 7, the measure got less than 45 percent of the vote in flatlands districts 1 (Northwest Berkeley) and 2 (Southwest Berkeley) 

It will probably come as a surprise to many preservationists that students were among the strongest supporters of Measure J. Every student dorm precinct voted in favor of J, as did most of the areas with student coops and fraternities and sororities. 

In District 8 in southeast Berkeley, Measure J was defeated in the Claremont-Elmwood and Willard neighborhoods, but passed in the student areas north of Derby. In District 7, Measure J was favored in the student areas and, by a slim margin, in the LeConte neighborhood west of Telegraph, but lost in most of the residential area east of Telegraph.  

Measure J also passed in the downtown precinct where a lot of new housing, including the Gaia building, has recently been built. In fact, in areas of the city where development has been taking place or is being proposed, voters were more likely to favor J than in parts of the city that are free of development pressures.  

Attitudes toward development certainly influenced how some voters viewed Measure J. Opposition to the measure by the Chamber PAC and by developers and real estate interests who contributed to it was reported in articles in the Daily Planet on campaign contributions to local campaigns. 

One of the strongest areas of support for Measure J was in South Berkeley precincts near the Ashby BART, where a proposal to fill the BART parking lots with housing has generated a lot of community opposition. A recently formed group, Neighbors of Ashby BART, endorsed the measure.  

Measure J won in the precinct of West Berkeley where a new Berkeley Bowl has been approved. It won in the precinct that includes the Kragen Auto Parts site at Martin Luther King and University where neighbors are opposing the current design of a project that would include housing and a Trader Joe’s.  

The only District 1 precinct where Measure J got a majority is a precinct near University and San Pablo where a group of residents concerned about out-of-scale development successfully fought to downzone the 1100 block of Hearst. 

While there were substantial pockets of support for J, most residents of precincts bordering major commercial streets like University, San Pablo, Telegraph and Shattuck, where new development has been concentrated, voted against Measure J, but not by the same margins as people in the hills who live further away from areas targeted for development.  


Rob Wrenn plans to report further on how Berkeley residents voted in November's election in an upcoming issue.