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‘No Intent to Influence Vote,’ Says Landmarks Poll Backer

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday January 23, 2007

Despite a city attorney’s finding that a secret pre-election poll on Berkeley landmarks law didn’t violate city election codes, supporters of Berkeley’s defeated Measure J remain skeptical. 

Deputy City Attorney Kristy Van Herick reported that she had “found no evidence indicating that the poll was used to craft or was quoted in any mass mailing, advertisement or other communication expressly advocating defeat of Measure J or otherwise unambiguously urging Measure J’s defeat.” 

Darrel de Tienne, the man who ordered the poll, said that while he shared the results with several people who gave money for the polling, “it was not meant to help anybody or defeat anyone.” 

But he said he couldn’t say if any of his clients had given copies of the 15-page report to the Chamber of Commerce or Business for Better Government, its Political Action Committee. 

“I don’t know if a client did pass it on,” de Tienne said, “but I would be very surprised.” 

Roger Marquis, co-chair of the Measure J committee, remains a skeptic. “Has anyone ever heard of a poll being done after a measure has qualified for the ballot for any other purpose than affecting the outcome of an election?” he asked. 

In her report to the city’s Fair Campaign Practices Committee (FCPC), Van Herick cited the poll’s questions on “a wide range of topics,” without mentioning that the only candidates probed in any detail were Mayor Tom Bates, who sponsored the rival ordinance adopted by the council, his strongly pro-J opponent Zelda Bronstein, and two of the three council candidates who opposed the mayor’s measure—along with their opponents in the November election. 

Most of the remaining questions were aimed at getting the demographic information needed to analyze the results. 

Marquis filed a formal complaint with the FCPC that led to Van Herick’s inquiry. Her report was accepted after a brief hearing by the commission last week, with no votes in opposition. 

The next step is a formal complaint at the state level, which Marquis and some political allies are preparing for submission to the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC). 

The poll asked 400 registered voters in Berkeley questions about what would make them more likely to oppose Measure J. 

Formulated and administered by San Francisco pollster David Binder Research, the poll devoted 22 of its 65 questions to the issue of Berkeley landmarks, seven questions to general evaluations of public figures and organizations, and 11 questions to opinions about the mayor, Bronstein and Councilmembers Dona Spring and Kriss Worthington and their opponents, Raudel Wilson and George Beier. 

Other questions dealt with the planned new Berkeley Bowl in West Berkeley, other development issues, behavior of street people and policies on homelessness, parking and the general demographics of the sampled audience. 

Some of the most interesting questions focused on name recognition and popularity of an assortment of political figures and Berkeley organizations. 

The most popular subject among those targeted by questions was Assemblymember Loni Hancock who received a favorable rating of 62 percent. But it wasn’t her spouse, Mayor Bates, who came in second; that ranking was accorded to the incumbent Bates defeated when he captured the office four years ago, Shirley Dean, who racked up a 55 rating. Bates came in six points back.  

Spring placed fourth, with a rating of 45 percent—but only in her district. Her opponent managed to garner a 6 percent favorable rating. Voters in Worthington’s district gave him a 44 percent favorable rating, with 30 percent listed as unfavorable; the figures for opponent George Beier were 26 percent favorable and 4 percent unfavorable. 


Developer’s friend 

Considerable speculation about the source of funding for the poll arose after the calls began, but it was only in the deputy city attorney’s report that the conduit was revealed as de Tienne, a developer’s representative from San Francisco, frequently logged in as a visitor to Mayor Bates’ office, who has fronted for major projects in West Berkeley and for the controversial nine-story Berkeley Arpeggio, formerly known as the Seagate Building, now stymied in the city permit process. 

A tall, thin man with a shaved, well-tanned head and a melodramatic mustache, de Tienne makes frequent appearances before the Landmarks Preservation Commission, the city body responsible for administering the ordinance targeted by many of the poll’s questions. 

“My purpose was very simple,” he said. “I’ve been to so many meetings, and I got very tired of hearing anecdotal information—not just from so-called leftists, but from my own client group, too. I decided the best thing was to do a poll.” 

The poll cost “about $20,000,” and not the $40,000 to $50,000 that critics had suggested, de Tienne said. “I’m obligated to pay for it,” though nine of his clients have contributed a total of $3,300. 

He gave Van Herick a list of nine contributors, most located in West Berkeley. They include Cedar 4th Street Partners of Emeryville, Norheim & Yost, Steven Meckfessel Inc. (owned by a faculty member of UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business), David Mayer’s San Pablo Avenue 2747 LLC, James E. Hart, Fourth street developers Denny Abrams and Richard Millikan, Predevelopment Projects, Stephen Block and Addison Property, the last owned by the branding consultants who arranged for the poll. 

“I did not give it to the Chamber of Commerce or their PAC,” de Tienne said, adding that “I didn’t even know where they were until this happened.” 

Questions about parking and homelessness arose from his own concerns, de Tienne said. “I was concerned about landmarks and about artists’ housing, too. 

“I basically wanted three things. I was concerned about the Berkeley Bowl, but only because I was watching it from the sidelines,” he said. Of those polled, 87 percent ranked themselves as strong or moderate supporters, with only 6 percent describing themselves as strong or moderate opponents. 

“I also wanted to know perceptions about how to handle the homeless, and not just as a matter of enforcement or getting them out of the way,” he said. “The answers seem to me like common sense.” 

While 16 percent of respondents said they thought the city’s enforcement of laws against sitting, camping or lying on city streets were enforced too strictly, 52 percent said enforcement wasn’t strict enough. But when asked if it was better to address homeless by enforcing laws against unruly behavior and drunkenness or by giving boosting founds for treatment and mental health services, treatment won by a margin of 62 to 18, with a combination of policies accounting for another 13 percent. 

“Third is landmarks. I’m not against landmarks, but the timing is something people think is unfair. They think it takes too long” to handle a landmarking application, he said. 

“The predetermination was the reason I opposed the proposition (Measure J), but I’m not against landmarks.” 

The predetermination is the Request for Determination (RFD), the central feature of the ordinance proposed by Mayor Bates and Councilmember Laurie Capitelli. It would give the Landmarks Preservation Commission two meetings to rule on owners’ requests to determine if their property should be designated a landmark. 

If the commission either failed to act or declared the property ineligible, the commission could not initiate the landmarking process for two years, giving the developer a window of exemption in which a building could be demolished if desired. 

Because landmark application under the new ordinance are not tied to development applications, critics like Marquis fear that a ruling granting developers the two year “safe haven” could be made before a community understood its implications for their neighborhood. 

Filing of petitions for a voter referendum on the measure has prevented it from taking effect for the time being. Other preservationists have challenged the mayor’s ordinance in court, alleging that it violates the California Environmental Quality Act.