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City Council Questions, Approves Green Corridor

By Judith Scherr
Friday January 18, 2008

The mayors of Berkeley, Oakland and Emeryville, along with the UC Berkeley chancellor and the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, met under the TV cameras’ glare in early December to unveil the East Bay Green Corridor Part-nership. 

At its meeting Tuesday night, a unanimous Berkeley City Council voted to sign onto the partnership that promises support for green industries and “green collar” jobs. 

For some, the substance of the partnership is unclear: how do its members interpret “green?” what is the structure of the partnership and will the community be able to interact with it?  

The partnership was the last issue before the council Tuesday night. Councilmember Kriss Worthington challenged Mayor Tom Bates, saying he should not have signed the partnership’s statement of principles without first getting City Council ap-proval. Unlike Oakland, which is governed by a “strong mayor,” Berkeley has a council-manager form of government. 

“I think this is very appropriate that this is finally coming to the City Council,” Worthington said. 

“I don’t see that the mayor has the power to sign something like this,” according to the City Charter, he said. “The mayor is a ceremonial figurehead according to the charter.” 

Bates cut off Worthington: “It doesn’t say anywhere that I’m obligating the city to do anything, Kriss.” 

Acting City Attorney Zach Cowan agreed with the mayor, saying that the principles signed by Bates were not binding, therefore the mayor’s signing the statement was not problematic. 

Speaking to the Planet on Thursday, however, Worthington said it was wrong for the mayor to have committed staff to work on an issue without first getting council approval. 

Bates underscored the intent of the partnership: “The idea is that the mayors and their staffs would get together to see how we could leverage funds for jobs in the East Bay to have a workforce available for the jobs of the future,” he said. 

But speakers from the public questioned what the mayor means when he says “green.” 

Merrilie Mitchell pointed out that LBNL Director Steven Chu supports development of nuclear energy, something that has long been controversial in the environmental community.  

Mitchell also asked if the Green Corridor Partnership was going to support BP. UC Berkeley recently entered into a $500 million partnership with the oil giant to develop biofuels, a gasoline substitute questioned by scientists such as UC Berkeley’s Ted Patzek and Ignacio Chapella. 

Amy Beaton, a LBNL employee on leave, dressed up to speak to the council in a BP Bear costume, complete with pompoms.  

She said that when she had first heard of the green corridor partnership, she had envisioned a swath of land in which high school kids would be planting trees—instead, she said she feared it would be supporting projects such as the BP-university deal. 

“I want to remind the City Council that their job is to protect us as citizens,” she said. 

Bernard Marszalek works at the Inkworks printing collective, a union shop that has won awards for its use of green printing methods including soy inks and recycled paper. He spoke to the council representing both Inkworks and West Berkeley Artists and Industrial Companies, making a plea to protect the small businesses in the area. 

“We’re glad the mayors are getting together to talk about creating green jobs—we’re providing green jobs. We can provide a lot more green jobs,” he said. “What we need is … a way of bringing in more businesses that compliment businesses that are in West Berkeley. 

“We need affordable rents; 80 percent of the businesses in West Berkeley rent. What’s protecting those rents? What’s protecting those jobs? The West Berkeley Plan,” Marszalek said, referring to a push by some West Berkeley developers to make changes in the West Berkeley Plan that some say would permit laboratory space where it is currently prohibited. 

“We make a plea for you to talk to people providing green jobs and include them in this,” he said. 

Councilmember Dona Spring supported the public speakers. “The BP deal is very controversial,” Spring said. “We don’t want something that benefits the multinationals. We want to support the grass roots.” 

Worthington tried to formalize inclusion of the community in the East Bay Corridor Partnership process, asking for the participation of the community colleges as equal partners with the mayors, UC and the labs and for meetings to be open to the public.  

But Bates said that he could not speak for the others in the partnership. 

“I can‘t impose on the other cities, the chancellor or the other people,” Bates responded saying there would be one annual open public meeting. “Yesterday, I met with Gavin Newsom and Ron Dellums—am I supposed to follow the Brown Act to meet with the mayors?” 

It is already hard to call a meeting and get all the players there; adding participants would make it even more difficult, he said 

Bates added, however, that, while the partnership now has no formal structure, that could change. “If we receive the grants, then we would have to figure out how we would administer it—we don’t really know.” 

Bates said there have been preliminary conversations with Rep. Barbara Lee on getting federal funds, but assured councilmembers that he would come back to council to get approval for any grants the city may apply for.  

Councilmember Gordon Wozniak lauded Bates’ role in the partnership. “I think our mayor deserves a lot of credit,” he said, arguing against causing the group to become more bureaucratic.  

“This is our opportunity,” he said, pointing out the importance of the Bay Area getting federal green funds. “We want to make sure they don’t end up in Texas,” he said.