With a profoundly heavy heart I received the sad news of the sudden passing of Berkeley City Councilmember Dona Spring, whom I called my friend. I frankly cannot now even try to quantify her positive impact on our town and the thought of moving forward without her leadership weighs hard. I truly appreciated her “big tent,” include-everybody vision of a progressive community and her self-effacing respect-for-everybody personal manner.
Most of all I appreciated being able to run to her office at the last minute with some item or request and not having to spend time explaining a cause, because Dona always got it. When it came to protecting the well-being of the community or standing up for the rights of any member of the public, Dona always got it. I never observed any qualms or hesitation as she assailed the powerful for any constituent’s benefit. The powerful were wary of her and made efforts to unseat her.
Over the 30 years I have lived in Berkeley I have come to the unfortunate and alarming conclusion that the health and well-being of the people who live in Berkeley are not the concerns of those who operate the University of California (UC Regents), the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (managed by UC for the Department of Energy) or their pro-development local supporters . Too often Berkeley’s elected representatives have been hesitant to upset the cozy “town-gown” relationship between the city government and the UC/LBNL hierarchy. Dona was never invited or interested in this club and was always there to speak for the best interests of Berkeley citizens. When it came to standing up to the latest expansionist development projects by the UC/LBNL complex and their impact on the average citizen, Dona always got it. When it came to criticizing UC/LBNL’s relationship to government to skirt development-impact laws, Dona always got it. When it required applying new thinking and principles around development to counteract the worsening environmental crisis, Dona was there in the lead.
The most recent example of her leadership, thanks to Councilmember Max Anderson, is her item still scheduled for the July 22 Berkeley City Council meeting regarding the proposal to demolish the Bevatron, a huge historical accelerator facility at LBNL. Community members have been conducting a frustrating campaign for several years to convince the public and the DOE to preserve this facility and convert it to an educational and historical landmark. The four Nobel prizes awarded for work there, the anti-proton discovery there, the unique truss system and circular building with a cone shaped roof are all reasons why the facility is unique and usable as a badly needed Science museum for the older kids who outgrow the Lawrence Hall of Science children’s center. The $84 million designated for the demolition is badly needed to clean up LBNL’s underground radioactive and hazardous waste plumes which are spreading and threatening Berkeley’s and other local city’s water systems.
Dona was the council’s only member of the Green Party and early on was a proponent of new guiding principals regarding waste generation and handling. Sealing lead paint onto house walls, not dredging waterway channels, and whenever possible leaving radioactive substances to decay in place and hazardous materials sealed rather than excavating and spreading has become a necessary option to hauling and dumping one community’s poisons onto another already overburdened community. Dona shared our concern about the proposed 4700 truck trips through Berkeley of low level rad-waste, asbestos, mercury and other extremely toxic substances which are safely locked up in the Bevatron structure but will become airborne when demolished. She understood that LBNL unlike the other national laboratories is unusual in that there is no buffer zone between their facilities and local occupied residential buildings. She supported our efforts to obtain an overall analysis of the impact of so many truck trips in such a small town already over-run with heavy equipment trucks during our current building bonanza, with last years two fatalities from construction truck accidents in mind.
Folks concerned about the Bevatron demolition can show up at council chambers at 7 p.m. July 22 and offer public comment, write letters and/or contact the mayor and councilmembers. The only sincere way we can honor her spirit is to continue her work which I feel comfortable saying is what she would want.
Mark McDonald is a Berkeley resident.