I was born and raised here in Berkeley and have a deep love and respect for its residents, traditions, and culture. We have some of the most forward-thinking, progressive-minded people and policies in the country if not the world. We support organic foods and bilingual education in our schools to enrich our children’s bodies and minds. We support rent control and workforce housing to maintain and enrich the diversity of our residents. We support alternative energy and fair trade coffee. We have one of the nation’s most generous sets of programs to serve the homeless. We should be proud of these lofty principles and ideals we uphold. We are continually on the cutting edge of progress, but somewhere along this journey we have veered off course.
We have failed the less fortunate among us. The statistics are as shocking as they are undeniable.
•14 percent of black students and 23 percent of Hispanic students at Berkeley High are proficient in English and the Arts compared with 76 percent of white students.
• 21 percent of Berkeley residents live below the poverty line.
• Life expectancy in the flatlands is 9 years less than in the hills.
• Only 2 percent of similar size cities in America have less crime.
Not surprisingly, as our economy falters, violent crime is resurgent in our community.
At the same time we have failed our business community. Allowing bureaucratic red tape to make Berkeley an unfriendly environment in which to conduct business. Whether it be as mundane as requesting a new business license, or as complex as getting green, workforce housing projects approved, it has become very difficult for businesses to operate here. Not surprisingly, we have seen mixed-use development in surrounding communities attract both the homes buyers and retailers that our downtown so desperately needs and wants. This continues to hinder our tax base and threaten our most cherished and needed programs. We have allowed fringe elements of our community to derail our shared prosperity and have let special interest groups hinder progress and innovation.
We need new leadership that will: renew our commitment to the least among us; revitalize our schools; and bring a long-term vision of smart, green growth to our downtown development. I call for a restoration of the true progressive politics that made Berkeley so special. I call for a change in our approach to the University. We must be forward thinking and seek the common ground that exists between the City and the University. We must embrace the student community by leveraging their passion for education and vision for the future, and by harnessing their intellectual and financial consumption into a more vibrant downtown serving the needs of all residents.
While I salute the progress that this city has made on behalf of it’s people, I am saddened by what I see as an inflexible approach to some of Berkeley’s most pressing problems. Many groups, well meaning as they may be, in fear of offending Berkeley’s old guard liberals, and activists, are engaged in failing policies, programs, and ideologies which in essence amount to little more than progressive theater. All talk and no show. After many years of this inflexible approach, it is crucial to the people of this city to accept some basic facts. We are no longer a small town with small town problems. Crime in Berkeley must be addressed in a realistic way. The futures of our children and future generations of Berkeley residents must be safeguarded and the only way to do this is for us to take a hard look at ourselves as progressives, and to act.
We face immediate problems with safety, traffic/parking/congestion, and the environment.
I propose: a collaboration between the City, the University, and local bike shops to offer students a bike and helmet in exchange for not bringing their cars with them to school; collaborating with the university to expand their late night safety programs Bear Walk and NightOwl deeper into our community; expanding our transfer tax rebate credit to cover tankless water heater installation to further reduce emissions.
It is important that our community leaders share our values. It is really important that they be long-term stakeholders in the community. At this historic moment in our nation’s economic life, with our own housing market one of the very few to be holding its value, we cannot afford to be the political stepping-stone for the politically ambitious among us. We need leaders truly vested in the community with a multi-generational commitment to Berkeley’s future.