District 5 City Council Candidate Statement: Laurie Capitelli

Thursday October 02, 2008 - 10:44:00 AM

Four years ago you elected me to bring common sense, business experience and a pragmatic progressive approach to the Berkeley City Council. I am running for re-election to continue serving District 5 and all of Berkeley as I have done for the last 30 years. My priorities are fiscal responsibility, constituent service, education, sustainability, the health of our retail districts and housing. One thousand words are not enough to relate all I’ve done in four years on the Council, but I can at least hit the highlights.  

My first priority has been to balance the budget and build the City’s tax base. When I took office the City was grappling with a projected cumulative deficit of $99 million from 2005 through 2009 growing from $10.6 million in 2005 to $26 million in 2009. My leadership and consensus-building helped us enact four years of balanced budgets, the last by an 8-1 vote. The City Manager’s May budget update reports that staff has been reduced by 8.5 percent since the 2003-2004 fiscal year. Our bond rating now is among the best in California. We have increased the City’s reserve fund to 8 percent. We now have annual reviews of City social service program.  

Constituent service is a fundamental part of my commitment to each of you. I improved traffic safety and security at Thousand Oaks School and fought successfully against deep cuts in AC Transit service on Solano, Shattuck and Martin Luther King Jr. Way. Every month I and my two excellent staffers respond to hundreds of calls, letters and emails for help. We deal knowledgeably and effectively with missed trash pickups, planning problems, requests for street trees, getting help for an elderly neighbor and the myriad other issues that arise for residents of District 5 in dealing with the City administration and staff. I meet anywhere and anytime with every constituent who asks me and hold neighborhood meetings on crime problems, pedestrian and traffic safety, proposed development and other issues as need arises.  

Economic development is essential to the fiscal health of the City. I have worked to reverse Berkeley’s historically difficult business climate so that small businesses and start-ups can prosper, building jobs and tax revenues we sorely need. I have strongly backed proposals in the new Downtown Plan—a consensus forged by environmentalists, bicycle and pedestrian advocates, social services providers, preservationists, planners and merchants—for the revitalization of our downtown. We can create a 21st Century downtown with wisdom and sensitivity while preserving and protecting our landmark buildings and special Berkeley character.  

I have led the Council’s work on the issues of problematic street behavior and homelessness. I am driven by the belief that Berkeley’s historical inability to address these issues has had the ultimate effect of leaving the homeless, addicted and mentally ill unserved and left to waste away before our eyes. We have a relatively small but highly visible population of treatment-resistant homeless, addicted and mentally ill people living on our streets at night. Ideological differences on the Council had prevented the City from addressing these issues in the past.  

Working with Councilmember Wozniak and Mayor Bates I created a majority on the Council for the Public Commons Initiative, a coordinated plan that uses Berkeley’s existing non-profit and City social service programs to shelter and treat every person sleeping on the streets, and encourages them to use the City’s shelters and services by enforcing existing laws against sleeping on the street. We have more to do, but my leadership is forging a middle ground to continue to address these issues effectively. 

I have reduced the burden of Berkeley’s historically glacial permitting process on homeowners and small businesses. My Council colleagues and I changed zoning requirements to improve and simplify the process of opening a business. As a result, a neighborhood business can open its doors without enduring a year of delay and onerous rent while seeking a waiver from an impossible requirement. Another change in zoning laws provided protections for homeowners’ views, light and fresh air while easing restrictions on most small remodels. 

I have continued my 30 year commitment to public education, leading most recently to the adoption of Vision 20/20, a joint effort by the City and the School District to improve the success of all children in our public schools by addressing the root causes of under-achievement.  

The City and University need to be partners, not adversaries. I am heartened by the fact that for the first time in recent memory, a very diverse group of Berkeley citizens worked together with the University to jointly create a comprehensive Downtown Plan. At the same time, Berkeley’s relationship with the University cannot be one-sided. Even a Cal grad must be prepared to stand up to the University when proposals like a 900-car garage on the Hayward fault come before the Council. To do otherwise would be to neglect our responsibility for the safety of Cal’s students, faculty and staff.  

In 35 years of private and public service I’ve learned how things actually work in Berkeley, what systems are in place in our schools and in our city agencies, how city agencies interact with each other and with the county and state government, and how community members work together to find common ground. I’ve been able to mediate stubborn disagreements on the Council and in the community. My endorsements by Mayor Bates and Councilmembers Olds, Wozniak, Maio, Moore and Anderson demonstrate their faith in my ability to reach out and work with persons of many different views, and the respectful and cooperative relationships I have built with each of them.  

Election talk is cheap; performance on the Council requires the judgment, knowledge and experience I’ve acquired over 35 years in Berkeley. In an age of slogans, catchy phrases, and inflated promises, that is what really matters. My performance as District 5’s councilmember speaks for itself. I trust that you will conclude that I have the attributes needed to represent your interests on the City Council.