Public Comment

A Campaign of Ideas

By Jerry Threet
Thursday October 09, 2008 - 09:41:00 AM

A few weeks ago, I filed papers to become a candidate for City Council District 4. It was and is my belief that my candidacy would provide a fresh perspective on the challenges our city faces, informed by solid progressive values and a history of public service. I withdrew my candidacy, resigned to the reality that, even in Berkeley, success as an outsider candidate would require substantial sums of money and very significant amounts of time upfront. It is clear that I would have to miss many precious moments with my new baby daughter to run a campaign for City Council.  

Although not running, I want to offer the following ideas to the remaining candidates in District 4.  


Election reform 

Ranked Choice Voting. There is no good reason that Berkeley and other Alameda County jurisdictions should not yet have the system available. We need more pressure on county and state officials to allow its full and timely implementation. If San Francisco can do it, so can Alameda County.  

Public Financing of Elections. It would have required over $30,000 to run an effective campaign for District 4 council, as two candidates in the race are backed by leaders of the two main political factions in the city. Public financing evens the playing field and makes it possible for independent, citizen candidates to emerge. This is good for democracy.  


Government reform  

Living Wage for Councilmembers. Council positions pay so little that members must work full time in another position, unless they are rich, retired, or live like a student. For those with families and a mortgage, this is a significant deterrent to campaigning. The electorate thus loses a significant pool of potential candidates for council. Our public servants deserve a living wage just like all other City employees and the public deserves the widest pool of candidates for office.  

Term Limits for Council. Council service should not be a lifetime position. Its important for the city that new people with new ideas circulate through the body politic. Reasonable terms limits will provide elected officials with sufficient time to accomplish their best ideas and also allow those who come after them to bring their own ideas into office to benefit the public. Three terms should be enough to accomplish goals in my view, but some may prefer longer or shorter.  

Rainy Day Fund. Berkeley’s budget is married to the health of the state and local economy, particularly housing sales. Our recurrent answer to dwindling revenues is new taxes. A better answer is a Rainy Day Fund, setting aside a percentage of revenues in exceptionally good years for use in exceptionally bad years.  


Tax reform  

For new homeowners, new taxes every election cycle are becoming quite a burden. We all support city services, but we need ways to spread the burden more fairly among those who benefit. Options include a tax paid by property occupants rather owners, or a business tax on gross receipts.  


Strong communities 

Code Enforcement. Berkeley code enforcement is anemic, resulting in blighted properties that harm the neighborhoods. A robust code enforcement program, supported by city attorney litigation, can change that. Code litigation can result in large awards to the City, which can be used to help poor owners upgrade their property and to fund future code enforcement. 

Office of Neighborhood Empowerment. The city should fund an Office of Neighborhood Empowerment to help citizens organize their own neighborhood groups and to empower them to effectively advocate for the needs of their neighborhoods. 

Affordable Housing Fund. The city should require that a fixed percentage of the annual budget revenue be spent to build affordable housing located near transit corridors. 

MLK Traffic Calming. Cars on MLK routinely speed at 45 mph. Redesigning the street with planted bulb outs and street banners to create a gently undulating avenue would slow traffic naturally and allow pedestrians to cross without great risk. 

Sidewalk Maintenance. Everyone uses our sidewalks, so investments here are wise. Yet, the condition of our sidewalks is shocking—often, the only option for wheelchairs and strollers is detouring into the street. Berkeley deserves a sidewalk system that is fully accessible for all and well maintained. 

Conflict Resolution. Conflict is inevitable in a diverse city of strong opinions. Peaceful resolution can make the difference between an engaged community and alienated individuals. We need a conflict resolution program that promotes and educates the public on peaceful mediation of conflict, including in the earliest grades of school. 


Environmental sustainability 

There is absolutely no more important priority than achieving true sustainability. Elected officials especially have a duty to future generations to avoid the grim future that may await us if we don’t act 

Solar Homes for City Power. The mayor’s solar initiative will help local property owners fund solar panels on their buildings. In exchange, the City should require that City financed solar panels sell excess power back to the city for use in its Community Aggregation program. This will create a reliable source of clean municipal power and help free us from PG&E’s carbon portfolio. 

100 Percent Renewable Energy. The city should make a real and aggressive commitment to use 100 percent renewable energy to fulfill all electric power needs within Berkeley by the year 2025. 

Sustainable Development. Denser development in our downtown corridor and along major public transportation corridors is the best way to avoid suburban sprawl and increased pollution. Appropriate setbacks and stepped down height requirements will protect surrounding neighborhoods from significant impacts Increased density also will stimulate a more robust downtown business and cultural entertainment district. 

Downtown/University Shuttle. The city and AC Transit should develop a free shuttle for travel downtown, including Shattuck and University to San Pablo. While decreasing car pollution, this would help both businesses and shoppers. 

Community Gardens. The city should dedicate a portion of every park and public land to neighborhood community gardening. 

I wish the candidates for District 4 all the best and look forward to learning more about their views as the campaign unfolds. 

Jerry Threet is lives in Berkeley’s District 4.