Berkeley’s four mayoral candidates, two of them seeking write-in votes, made their pitches to a packed house at the West Berkeley Senior Center Monday night.
Sponsored by the Daily Planet and moderated by former Albany Mayor Robert Cheasty, the two-hour forum posed questions that ranged from concerns over rising violent crime to the politics of development.
While incumbent Tom Bates and former mayor Shirley Dean were the two candidates originally scheduled to appear, when Zachary RunningWolf and Kahlil Jacobs-Fantauzzi arrived shortly before the session, they were granted their places on the platform and equal time in the debate that followed.
After an introduction by Daily Planet Executive Editor Becky O’Malley, an explanation of the rules from Cheasty and a drawing of lots to determine the speaker order, Bates led off with a sharp criticism of Dean, his predecessor.
Under Dean’s leadership, said Bates, meetings “were more like a food fight than a city council.”
“We brought civility,” he said, leading to a council where “we don’t have sides anymore.”
The mayor also said he plans to continue with his goal to make Berkeley “one of the greenest cities in America.”
Bates cited the endorsements of all but one of the current councilmembers, the Sierra Club, the Democratic Party and Rep. Barbara Lee, among others.
Dean responded with a defense of her administration—which ran from 1994 through 2002—which she said produced eight balanced city budgets, maintained the city’s high bond rating and oversaw creation of the city’s arts and theater district.
She said that while Bates had claimed credit for resolving the city’s financial problems, Berkeley’s structural deficit “is still there and will hit again in two years” regardless of who sits at the head of the council table.
Dean faulted Bates for making the processes of government less accessible to public oversight, and vowed to push through an open government ordinance, implement a community involved policing program, revitalize the downtown through creation of an arts and crafts street market and by aggressively seeking new retail business while preserving the character of Berkeley neighborhoods.
“I actually am a young person,” said Jacobs-Fantauzzi, who said he was running as the Green Party candidate. “I was pushed to run because of the double homicide on Derby Street in my block. I have lived there for 14 years,” he said.
The victims, a 26-year-old Berkeley man and a 45-year-old Oakland man, were gunned down Sept. 18. Just 22 hours later, a 42-year-old Berkeley woman was shot and seriously injured as she stepped outside her home across the street from the murder scene.
The candidate, who said he had been beaten and arrested by Berkeley police in 1999 during a protest outside KPFA, said charges were dropped after the intervention of the late Councilmember Dona Spring—Berkeley’s only elected Green.
He also called for more programs aimed at the young, including the diversion of graffiti artists into programs to create community murals.
If “young” and “Green” were Jacobs-Fantauzzi’s buzzwords, “Native American” and “UC Berkeley” were RunningWolf’s.
Raised in Berkeley, RunningWolf has been an ongoing critic of the university and its policies, taking his action to new heights—literally—when he launched the ultimately doomed tree-sit to try and stop construction of a high tech gym complex at the site of a grove of oaks and other trees west of Memorial Stadium.
An ardent opponent of the automobile—he was once arrested for adding spray-painted “driving” beneath the STOP in stop signs—the self-described “Nnative American elder and leader” is a harsh critic of the university’s plans for building in Strawberry Canyon and a foe of its $500 million BP-funded biofuel program, which, he said, will destroy the Amazon rain forest to power America’s cars.
He also opposes high density housing.
“We are already overbuilding,” said Dean, adding that one major project, a condo building at 2700 San Pablo Avenue, is already in foreclosure. With Berkeley already cited as the state’s third-densest city and the 10th densest in the country, Dean said, “We are destroying our neighborhoods.”
“How fast we forget,” Bates replied, noting that the Acton Courtyard building on University Avenue, the Gaia Building and the Fine Arts Building had been approved during her tenure. “I think they were needed,” he said. “Now she is criticizing me when I try to do something similar.”
Jacobs-Fantauzzi turned the development topic back to his home turf. “For me the issue is that there is no lighting on Derby street. . .We need to improve the city for everyday people.”
RunningWolf used his response to attack AC Transit’s Bus Rapid Transit proposal, which, he said, “is a scam for his (Bates’) developer buddies” to seize property through eminent domain.
Asked what they would do for the arts, the candidates offered a variety of responses.
RunningWolf used the question to critique the incumbent for sponsoring the Public Commons for Everyone law, “which basically makes it illegal to be homeless in Berkeley.” Instead, said the candidate, he would work to repeal the law and close Telegraph Avenue for a crafts fair.
The arts, Bates said, “are one of the major focuses of my administration,” adding that he had helped Freight and Salvage Co. win $1.9 million in state funding to move to downtown Berkeley, and promising to keep artists in West Berkeley as the city’s last industrial neighborhood adds new buildings and businesses.
Dean pointed to her role in creating the city’s arts and theater district and promised to continue her support for a program she said she started in 2002 for West Berkeley artists while working to implement “sweat equity” programs to help them stay in the area by rehabilitating and retrofitting their housing.
Once the lines were drawn, the candidates stayed true to course, with the mayor and former mayor citing their own accomplishing while critiquing the actions of the other—with both offering occasional praise for their write-in opponents.
Oh say can UC?
When the questions honed in on UC Berkeley, the differences became stark.
Jacobs-Fantauzzi turned the question back to Derby Street, saying that many youths in the neighborhood had never visited the campus, calling on the university to set asides a certain portion of its enrollment for students from South and West Berkeley as mitigation for the institution’s impacts on the community.
“A major point of my administration will be to stand up and recognize the elephant in the cage, UC,” said Dean, declaring that as a result of a compact signed with the university by the mayor, “the downtown is going to be given away to the university for the next 15 years. I’d immediately take steps to rescind the agreement.”
Dean said plans to expand the university’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the Berkeley hills “will scare the living daylights out of you ... We need to stop having a mayor who sides with the University of California.”
“UC is not subject to any of our regulations, any of our zoning, any of our laws. Period. Full stop,” said Bates, who said he had organized, with his counterpart in Riverside, a committee of all towns with campuses of both the UC and state university systems.
Bates said the group was working with state legislators to create regulations that will “do what is needed” to make the campuses be good neighbors.
Dean responded that she and others are working on a program called the Phoenix Project, which would democratize the university’s board of regents and take away the university’s powers that “allow them to do anything they want.”
Bates responded by declaring that during Dean’s 23 years on the council and 8 as mayor, the city had received $50,000 a year in mitigation payments. “We got $1.7 million, you got $50,000,” he said.
“You might want to ask your wife why she only got $50,000,” Dean said, referring to the agreements originally made by her predecessor in the mayor’s chair, Loni Hancock, now a state assemblymember and probable state senator-elect after Tuesday as well as the mayoral mate, who was in the audience.
Bruce Kaplan, until recently a Telegraph Avenue merchant, asked the candidates whether they favored narrowing Telegraph Avenue to a single lane in each direction to accommodate BRT buses.
“I am in favor of public transportation but against BRT,” said RunningWolf.
Bates first took aim at Berkeley ballot measure KK, which would subject any lane eliminations to a public vote. “I am totally opposed to KK,” he said. “If it passes, it means the death of BRT.”
“KK does not stop BRT,” said Dean. “It submits it to a vote of the people,” she said, a form of direct democracy.
“The reality is that homeless people on Telegraph Avenue are being treated like criminals,” said Jacobs-Fantauzzi, while what is needed are programs to give them places to sleep.
When it came to the subject of crime and policing, RunningWolf said that while “there are plenty of police,” they should be more community-oriented.
“I would reorganize the Police Department and relieve Chief Hambleton.”
Bates said he had no problems with the chief and was introducing measures to get more officers onto bikes and into the neighborhoods. The mayor said that crime rates were down—with the exception of assaults and robberies. “We have one of the best police forces in the U.S.”
“We’ve had 10 murders so far this year, and assaults are up—and that doesn’t even include UC,” Dean said. She said the city needed a greater emphasis on community involved policing, and said she would end a policy that allows officers to transfer beats after three months because it doesn’t give them time to know their neighborhoods.
Jacobs-Fantauzzi said Berkeley has a problem with police brutality and said he would implement a training program for officers.
Most of the standing room crowd stayed for the full debate. Whether or not any changed their minds is another question altogether—though many did get their first glimpse of the two write-in candidates.