Public Comment

The Deliberative Process and Politics as Unusual (A Window into Berkeley Political Dynamics)

By H. Scott Prosterman
Tuesday July 06, 2010 - 11:57:00 AM

The failure of Measure C last month brought an end to the warm pool at Berkeley High School, and the closing of Willard Pool. The measure was popular, but not popular enough to gain the 2/3 majority mandated by Proposition 13 for local bond issues.  

Ultimately, blame it on Reagan – really, blame it on Reagan – he set the table for Howard Jarvis to generate the hysteria in 1978, which brought Proposition 13. This presents yet another manifestation of the urgent need to repeal that draconian law; it has created administrative stonewalls to creating a state budget in a timely manner many years running. It has shrunken the state’s tax base to the point where government can no longer provide essential services, and it has decimated our state education system from pre-school to the University system. But I digress. 

In the recent Measure C campaign, the “No on Measure C” campaign shamelessly dispensed wrongful information in a manner that was reckless. They argued that there was ample funding for parks improvement in the city’s coffers – not true. They argued that the city’s relationship with the Berkeley YMCA presented an option to the warm pool. Not true. The “Yes on Measure C” campaign enlisted politicians representing the entire political spectrum of Berkeley – democrats and democrats. “Yes on Measure C” enjoyed unanimous support of Mayor Tom Bates and the entire City Council. Mayor Bates and most council members attended rallies supporting Measure C and offered unqualified endorsements. 

Why then did Mayor Bates vote against shifting money, on June 22, from a single street paving project to Parks & Rec so that Willard Pool could remain open? Why did council members Linda Maio, Laurie Capitelli, Darryl Moore and Susan Wengraf effectively vote against keeping Willard open after joining the Mayor in GRANDSTANDING in support of Measure C? These council members did not actually vote against the vote to save Willard Pool. Rather, they engaged in what is known as a “walk-out” in the State Assembly. They willfully abstained from voting, KNOWING that Bates’ lone “No” vote would be sufficient to kill the motion. They voted “No” by not voting. These four council members were all phoned and e-mailed seeking a response for this story, and all have declined comment. 

Constituents of Maio, Capitelli, Moore and Wengraf should not allow these lawmakers a moment of peace or a good night’s sleep until they explain why they offered visible support of Measure C, but then turned their backs on Berkeley’s aquatic system , when Kriss Worthington offered a thoughtful, however temporary solution. Worthington made a motion at the June 22 Council meeting to “move” money from a single street paving project in his district, to the Parks and Rec budget so that Willard could remain open this year. Generally, council members cede to a district’s representative when he offers such a sacrifice. The four “walk outs” had no motivation for letting Willard Pool die, other than some mysterious political motivation prompted by Mayor Bates. What was Bates’ motivation and why are these four so blindly loyal to him? 

This dynamic is telling of the dysfunction and corruption that arises when “one party rule” squelches thoughtful debate. Many Berkeley citizens wrongfully operate on several skewed assumptions: 

1.) All democrats are good, therefore all Berkeley council members are good. As long as there are no republicans, it’s all good. 

2.) Blind ignorance: it’s been astonishing to learn how few people in Berkeley, no matter how bright, have no clue about the political dynamics that run their town. Many people don’t know that Mayor Bates and State Rep. Loni Hancock are married; that both were termed-out of their prior positions. Bates served 20 years in District 14, which Hancock represents now. And people forget that Hancock was mayor of Berkeley from 1986 to 1994. Because “all democrats are good” in Berkeley, no one noticed when Hancock and Bates changed sides of the bed and swapped jobs. 

3.) Because Bates is a democrat he is above corruption or distasteful political maneuvering. This good citizen has been wrongfully shut out of Council debate on two occasions by Bates’ unlawful manipulation of the agenda. 

4.) Most Berkeley citizens have no clue that Bates is trying to play “Monopoly” with Downtown Berkeley. If his goal is to create new housing for 5,000 new residents in a college town that is already bursting at the seams, how is that different from the game we play, where the goal is to put as many houses and hotels on a single piece of property as possible as possible, and charge exorbitant rents to anyone who happens to stop by? Who exactly stands to benefit from that? 

5.) Because Berkeley is run by democrats and has such a great progressive history, the Mayor and council members can always be trusted to do the right thing. This is hard to discern because some City Charter codes deliberately obfuscate the voting record of some politicians. Votes that DO NOT PASS the council are NOT entered into the public records of the Clerk’s office, per City Charter Article VII S44 (1) and (2). I learned this in researching the voting on Worthington’s June 22 motion to “move” money to save Willard Pool. The information was NO WHERE on the COB website. I received an e-mail from City Clerk Deanna Despain explaining, “As I explained yesterday, our annotated agendas (and minutes) only reflect actions that are adopted. In other words, we do not include failed motions.” So why not investigate how this violates numerous public information and open meeting laws? 

The good news is that Council Member Worthington is bringing another motion to “move” money from a single street paving project in his district, to save Willard Pool at the next meeting on July 13. This means that all Berkeley pool users need to contact Council Members Maio, Moore, Capitelli and Wengraf and DEMAND that they make good. Demand that they make good on their original support of Berkeley’s aquatic system. Demand that they account for their support of Measure C, and their shameful “walk out” on the vote when they abstained on June 22. DEMAND ACCOUNTABILITY FROM THE BERKELEY CITY COUNCIL. They rarely face such demands, because everyone assumes that because they’re all democrats, they’re all good. Call them, write them, e-mail them and go see them, but don’t let them off the hook. 

The City of Berkeley and Berkeley City Council have a proud record of initiating thoughtful and progressive legislation, and starting national political trends. But the current crop of leadership has been content to cruise on the accomplishments of their predecessors, while contributing NOTHING positive to the tradition of progressive legislation. They’d rather play Monopoly. DEMAND ACCOUNTABILITY FROM THE BERKELEY CITY COUNCIL.