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Three-Way Race in Berkeley's District 7 Initiates Instant Run-Off Voting

By Steven Finacom
Tuesday July 20, 2010 - 11:14:00 AM
Berkeley Council District 7 includes several different neighborhoods and a diverse population.
From the City of Berkeley website
Berkeley Council District 7 includes several different neighborhoods and a diverse population.

The Berkeley City Council District 7 election race this fall will include two familiar opponents and a political newcomer. Four-term incumbent Councilmember Kriss Worthington will be facing, for the third time, Willard neighborhood resident George Beier as well as a new opponent from across Telegraph Avenue, Cecilia “Ces” Rosales. 

All have lived in the District for several years. This is also, at present, a race in which all of the declared candidates are gay or lesbian, still an unusual—but not unique—event in Berkeley election history. The filing deadline is August 6. 

I sent questions to, and interviewed, all three of them to get a sense of their campaign focus and election issues, which include swimming pools, planning for downtown, school bonds and rapid transit. 

District 7 

What’s the nature of the area they’re seeking to represent? 

District 7 may cover the most diverse territory of all the Council districts in Berkeley. More than a mile long north to south, and narrow (3-5 blocks wide) east to west, it stretches from a small enclave on the immediate Northside of the UC campus to the Oakland border. It encompasses the Euclid Avenue and Telegraph Avenue business districts and a piece of the Elmwood, large parts of several residential neighborhoods, most UC residence halls, and a number of institutional properties including the entire main UC campus, Willard Junior High School, Alta Bates Hospital, and People’s Park. 

South of campus it includes the Southside neighborhood between Dwight and Bancroft and both the eastern portion of the Le Conte neighborhood and the western side of the Willard neighborhood, before widening out near the Oakland border to include the Halcyon district west of Telegraph and south of Ashby, and the corresponding Bateman neighborhood on the eastern side of Telegraph. 

The constituents range from first year students at Cal living in high-rise residence hall triples to middle-aged leftists in Le Conte bungalows to genteel Post-Modern burghers in stately Elmwood homes. 

The district is physically dense. Students crowd into the apartments and residence halls north of Parker Street, where a single block may have upwards of a thousand residents, while what appear to be “single family” neighborhoods to the south actually have a large number of multi-unit properties, including apartments, condos, in-law rentals, backyard cottages, flats, and houses subdivided into multiple units. 

The District also has a large number of businesses, from the cafes, pizza joints and pubs of Telegraph north of Dwight to medical and professional offices that predominate further south. 

Perennial District 7 issues include crime and neighborhood safety, institutional development and expansion (UC and Alta Bates Hospital), traffic congestion and circulation (particularly along Ashby, and also close to the UC campus), neighborhood parking, and the character and future of the Telegraph Avenue business district. 

Telegraph Avenue runs through the District for its entire Berkeley length so proposals for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) along Telegraph have been a key issue for many residents in recent years. The July closure of the Willard Swim Center by the City has also been a hot button issue, along with disputes over some permits for new businesses. 

Election History 

Worthington has represented the District for 14 years. He was elected in 1996, defeating incumbent Carla Woodworth who had been the first Councilmember elected in District 7 after the District system was created. Woodworth had, in turn, defeated Councilmember Don Jelinek who resided in District 7 but had been elected at large under the previous voting system.  

Worthington has represented the District for 14 years. He was elected in 1996, defeating incumbent Carla Woodworth. Woodworth had replaced Don Jelinek who had been elected to the City Council at large in 1984, then successfully run for the District 7 seat in 1986 after Districts were created. Woodworth had challenged, but lost to, Jelinek in 1986. When he retired from the Council she defeated Judy Heumann in an open race for the vacant seat.  

Worthington served an initial two-year term, was re-elected in 1998 to a four-year term, and again in 2002 and 2006. In the last two contests Beier has been his principal opponent, so this election is a third-time rematch for the two.

The candidates have already lined up endorsements from their colleagues on the Council and in elected office. 

Worthington has endorsements from Council members Jesse Arreguin and Max Anderson, as well as County Supervisor Keith Carson and State Assembly member Sandre Swanson. 

Beier has endorsements from Mayor Tom Bates, and Council members Laurie Capitelli, Gordon Wozniak and Susan Wengraf. Former Mayor Shirley Dean has also endorsed him. When we talked Sunday he said he was expecting some other key endorsements, but might not be able to announce them before press time for this article. 

Rosales has also been endorsed by Mayor Tom Bates, and by Councilmember Linda Maio. 

Key Priorities 

I asked all of the candidates for a brief summary of what they see as the most important issues facing the district. 

Beier lists his priority issues as “revitalization of Telegraph Avenue, improving public safety, bringing the neighborhood perspective to City Council, building a stronger community, better fiscal management” and reopening Willard Pool. 

“Telegraph Avenue is continuing to deteriorate, which will be exacerbated by the loss of Willard Pool”, he says. “The south side of campus is now the 4th most dangerous campus in terms of property crime in the nation and is crying out for change. In terms of the district’s issues from four years ago, they’re the same, if not worse-and that’s the most troubling.” 

“I will fight for real change, real solutions, and real progress. The City Council needs someone they can work with, not against. Conditions on Telegraph have worsened and the tone of the Council has become so caustic”, he says. 

He says his work as President of the Willard Neighborhood Association has shown he can “cultivate common interests and build coalitions on the council.” 

Rosales says her primary goals are “to support and build alliances to advance economic development in our city so we can generate more revenue so we can continue to provide and sustain the great services our city offers to the community; to ensure public safety through crime prevention and community policing; to provide a diverse and courageous voice to our community to lead the change that needs to happen now.” 

She stresses her history as a small business operator and the skills it brings her. “My business worked a lot with non-profit organizations”, she says. “I am very much a community, small business-conscious, person.” “I think one of the big things I can bring is being able to build coalitions.” 

Worthington points to both his progressive legislative record and constituent problem solving as a Councilmember. He cites his efforts to speed up the permitting process for small businesses, and specific ways he’s assisted business, such as getting short-term loading zones in front of bookstores, ATM machines, and dry cleaning establishments in the Telegraph business district. 

“If you look at a wide range of issues, women’s issues, ethnic diversity, consumer, affordable housing, I have sponsored the most legislation (on the Council) of anybody for years, and also advocated for the various proposals that have come to us from City staff”, Worthington says. 

“I feel like I’ve been a strong advocate for the consumers and the taxpayers,” noting he is working to raise public awareness of a large proposed PG & E rate increase for the Bay Area. 

He also stresses his record of demographically diverse City Commission appointments. Every Councilmember has numerous Commission and Committee spots to fill. “I’ve appointed the highest percentage of women, Asians and Latinos of anybody on the Council. I think it’s pretty clear I don’t just give lip service to diversity, I’ve reached out to people.” 

“If you just appoint your friends and they look like you, you’re going to get one segment of the population.” 

School Bonds & Downtown Plan 

I asked all three candidates for their views on two of the higher profile City issues on the November ballot, the Mayor’s Downtown Area item and the bond issues proposed by the Berkeley Unified School District. 

Rosales says, “I haven’t seen the full details of the bond measure. In general I support and encourage any effort to improve and help our schools. So, barring any major surprises, I expect to support this measure strongly.” 

Beier’s answer is similar. In an initial response a few weeks ago he said, “I haven’t seen the final language yet, but am fairly certain I’ll support both school bonds.” In our most recent conversation he says, “I’m definitely supporting” the school bonds. 

“Excellent public education is perhaps the most important thing government can provide,” Worthington says. Although he hasn’t taken a formal position yet, “I’ve never met a school bond measure I didn’t vote for.” 

On Downtown, Beier says he needs to study what the Council has put on the ballot, and a major factor for him will be the borders of the development areas. He says he’ll be concerned if it appears there will be too much intensification in the residential blocks adjoining the Downtown. 

He also says he supports more density and housing in the center of Downtown and “I‘d love for the University to get more faculty housing and work force housing” in areas like the Downtown. 

Rosales returns frequently to the theme of encouraging more development and business activity as a local generator of tax revenue, including in the Downtown. 

“There is so much resistance to economic development, because people are afraid it will change the face of Berkeley”, she says. “It’s really important to do what we can to get the economic engine running in Berkeley.” 

“I expect to support it,” she says of the Mayor’s Downtown Plan ballot item. “The nature of Downtown is to be a vibrant commercial district. If it can generate income and revenue for the city I will support it, within reason.” 

She feels it’s likely that permitting taller buildings in the Downtown will allow developers to achieve economies of scale in their projects. 

“One important thing for people to understand is that the Downtown Plan is not on the ballot”, Worthington says in response to my question. “All of that progress is being delayed in order to vote on a five page document that says virtually nothing.” 

He faults the Mayor and Council majority for deferring a new Downtown Plan until after the election, rather than adopting the aspects of a plan on which there is consensus or near-consensus agreement and separating out the few controversial items such as building height. 

“Let’s do by consensus the things we all agree on, and if you want to have a vote on tall buildings, let the people vote on that.” 

“To me this whole thing is pretty absurd to be voting on whether or not we’re going to have a plan when we could already have had a plan. It’s tragic to me that we could have a plan in place now; all the good things we could agree on are being blended in with the controversial parts.” 

“I’m hoping we will actually get to vote on the consensus plan of the things that we all agree on and we won’t have to wait a year and a half.” The time estimate is due to the fact that the Mayor and city staff, including City Attorney Zach Cowan, have said the November ballot measure is not a full legal area plan, though it contains a few binding provisions. The City Council would need to go through a process in 2011 and 2012 to adopt a detailed plan if voters approve the November conceptual advisory. 

Worthington also criticizes a specific in the Mayor’s ballot proposal that he feels would allow developers to skirt creation of affordable housing. “It’s problematic to me that we’re being asked to endorse the concept that you could buy your way out of affordable housing by some minute amount” of money. 

Other Issues 

I did not specifically ask the candidates about Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) but Worthington brought it up in our interview. While he’s an advocate of alternative transportation, “the (AC Transit) proposal was unacceptable and had serious flaws”, he said. 

He favors a free “eco-pass” for Telegraph business employees to get them to use the bus, arguing that similar programs for UC students, City of Berkeley employees and—to an extent—for UC staff have increased ridership without requiring large investments in physical infrastructure. “We’ve seen this work with the City and students, we have a proven model right here in Berkeley, which I initiated”, referring to the Eco-pass for City employees. 

He also said AC Transit should consider as an alternative to round-the-clock dedicated lanes: bus use of the curbside parking lane, just during the morning commute period, when most Telegraph businesses aren’t open and don’t need customer parking on the street. San Francisco is studying that option for some bus routes, he said. 

Worthington also emphasized the idea of continuing some form of “rapid bus”—not dedicated lanes—down University Avenue from Downtown rather than ending the Telegraph line in the downtown area. This, he argues, would better connect bus commuters to the existing Rapid Bus line on San Pablo Avenue, and also to a future ferry terminal on the Berkeley waterfront, emphasizing intermodal transportation. 

“The alternatives and compromises I’ve put forward (on BRT) haven’t been adopted yet, but I’m not giving up.” 

Beier, as president of the Willard Neighborhood Association, has also been involved with BRT, organizing forums and polling residents. Much of the vocal sentiment in the Willard and Le Conte neighborhoods was against dedicated bus lanes on Telegraph Avenue. 

Both Beier and Rosales brought up the issue of relations with the University, a large presence, demographically and geographically, in District 7. 

“I want to be able to make [City-UC relations] much more cooperative” says Rosales. “The relationship has to be better.” She’d also like to attract more student patrons to Berkeley businesses. 

“We [city and UC] can live as peaceful neighbors”, Beier says. “We have to change the whole dynamics.” “I live two blocks from People’s Park and I want to change this place”, he adds. 

Beier expresses distaste for some current City Council practices. He said that last week he and other Willard Pool supporters went to the Council meeting and waited until after midnight for the item to be discussed, while the Council reviewed a position on the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and a foreign relations statement amongst other agenda items. 

“They ruled on the pool at 1 am”, he says in disgust. And “there was a murder in the Anna Head parking lot [part of District 7], no mention of that.” 

Instant Runoff Voting 

This will be the first Berkeley municipal election for several decades in which instant runoff voting will be used. District 7 may have a leg up on the rest of the City in this regard, because the Associated Students (ASUC) elections at Cal have used instant runoff for decades, making many student voters familiar with the process. 

Voters in District 7 (and in other Berkeley races) will have the opportunity to rank the candidates in a priority order, with as many preferences as there are candidates. A voter might choose, for example, to rank “Washington” first, “Jefferson” second and “Adams” third. 

If “Washington” gets the smallest number of first place votes, s/he is dropped and this voter’s choice then becomes a first place vote for “Jefferson”. The process continues until one candidate has a majority. 

Voters can also choose to “bullet vote”, ranking only a first choice. If their first choice is dropped, their vote then disappears rather than moving to another candidate. 

In a three way race the second place candidate in the first round of voting can advance to first place and win when the lowest-ranking candidate is eliminated and his/her second place votes are transferred to other candidates. 

Or it may mean that the first place candidate in the first round will simply strengthen his/her lead as the second place votes are re-distributed. 

This may be one reason behind the double endorsement of Rosales and Beier which Mayor Bates made in District 7. Bates has clashed with Worthington in recent years. Endorsing two candidates against Worthington, rather than one, could be a strategy to enlarge the total pool of voters and to try to direct the second place votes from the weaker of the two opponents to the stronger, giving them an edge over the incumbent, Worthington. 

Some Worthington supporters have alleged that Rosales was encouraged to enter the race for just this reason, setting up an election where Beier brands himself as the “neighborhood” candidate getting votes of moderates, Worthington is the progressive incumbent, and Rosales is the new progressive who splits the left-wing vote with Worthington. 

Worthington argues the Beier / Worthington / Rosales, moderate / progressive / progressive meme is a false distinction. “To me the philosophical differences and the emphasis we put on things are astronomically different,” he says. “It’s about what your values and principles are.” 

“I see the contrast between the candidates. With one candidate you get an outspoken neighborhood leader, and in the other you get someone who presents themself as a progressive voice, and with me you can get a progressive voice who has a long track record, but you also get someone who has gotten things done for the neighborhood.” 

“It’s like American Idol”, Beier says wryly about instant runoff voting. “My goal is to be in the top two.” He finds encouragement in the fact that Bates—who didn’t endorse him in 2006—has endorsed him in this election, and says he’s getting a good response going door-to-door talking to voters. 

Regarding the fact that this is his third try for the District 7 Council seat, he sighs and says, “the first time I ran as a lark, the second time I was serious, and I’m serious this time.” 

When asked about the other two candidates, Beier says, “I am going to be running a positive campaign. We’ll never solve the city’s problems by blaming or criticizing each other. Kriss Worthington has worked hard—I respect that. He also had 14 years to make his mark—it’s time for fresh ideas. I very much appreciate the energy and enthusiasm that Ces Rosales brings to the campaign.” 

“You’ve got a 14 year incumbent and I’m challenging him. People will know the themes.” 

Candidate Backgrounds 

Beier has not held public elective office but has served on several Berkeley Boards and Commissions and is a long-time president of the Willard Neighborhood Association. 

Rosales is currently an elected member of the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee (since 2008) but will give up that office when her term expires this year, so she can concentrate on the Council election. “You try to be responsible for the office for which you’re running.” 

Rosales co-owns a flat in the Le Conte neighborhood in a complex of three buildings containing five units, bought as a co-housing community with a group of friends about a decade ago. This is also her first Berkeley home; she has lived in the Bay Area for about 25 years. She owns a graphic design business that was, for twenty years, based in San Francisco, but has shut down the office there and has been thinking of transitioning her work to the East Bay. 

She and her spouse, Sue Ferrera, have been together for more than twenty years. They were married in Canada, and are registered domestic partners in California. Ferrera is currently working as the City of Berkeley’s Superintendent of Parks. 

Beier owns a house near Willard Park and founded a software engineering firm that made him modestly wealthy. He first lived in Berkeley as a Cal undergraduate in the early 1980s and has been a resident here for most of the past three decades. He notes that his house is just around the corner from the bedroom he rented as a student on an adjacent street. 

Beier and current Downtown Berkeley Association Executive Director John Caner were a couple for many years. They separated earlier this year. In mid-April Beier wrote to the widely distributed Willard Neighborhood Association e-mail list, “On the personal side, my partner John is now my ex-partner…Fortunately we're still good friends…Thanks to many of you who offered your support to both of us.” 

Worthington rents an apartment in the Willard neighborhood and has lived in Berkeley since the 1980s. He has a partner who he describes somewhat tongue-in-cheek as “my dearly beloved boyfriend”, who is “not political” and avoids Berkeley politics. 

At least two of the candidates have dogs, both of which were with their human companions during my interviews; one dog was firmly asked to leave the room after trying to become the focus of the interview. I have not done a candidate cat canvass. 

Worthington has a campaign website address,, that is currently being updated and plans to open an office closer to the election. 

Beier has already opened a campaign office on Telegraph Avenue at Parker, in a vacant commercial storefront. He’s sharing the space with District 8 Councilmember Gordon Wozniak who is also running for re-election (District 8 starts a few blocks east of the office). Beier’s campaign website is 

Rosales has a campaign website at and is considering having a campaign kickoff event this coming weekend. 

(Steven Finacom has lived in the Le Conte neighborhood during most of his time in Berkeley. He supported Councilmember Carla Woodworth when Kriss Worthington ran against her and defeated her in 1996, and supported Worthington in his last re-election bid four years ago. He knows George Beier through various neighborhood activities, and lives not far from Ces Rosales. He has not yet made a personal endorsement in the District 7 race.)  

CORRECTION MADE: David Mundstock has kindly written to the Planet pointing out some errors I made in the 1980s history of the District 7 City Council seat. Using his background, I've inserted a corrected paragraph under "Election History" above.
----Steven Finacom, July 29, 2010.