The three candidates for Berkeley’s District Seven Council seat currently held by Kriss Worthington presented themselves to the Le Conte neighborhood at a candidate’s forum sponsored by the Le Conte Neighborhood Association on the evening of Thursday, September 16, 2010.
About 25 neighborhood residents were present, in addition to the three candidates and some of their campaign staff. The eastern part of the Le Conte neighborhood, roughly between Ellsworth Street and Telegraph Avenue, is within District Seven.
Incumbent Kriss Worthington and challengers Ces Rosales and George Beier joined in a two-part session starting with candidate statements followed by a question and answer period.
The evening began with each candidate given a few minutes to introduce themselves and touch on their key issues.
Rosales gave a quick summary of her background, saying that “over 37 years ago I had to flee my country”, the Philippines, during the Marcos dictatorship. “My family ended up in Canada. Bu the mid ‘80s I ended up here in the Bay Area.” In 1991 she and her partner bought a house in Oakland.
In 1999 they moved to Russell Street, in the Le Conte neighborhood, buying a flat in a two unit building.
“Why am I running?” she said. “Like you all in our neighborhood our concerns are similar.” “Telegraph Avenue has lost its luster.” She mentioned the loss of Cody’s Books and Black Oak Books, and the spring closure of the Willard Pool. She noted crime as a concern, mentioning “our backyard is like a shopping mall for bicycle thieves.”
“I bring to you a 20 year experience as a small business owner in San Francisco. At the same time I was also very much of a community activist”, she said. “What I bring to you is my ability to see what’s going on” and “my ability to bring people together.”
“I want to promote, advance and support the building of smart economic development,” she said.
“The relationship with the University has been very antagonistic”, she added, a situation she wants to change. She said she would work to encourage students to buy from local businesses, which would yield additional revue for the City.
George Beier said he had gone to high school overseas and lived in New Delhi and Mogadishu while growing up. After earning undergraduate and MBA degrees at UC Berkeley, he started a software business. After he sold it, “I’ve pretty much devoted myself to community activism since then.”
He noted his participation on the Chancellor’s task force on town / gown relations and previous service on the Waterfront Commission and Zoning Adjustment Board and Planning Commission. “I’ve always been involved in my community for the last 20 years.” He noted the successful effort to get dumpsters put in Southside neighborhoods at the end of the academic year so student discards wouldn’t end up on the street. He mentioned working on disaster preparedness and on efforts to reduce alcohol-related problems near campus.
He described working with Rebuilding Together (which organizes volunteers to repair the homes of those who can’t afford it), and on the board of Options Recovery. “I’ve very close to the recovery community myself”, he said.
Beier stressed his endorsements. “There are eight people on the City Council other than the incumbent and six have endorsed me.”
He said there was a real problem with public safety issues in and near District Seven, including recent murders on Haste Street and on Adeline, and “I’m devoted to reviving Telegraph Avenue.” “We can turn that around.”
If he’s elected, he said, “I really hope after four years of my tenure people will walk down Telegraph and say, this is still interesting, this is still funky, but it’s a lot safer.”
“I want to change the agenda of the City Council,” he added. At Council meetings “the neighbor agenda stuff happens at the end. It drives me crazy.”
“I really want to change People’s Park”, he stressed. “I think we should keep it as open space” and “I want to keep it as a community park” but “That park has got to change. It does not work now as a community park.”
“I’ve also worked to defeat the BRT (Bus Rapid Transit). I think that was a disaster.” “I think BRT needs to go ‘bye bye’ for ever.”
In summing up, Beier said “I have a very broad coalition of support. I’ve had six people endorse me on the Council. I’ll be the seventh vote.” “I know I’ll be a stalwart community advocate for you for the next four years.”
Kriss Worthington spoke last. “My definition of a broad coalition includes the community”, he said. He noted his endorsements from the Sierra Club, AFL-CIO, Stonewall Democratic Club, and the Green Party.
“Most of the groups that have endorsed anyone have endorsed me”, he said. “The progressive activist groups know that I will fight for all of their causes.”
Worthington noted he had proposed numerous reforms to City development policy. “I learned before I was on the City Council what a nightmare the City Planning Department is.” He said on landmarks issues “I’m the only person in this race who says I see preservation as an environmental issue. Don’t undermine the protections for landmarks in Berkeley.” “I’m the only one standing up for neighborhoods on this issue.”
He said he had gotten the City Council to reform the permit process for businesses on Telegraph and adjacent commercial blocks. “Those streets can get a permit faster than anywhere else in Berkeley.”
Worthington said the Council had voted for most of his proposals and “I do community organizing with neighbors to come to the Council.”
On UC relations, he said, “the University bureaucracy, the administration…the highly paid executives are making decisions (similar) to what big corporations are making to screw up our entire city.” He included Alta Bates medical center as a large institution in District Seven that can work against community interest.
“I have succeeded at getting the city to order the University and Alta Bates to stop doing illegal things.”
Worthington said one of his working premises is that “looking out for middle class taxpayers is a progressive issue.” He said he had worked to get the City to put a previous budget surplus into a rainy day fund, which helped ease the City’s current budget problems when economic crisis arrived.
Worthington talked about working for what he called “the left out groups in Berkeley”, giving as examples Holocaust survivors worried about the number of local hate crimes, and veteran’s organizations that want to use the City-owned Veterans Memorial Building.
“Yes, I am the most dangerous man in Berkeley” he concluded. “I am the one who the corporations don’t like, the big landlords don’t like…but I’m also a nice, gentle, person who works for you.”
Q and A
Candidates were asked to answer the questions in rotating order, each time beginning with a different candidate. That same order of response is preserved below.
The first question (from this writer) was regarding “smart growth”. Do the candidates support increased development in the Le Conte neighborhood? If so, where would they want to see it occur?
Rosales said she supported Measure R, the Mayor’s downtown proposal, and that would be the place for more development. “If you think of putting it in our neighborhood, I can’t see where”, she added.
“Le Conte neighborhood and my neighborhood (Willard) are the densest in Berkeley,” Beier said. “I would not support new housing in the neighborhood”, with the exception of “some new housing on Telegraph itself”, but not on the adjacent neighborhood streets.
“The majority of the City Council tends to blindly vote for more development”, Worthington said. “The issue is are we going to actually make developers follow the law?” He said a strong issue for him was getting the City to follow its own regulations when approving infill development proposals.
The next question was regarding the City’s contract with Easy Does It, which provides non-emergency services for the disabled community. The organization, the questioner said, has been criticized for not providing services to enough people for the $800,000 it receives from the City.
Beier said he was not familiar with the issue but support pursuing a thorough audit of the contract. He said he would be able to analyze it, noting he has an MBA in finance from UC.
Worthington said that “on contract monitoring my office is the most activist office” among Councilmembers, and noted he had pushed for the City’s audit of its Office Depot supply contract that had uncovered savings for the City.
Rosales said he was not familiar with the particular issue, but “we in Berkeley are all very compassionate.” “The reality is there is not enough money in the City” to pay for City services. “What are we going to do to generate income?”
Safety and Crime
The next question asked the candidates for their views on public safety and crime issues.
Worthington said “contrary to the media myth”, “I have sponsored the most Council items related to public safety and crime.” “I’ve sponsored items to get more police.” He said that after considerable delay under previous staff, Berkeley’s new police chief “is actually taking many of the things I’ve sponsored and implementing them.”
Rosales said “this (issue) is precisely why I’m running for City Council.” “There is a need to look at this a lot more closely.” “Crime is not lessening, it’s actually getting worse.”
Beier pointed to his efforts to bring police to neighborhood meetings and control disruptive student parties, and added “I’ve been badgering them (the police) forever to have a joint patrol” in the Southside, a measure the City and University police just began to implement.
Views on Bates
The next questioner invited candidates to say what they think of Tom Bates.
Current Mayor and former State Assemblyman Bates lives in the Le Conte neighborhood on Ward Street with his wife, Loni Hancock, current State Senator and former Mayor of Berkeley and former State Assemblymember.
Bates has endorsed both Beier and Rosales against Worthington.
“I see Tom Bates as a leader trying his best to do what he can for the City,” Rosales said. “I want to trust that each leader, each and every one, including Kriss, is doing the best they can.”
“This job isn’t about personalities”, Beier said. “I think about what’s best for the community.” Despite the endorsement, he said, “If I have to go against Tom Bates I will”, noting that he and Bates had different positions on Bus Rapid Transit. “I’m a guy he knows he can work with.”
“Tom Bates was a wonderful State Assemblyman”, Worthington said. “As Mayor unfortunately he’s more concerned with the Chamber of Commerce.” “He believes”, Worthington said, “if you let them build everything they want, it will trickle down to us.”
“I am the only person (in the race) who will not owe one vote to the Mayor” if elected, he added.
Public Transit and BRT
The next question concerned funding for bus service in Berkeley and Bus Rapid Transit.
“I was the Berkeley City Council person who fought to get the funding for the San Pablo Rapid Bus and Telegraph Avenue Rapid Bus”, Worthington answered. He said “there are Bus Rapid Transit projects all over the country that do not take out two lanes of traffic”, as proposed by AC Transit for Telegraph Avenue, and suggested a modified BRT scheme might work, only having dedicated bus lanes during rush hour.
“I know BRT has been contentious in our neighborhood”, Rosales said. “BRT has to go back to the drawing table.”
“I don’t think I have a lack of understanding about BRT at all” Beier said. “The idea of having dedicated bus lanes in the center of Telegraph Avenue is a terrible idea.” BRT is “a 400 million dollar bad idea for no environmental benefit and I oppose it”, he added.
City Employee Pensions
The next question was about the retirement benefits the City provides to City employees. They are, the questioner said, “way out of proportion to what the public can afford.”
“We all want to have a secure pension to live on in old age” Rosales said. “I’m not on the Council. I don’t know how they decided on the pensions. I would like it to be fair.”
“People think City workers are overpaid,” she added. “I don’t think so.”
“I think this is a really tough issue”, Beier said. While “the social contract is destroyed” and workers nationwide have lost access to pensions, with 401(k)s as an inadequate alternative, he said he was concerned about a combination of high pay and high benefits for City employees. “The contract should be you get low pay now and high security later”.
He said one of the first things he would propose on the Council would be to “hold all cost of living increases (for City employees) flat.”
Beier’s comment provoked a tart response from Worthington who said that while he “has proposed beginning baby steps to reform the pension process”, “one of the candidates has proposed illegal things”, apparently referring to Beier’s proposals to alter City compensation employee compensation agreements mid-contract.
Beier responded during his next answer period that Worthington “illegal” reference was referring to Beier’s proposal to reduce the benefit the City pays the Downtown YMCA for City employee memberships, in order to provide stop gap funding for Willard Pool operations.
The next question was about the property owned by a Le Conte resident along the east side of Shattuck Avenue. The block long site has been largely vacant for many years. Can’t the City get him to do something with the property, the questioner asked?
Beier said that one approach with recalcitrant developers and property owners was, within the law, to “make it difficult for their next property” when they want something from the City.
Worthington noted he had “led the fight to get the Berkeley Inn site cleaned up” (referring to a different location and property owner, but also in District Seven at Telegraph and Haste) and that property had liens attached by the City. He said that eminent domain might be something to consider for the Shattuck Avenue property but, he stressed, “for that particular place only.”
Rosales said “there’s a lot of property in Berkeley that’s sitting empty.” “I keep hearing all sorts of reasons why it’s not happening.” She added, “I want to know why it is that we can’t do something at Haste and Telegraph”, the old Berkeley Inn site.
Steven Finacom has lived in District 7 since the 1980s. He endorsed Kriss Worthington the last time he ran for Council, and Worthington’s opponent, incumbent Carla Woodworth, when Worthington first ran against her. He lives near Ces Rosales and knows her as a neighbor, and knows George Beier through some neighborhood activities. He has not made a public endorsement in the election.
PHOTO: Left to right, Kriss Worthington, George Beier, and Ces Rosales answer questions at the Le Conte candidate forum. The meeting was held in the Art House Gallery and Cultural Center on Shattuck Avenue, near Russell.