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The Will of the People: Measure R is Debated (Sort of) Yet Again

By Christopher Adams
Wednesday October 13, 2010 - 05:51:00 PM

Is the air too “dramatic” in the block of Addison which houses the city’s self-described “arts district;” is there something that fuzzes minds and prevents rational discourse? In January I went to a panel discussion about downtown development in the Aurora Theatre where not one of the panelists mentioned most of the activities which draw people downtown (like retail or restaurants or libraries or gyms). This Tuesday I went to a panel discussion in the same venue about Measure R, characterized by drama, if drama means “artifice,” “fictionalizing,” and “upstaging,” but mostly not including discussion of Measure R. Maybe the Chamber of Commerce, which had organized the panel, wanted it that way, but I went wanting to learn more, and I left as flummoxed as I had been in January. 

The cast of characters for Tuesday’s panel included Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, who opposes R and his opponents Jim Novosel and Bernt Wahl, both of whom favor it. The other panelists, introduced as “stakeholders, all favored R: John Caner, director of the Downtown Berkeley Association; Andy Katz from the Sierra Club; Erin Rhoades, director of Livable Berkeley; and Susie Medak, director of the Berkeley Rep. Considering it was six to one, Arreguin was allowed times for rebuttal to each of the others, and although he hardly had time to catch his breath, he managed to get his points across perceptively and sometimes even eloquently. 

Novosel efficiently articulated what R would do (the tallest allowable buildings would be lower than the DAPAC plan but there would be more of them; historic preservation procedures would be shortened but still, per Jim, long enough). Arreguin managed to articulate what Measure R won’t do (provide buffers to adjacent neighborhoods, pay for any improvements—green or otherwise). The other council candidate didn’t really say much about R except that he liked it. About historic preservation he said he lived in a brown shingle house but that not all of downtown could be brown shingle. He likes to ride his bicycle and wishes more Silicon Valley firms would rent space downtown, but he didn’t explain how Measure R would help either activity. 

John Caner talked about other college towns he liked, such as Boulder and San Luis Obispo, neither of which the last time I looked had 180 foot buildings, so again I wasn’t sure what this had to do with what Measure R. Erin Rhoades read prepared remarks which can only be described as Greenspeak, lots of environmental piety but few specifics. Regarding R she said that the California League of Conservation Voters supports it. (Not having seen anything about R in the flyer CLCV sent me or on their website, I have asked them for clarification.) Andy Katz, from the Sierra Club, seemed to like R because two Sierra Club representatives served on the DAPAC. Again the concept eluded me, as the City Council has rejected the DAPAC plan in favor of Measure R. Most mysterious was Susie Medak . Maybe she breathes more of the dramatic air or maybe she was just being polite as a host. She wants more people and more restaurants in downtown but didn’t say how Measure R would bring them. She wishes downtown were more like 4th Street, but 4th Street consists of mostly one- and a few two-story buildings and has no housing unless one counts the lowrise and low income housing two blocks away. 

Questions from the audience were allowed by filling out a card. I can’t say if other cards were read correctly. I know the moderator wrongly paraphrased mine until I (vocally) insisted it be read verbatim. Only one question per person was allowed, although the crowd was small. In contrast to meetings I am used to in Berkeley no one in the youngish and nicely dressed audience demurred to the rules, and things were over right on time. 

In the wrap-up Jesse Arreguin said Measure R is not necessary as the Council could adopt the DAPAC plan or the later Planning Commission Plan without any vote. Jim Novosel said Measure R would express “the will of the people.” 

Like a good green citizen I had walked to the meeting; it was a hot day and a long walk home.