Would a Fourth Term for Mayor Bates Make Berkeley "The Best It Can Be?"

By Becky O'Malley
Friday January 20, 2012 - 10:57:00 AM

This week I was sorting through the voluminous boxes of paper that came home when we closed the office a couple of years ago and I ran across a handsome glossy brochure headed “MAKING BERKELEY THE BEST IT CAN BE” with subhead “To Do List”. It featured 5 sincerely charming photos of Tom Bates, whose signed statement on the outside describes the document as “my ‘to do’ list for making Berkeley a healthy, vibrant, and green city.”

In fact, it was Bates’ 2008 campaign mailer, sent to every voter in Berkeley, a majority of whom bought his Kool-Aid and re-elected him to a third term.
Since today’s rumor mill reports that Mayor Bates, now almost 73, has decided to run again, in tandem with his wife Loni Hancock’s decision to seek another state senate term, it might be a good time to evaluate his performance using his own checklist. He’s been in office close to a decade now, so he’s had his chance to accomplish something if he’s ever going to. .
Here are his goals (in italics) followed by grades: 

Make Berkeley America's Greenest City. [in extra-large type, on a bright green background.] 

Redouble our environmental efforts with cutting edge policy, expanded parks and playing fields, and a thriving green economy. Lead efforts for local green power, solar-intensive green building requirements, and improved transit. Following the passage of Measure G, launch a community-wide initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

Well, everything that’s happened everywhere in the last four years, including in Berkeley, has been furiously green-washed, but we still don’t exactly have “a thriving green economy”. In particular, the mayor’s much-touted Berkeley First program, which induced homeowners to borrow against their home equity to install solar technology, was a dismal failure and has been cancelled. And transit, far from being improved, has gotten steadily worse. Let’s give this one a D. 


Work to revitalize Berkeley's downtown. Continue the resurgence of downtown Berkeley by supporting development of a world-class hotel, museum, arts and entertainment center and public plaza at Center Street.  

The hotel has vanished, the museum has been much scaled down and still not built, the public plaza is nowhere to be seen, nor is the arts and entertainment center in evidence four years later. This would have to be an F


Provide universal quality after school programs. Berkeley was named the "teen healthiest city" in California. Expand efforts to provide all Berkeley children access to after-school and pre-school programs as well as health and social services in schools.  

The after-school and pre-school programs that I’m familiar with have experienced drastic program cuts. This is not exactly Bates’ fault, but then again it was never exactly a function of city government in the first place. Maybe a C? 


Hold Cal accountable. Ensure the University of California lives up to the historic partnership agreement signed in 2005 and stop the University's plan to build a massive new garage and sports training facility on Gayley Road. 

Well, here we have a clear F. U.C. Berkeley is still the two-ton elephant which sleeps anywhere it wants, and the Mayor’s been its best ally. The city refused to join the citizen lawsuit to prevent the building of the massive bunker which is now taking shape on Gayley Road around the remains of U.C.’s steroid-enhanced Memorial Stadium. Providing services to U.C. is still costing the city much more than it receives as reimbursement under the toothless so-called “ historic partnership agreement.” 


Reduce homelessness. Work regionally to develop housing with supportive services for the homeless. .Expand street outreach, mental health, and substance abuse programs. Develop clear and enforceable rules about appropriate street behavior.  

Anyone who still goes downtown in Berkeley can judge how well this one has gone. My guess is that most people would give it a D. Many of these problems, of course, are not soluble at the city level, so it was wrong in the first place to promise that any mayor could fix them. 


Strengthen neighborhood shopping districts by cutting red tape so new businesses ·can open quickly. Fully implement my Telegraph Avenue revitalization plan.  

Restaurant quotas on Solano, for example, were removed, but it hasn’t made a dent in the vacancies on the street—possibly because deregulation encourages landlords to raise their rents. Every week brings more news of Berkeley business closures. Is closing the Andronico’s store part of that Telegraph revitalization plan? If not, what’s the plan, man? Another F. 


Protect neighborhoods from inappropriate development by restricting large buildings to major transit corridors and ensuring great design. Direct staff and the Planning Commission to work with the community to craft "neighborhood conservation zones" that protect the unique character of our low-density residential neighborhoods. 

Huh? What “neighborhood conservation zones” has he “crafted”? Ask the neighbors of the big and ugly Parker Place development, approved by the city council this week with Bates leading the cheers, whether they think that the “unique character” of their “low-density residential neighborhood” has been protected. Again, F


Pass a strong Sunshine Ordinance that ensures an open and accountable government from top to bottom.  

Does passing an ordinance that’s weak as water count as a plus or a minus? No strong Sunshine Ordinance has been proposed or passed, just a pale imitation of one, which is why a citizen initiative has put another one on the ballot instead. Maybe D minus? 


Build new sports fields. Construct five new sports fields on Gilman Street near 1-80. Work with the school district and neighbors to build the "curvy Derby" plan for a baseball field at Derby and martin Luther King without closing the street. Locate and build a new warm water pool.  

Well, the former Cal football player finally scored on this one. Not only did he get his sports fields near the freeway, he got them named after himself. Way to go, Tom! “Curvy Derby” and the warm water pool, however, are still verses in my favorite protest song: “There’ll be Pie in the Sky By and By.” Another D.  


Expand the arts, crafts, and environmental business in West Berkeley by supporting new efforts to provide permanent arts space and create a hub for innovative and environmental businesses.  

What’s happened instead is that the zoning protections for local industrial businesses and arts and crafts spaces in West Berkeley have been weakened, and opportunities for big multinationals and UC spinoffs have increased. Since the ultimate outcome is still unknown, we’ll let this one squeeze by with a D+. 


All in all, judging by the Bates’ organization’s own criteria as presented here in their 2008 campaign brochure, Tom Bates seems to have done a poor job in the last four years. It’s almost impossible to defeat an incumbent, but does he really deserve four more years? 

He’ll be 77 by the time the next term ends—and as someone who’s almost as old as he is, and who frequently watches his inept council performances, I’m not sure that’s a plus. Of course, he could follow the custom established by the local political pros—he could pull a Loni and quit before his term ends in favor of a hand-picked unelected successor. 

Is there no one out there who really wants to “make Berkeley the best it can be” and is able to deliver on these promises? 

Councilmembers Worthington, Anderson and Arreguin are conscientious, intelligent and hard-working—could any of them be drafted? How about City Auditor Ann-Marie Hogan, an elected official respected by citizens with all points of view on city finances? 

If we can’t quite make Berkeley the best it can be, surely we can at least do better. We could start by actually trying to implement Bates' 2008 campaign promises.