I salute Kriss Worthington’s “practical people’s platform” of things a Berkeley mayor could accomplish. But a real people’s platform, I’m sure Councilmember Worthington would agree, must come from people, not politicians. In that spirit, here are some additional suggestions:
1. No more targeting the poor with anti-panhandling, anti-sitting, or anti-belongings ordinances. The next mayor of Berkeley should move quickly to eliminate any such laws on the books and dedicate himself or herself to honest, practical solutions.
2. Institute a vacancy fee for commercial districts. Property owners who choose to keep inflated rents so high that their storefronts and buildings remain an empty burden on a commercial district should be fined accordingly.
3. Vow to address pressing low-income housing needs as a first priority. The scarce opportunity sites left in town should be dedicated to low-income, long-term housing, not glorified mailboxes for college students or high-end condos for the wealthy. This is the real way to maintain our diversity.
4. Eliminate the use of pepper spray, wooden and rubber bullets, and tasers in our police force. These are not, as they are often called, non-lethal weapons, and should be removed from the escalating ladder of force until such time as they can honestly be called safe and effective.
5. Re-institute and strengthen protections for our city landmarks. Our next mayor should recognize that preserving and re-purposing older buildings is the greenest course, and require the University of California and other developers to petition the city and the Landmarks Preservation Commission before destroying or altering our landmark heritage.
6. Vow to honor neighborhood concerns with an honest process and opportunity for involvement. Citizens of Berkeley are justifiably disgusted with having only a last-minute opportunity to comment on plans which may destroy their businesses, their homes, the livability of their neighborhoods. There is no reason why plans such as the “West Berkeley Project” should pulled like a rabbit out of a hat right before an election. It may take time to be inclusive, but it is worth doing.
7. Require our police officers to participate in public police review. The current state law eliminating public police review as an employee privacy violation does not preclude the City of Berkeley from asking more from its police force, which is better paid than most. Police officers unwilling to participate in a public review process should find work elsewhere.
8. Require all merchant associations to have open meetings under Brown Act rules. Some of the merchant associations in Berkeley operate like a shadow government, even writing legislation which surfaces later at the city council. This is not what democracy looks like.
9. Eliminate discriminatory patterns and practices of enforcement of laws and codes. It makes no sense to argue that a poor person’s backpack is “blocking” passage while allowing a merchant to put out sandwich boards, tables and chairs, etc. on a public sidewalk, or enforcing commercial district smoking regulations only against the poor. Let’s be fair.
10. Vow to encourage honest support for the arts. Let’s begin a culture of firmly encouraging merchants, merchant organizations, and event organizers to pay musicians. Well-funded groups such as the Downtown Berkeley Association should be ashamed of, for instance, getting a special “eternal” permit for the prime busking territory near the BART station while paying the musicians who use it nothing at all. This, and a commitment to long-term, low-income housing, will ensure a healthy creative community.