Berkeley Goes Berserkeley Once Again

By Becky O'Malley
Friday November 30, 2012 - 08:55:00 AM

Okay, okay, I think I might have to take it all back. Often enough, I’ve complained that the other media, the out-of-town media in particular, have done all too many “Berserkeley” stories, too many stories purporting to show that the silly season is year-round around here.

But then a story like this one comes along. The local CBS television outlet has skewered our recently re-elected mayor for his latest dog-in-the-manger move, attempting to rearrange the chairs on the Titanic—er, I mean on the Berkeley City Council dais.

Here’s the whole story, complete with a video clip that tells all.  

It’s a story right out of junior high. Tommy just can’t bear to sit next to that nasty boy who makes fun of him, even though that nice girl Linda is already on the other side to keep him company. Who knows, Kriss might even punch him some time. So Tommy gets his best friend to switch seats with Kriss. Now it’s love, love, love on all sides for Tommy.  

Or at least to the right of him and the left of him. Out in front, at least in one minute segments, a few of the mouthier kids might still able to stick out their tongues to give Tommy a Bronx cheer. But he’ll probably figure out a way to stop that too. 

On one level, it’s not too surprising that the politician who launched his reign by stuffing copies of a newspaper which endorsed his opponent in the trash should have a few more juvenile moves like this one on his agenda. Anyone who watches the Berkeley City Council meetings (all 47 of us) has seen plenty of childish tantrums from Bates in his ten years in office.  

But Berkeley voters don’t seem to care, or most charitably they don’t seem to know, what’s been happening. Either that, or this is the kind of carryings-on that they think befits the chief elected official in a city with more than 100,000 residents, since they enthusiastically voted him into a 5th term this November. 

Meanwhile, things on the ground in the real world continue to go from bad to worse. Berkeley made the front page of today’s Chronicle with a story about how the personal data of people who’ve been taken to the hospital in Berkeley Fire Department emergency vehicles has been stolen from a contractor company that collects bills from patients. The problem surfaced in September, but the city has only recently started to inform potential identity fraud victims that they might be at risk.  

But seriously—can’t we all just get along? 

Kriss Worthington and Jesse Arreguin continue to doggedly propose sensible solutions to Berkeley’s many problems, even as the neo-moderate Bates crowd continues to offer quick dumb fixes like Measures S and T which solve nothing and create ill will. Sometimes the progressive councilmembers’ ideas even get legs—the workshop about Telegraph Avenue on Tuesday at least gave an airing to some of Worthington's better suggestions for how to improve the main drag in his district. Whether anything translates into action will depend on whether the council majority actually wants to make things work or not. 

Of course, there were a lot of bad ideas aired too. You can watch it all here if you’re interested—but don’t expect anything to happen any time soon. 

One project that could make things either better or worse, which you can see on the video, is UC Berkeley’s scheme to replace the admittedly plug-ugly Eshleman building, a non-descript 60s office block, with a more up-to-date shopping mall facing onto Bancroft, a street that has been almost criminally degraded by the blank wall of the university’s sports palace, which takes up a large portion of the Bancroft street frontage west of the university entrance. 

Those with even longer memories than mine (they may all be dead by now) remember that the fabled Sproul plaza itself, not to mention Eshleman and Zellerbach Auditorium, stand on the site of what was once a thriving commercial area starting just outside Sather Gate. It was urban-renewed by public domain enabled demolition sometime in the 50s, I think, and that’s what really began Telegraph’s decline.  

Will turning the campus entrance into a mall make things nicer? Don’t hold your breath. 

Meanwhile, speaking of nice, neither Bates nor Worthington seems to be able to make nice with Ken Sarachan, who happens to hold title to several corner parcels on two major intersections on Telegraph. At the workshop Ken claimed that he had renovation and building projects ready to go for the old Cody’s corner and the vacant lot diagonally across from it, but couldn’t get the city’s planning office to okay them. 

Sarachan is certainly—a colorful individual—but he’s got a lot of imagination and a lot of property. I’d be glad to sit down at a tea table with all three guys plus the planning director and try to help them to work out a sensible plan for turning Ken’s holdings into an asset for Berkeley, if they’d all get down off their high horses for an hour or two.  

Sadly, that’s not how things work in Berserkeley, however. The mayor, who has little actual power but a bully pulpit, could choose to exercise some sort of leadership by reaching across the virtual aisle and trying to get along with the three progressives who speak for flatland Berkeley, but instead he’s chosen to pick a needless fight, and Berkeleyans are blithely letting him get away with it.  

Meanwhile, the rain falls, and I have no doubt that the traditional flooding in South and West Berkeley will follow, enabled by ten years of delayed maintenance of storm water drains under the Bates regime. 

As I believe I may have said in this space before, I’m reluctantly concluding that Berkeley deserves what it gets.