What's a Berkeleyan to do as the election looms?

Becky O'Malley
Sunday August 07, 2016 - 10:30:00 AM

Okay, the summer’s half over, and the news from the presidential election front is surreal. There are options:

1) Send money, but it doesn’t seem that Hillary Clinton really needs it. On the other hand, there are Senate and House races that do, and without congressional support the next president won’t get as much done.

2) Go elsewhere in the country to work for campaigns. I have good friends, middle-aged and older women like me, who have been unfortunate enough to move to purplish states, and they tell me I could go there to register voters and get them to the polls. Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida—which might it be?

3) Make day trips to work in nearby congressional races. Two nearby congressmembers in close races which might be worth some effort: Ami Bera in Sacramento and Jerry McNerny out toward Livermore. I went to a Bera house party last week and was impressed by how smart he is, and he joined the House sit-in for better firearms regs.

4) Stay here and work phone banks. Me, I’m already getting grouchy from way too many phone calls and emails from campaigns I’m already supporting, and I suspect other voters are too. Might it be time to stop this stuff?

And if working in national elections seems unproductive, don’t forget that here in Berkeley local elections were sneakily moved to coincide with the national elections when we weren’t paying attention. This means that this November Berkeley will be choosing a new Mayor and four councilmembers, creating a new majority on the city council which will be with us for four years, like it or don’t.  

A healthy percentage of the November electorate in presidential years in Berkeley is made up of people don’t know much about what’s been going on here. That of course includes most students, who are only here for a while, but also our increasing number of snowbirds, who live here in the winter, often on the U.C. payroll, and go elsewhere in the spring, summer and fall. We’re even getting an international “pied á terre” crowd, those who live abroad but purchase a California condo “just in case”, though most of these aren’t voting citizens. 

Almost everyone who can will show up to vote in the upcoming presidential election with Trump on the ticket. In the absence of a local newspaper, many low-information voters will base their decisions in local races on the expensive glossy mailers they’ll receive in quantity in October. These are funded by a variety of interest groups, some worthy, some not so much, and some well-intentioned but misled. Their authorship will be concealed under generic labels like “Committee for a Progressive Alameda County”.  

It’s the job of those of us who pay attention year-round to local issues to communicate with these people before it’s too late. That means, in California, before the mail-in ballots are sent to voters.  

What’s wrong in Berkeley at the moment?  

Nothing, surely, say those who have moved here to escape New York congestion or Massachusetts winters. It’s the land of the lotus eaters, isn’t it? Why should anything be changed? Cognitive dissonance, so popular in the 60s (look it up) rears its ugly head. If I’m here, it must be good. 

Case in point: Professor Robert Reich, formerly of Cambridge, has been uber-Bernie nationally, but locally has consistently supported the current mayor, a pol who’s been shilling for every developer who comes before the city council for many years now. 

Nothing’s wrong, surely, say many (though not all) UC students. We’re proud to have gotten into the best school on earth (except that we can barely afford to live here.) 

Berkeley is increasingly becoming the poster child for the lifestyles of the rich and famous, but those who have managed to get in under the wire don’t want to believe what’s happening to the place they are programmed to adore.  

Newbies don’t want to notice that the civic amenities which have contributed to the city’s fabled charm are being replaced by cash-register multiples: characterless multi-story buildings thrown up in a matter of weeks, unpleasant cheaply built structures marketed as high-priced “luxury” dwellings. They wonder why the Rose Garden and City Hall seem to be collapsing and the public pool in Willard Park is closed, but have no explanation. 

One example among many of the problem: developers have gotten permits from the Berkeley City Council to tear down the building which houses the Landmark Shattuck Cinemas, an economic engine for downtown businesses, to build a luxury apartment project which, among other things, threatens the foundation of the historic Shattuck hotel. The Berkeley City Council has gifted the well-wired developer with a deep, deep discount from the in-lieu fees which were supposed to be contributed to fund affordable housing in return for zoning variances. Meanwhile, the stock of low-income or even affordable housing continues to shrink as older units are being demolished.  

So that’s problem number one: uncontrolled construction of inappropriate buildings, coupled with neglect of the real need for low-income rentals, plus neglect of an infrastructure increasingly impacted by population increase without adequate compensation or even planning. 

The second neglected problem in Berkeley is the local manifestation of the Black Lives Matter movement. Just last week (see article in this issue) a peaceful delegation of religious leaders was barred from entering Berkeley’s city administration building during business hours for a planned meeting with a councilmember, because someone on the staff thought they might do something illegal. That’s a bad decision which is sure to lead to less peaceful encounters down the line. 

What can you do about all this between now and November? 

Berkeley is now blessed with ranked-choice voting, which has produced an ample supply of good candidates. It’s important to look at the field, and then to decide which ones you’d like to support with money or volunteer work, and also to be sure of not only your first choice but also of your second and third choices where available. 

It’s early for endorsements, perhaps, but let’s give it a go, because the time for action is now. 

For the California Assembly, our previous endorsement of Sandre Swanson was reinforced by a recent press release from his opponent boasting about how much money she’d raised. Trophy contributors to her campaign included corporate sugar merchant Pepsico, Big Pharma’s Bayer, and an assortment of law enforcement and prison guard associations of the worst sort.  

In Berkeley, candidate Capitelli represents more of the Same Old Same Old—and it’s past time for a change, so skip him. You should rank progressive councilmembers Jesse Arreguin and Kriss Worthington as either One or Two, since either would be a big improvement over the status quo.  

In District Two there are also a couple of excellent options for the One-Two slots, both visible and forceful in the Black Lives Matter environment. That would be Nanci Armstrong-Temple and Cheryl Davila. Skip the incumbent altogether. 

In District Three, Ben Bartlett, a smart young attorney with Berkeley roots, has been endorsed by outgoing Councilmember Max Anderson, but Mark Coplan would probably be another respectable choice, certainly a good number two. Avoid real estate professional Deborah Matthews, who was in the pocket of the building industry as a ZAB member. 

For District Five, there’s only one good choice: Sophie Hahn, the best member of the Zoning Board. 

In District 6, either Fred Dodsworth or Isabelle Gaston would be a welcome voice for change, so they should be your one-two choices in whatever order. The longtime incumbent should be retired

So they’re off and running! Arreguin and Hahn are already doing door-to-door canvassing on weekends. Choose your candidates and jump into the race. It will make a big difference for what Berkeley becomes in the next four years.