What would you ask the mayor of Berkeley?

Next week, Berkeleyside is interviewing Mayor Tom Bates. There is no shortage of hot-button issues in the city — from the development of West Berkeley and the plans for Downtown, to the strains on the city budget, the closure of Willard Pool, and the climate for business in the city.

We’re curious what Berkeleyside’s readers are interested in. If you were sitting down with Mayor Bates, what would you ask him?

Let us know through the comments and we’ll do our best to raise the issues.

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  • tizzielish

    I would like to ask Tom Bates why he seems determined to overlook the will of Berkeley citizens regarding downtown development, giving, seemingly, more weight to the opinions of developers? If Mayor Bates cared about collective, cooperative, community leadership, wouldn’t he support the DAPAC proposals for downtown Berkeley? Even though he seemed to personally disagree with some of the DAPAC compromises, why didn’t he support the collective, years-long, collaborative process?

    Or ask him this: Does Tom Bates understand that when people who want to build buildings in downtown Berkeley to make money, they say things about how the economy will shift in downtown Berkeley to fit their agenda?

    Or how about this question: Does Tom Bates believe that the will of the people should have more weight than his personal, biased opinions and the personal, biased opinions of his wealthy donors and cronies? Does he believe in democracy or does he think that as a leader, he magically knows more than the average Berkeley resident?

  • tizzielish

    I think all our elected REPRESENTATIVES (emphasis strongly intended) should keep in mind, always, that the collective will of a community has all the wisdom and knowledge it needs to make good choices for the whole but over and over, Tom Bates seems to overlook the collective will and seeks to impose his own personal vision. He seems to think that because he is in political office, that his thoughts and opinions, and those of his wealthy donors and cronies, carry more weight . . . but a true servant of democracy would give more weight to the collective than to their individual will.

    Tom Bates seems to think that real estate developers’ goals for Berkeley, which are all profit-driven, carries more weight than the will of ordinary citizens who might not go to political cocktail parties. Who does he serve? It seems to me that Tom Bates serves the rich.

  • tizzielish

    maybe ask him this: Mayor Bates, you turned to Berkeley politics after you got termed out of the state legislature. Do you have your eye on other political jobs or is Berkeley stuck with you?

  • Zoe

    To Mayor Bates: When can we expect a repaving of Milvia St downtown?

    Milvia is a major bike boulevard in a city that prides itself on being bike-friendly and promotes alternative transportation. Why is such a crucial street in disrepair? The pavement cracks and ruts (especially on the section between Addison and Dwight) are so bad that it has become dangerous!

  • Jane Tierney

    I would ask if there’s anything that can be done about City of Berkeley employees’ entitlements. These extensive benefits are taxing (literally) the residents and forcing cuts to basic services. Practically every service now has a parcel tax placing the burden solely on homeowners. Get UCB to pay their share. With in influx yearly of 35-40,000 people, the majority non homeowners, they use the lion’s share of services while UC does not pay commensurate taxes. One million dollars a year from UCB to the City is a pittance to cover that many people’s burden on services and infrastructure.

    While the rest of the common worker’s benefits are being cut, curtailed or forced into copay models, City of Berkeley employees enjoy top perks for free. This massive overhead does little to help the business environment and is crippling us all. And while this happens, services such as enforcement of basic laws, non-violent crimes and municipal codes, permits, and zoning regulations goes undone, or takes years of review. Even temporary restraining orders are ignored until someone gets hurt or worse. Only the squeakiest wheels get heard, and then only if you pay a lawyer close to the cronies in City Hall. It’s a “good ‘ol boys” environment, only now it includes those disenfranchised groups who’ve made it to the inner circle, only to turn around and act with the impunity they so despised a generation ago. It’s turned into governing by the path of least resistance, instead of principles of fairness, consistency and uniform application of the law. Ask him when it will stop.

  • Jenny Wenk

    Will Berkeley be joining Oakland and San Francisco, and other cities around the nation, to have it’s employees contribute money into their retirement accounts and increase the co-pays for their families’ health coverage.

    My second question would be exactly what will we be voting on in November for Downtown? Having been one of the citizens that participated in over 100 meetings during the two process of producing a Plan few would have the time and energy to read I fully understand why that document is not going on the ballot. Just as I understand many of our citizens currently don’t feel comfortable and safe in Downtown so they just don’t go there. How does he envision making Downtown a destination and “the living room” of our City?

  • David

    Why is Berkeley, which prides itself on being a force for progressivism, so behind with providing safe and effective bike lanes and other non-fossil fuel transportation? The current bike lanes (I’m sorry — the bike boulevards!) are a joke. Why don’t we have real, safe bike lanes, and free or low cost bike rentals, like other cities (Davis, Palo Alto, Paris, Copenhagen)?

    You’re only accomplishment as Mayor seems to have been naming a sports field after yourself and erecting a really ugly sculpture over I-80. Why has the city deteriorated so badly under your watch, while our neighbors (Oakland, Emeryville) have thrived?

    Do you agree with that global warming is a serious environmental problem with potential catostrophic consequences? If so, why have you failed to promote any significant initiatives that would reduce carbon emissions?

  • Maureen Burke

    Why would you put the City in debt of over $2.8 million for split-cart recycling containers when our current blue bins work just fine? $90 per cart for 31,000 carts? That’s ridiculous by any measure.

  • s z underwood

    Mayor Bates, you were born the same year as Jerry Rubin who famously coined the phrase, “Never trust anyone over 30.” Now that you and your wife Loni Hancock who rode the same 1960s radical wave into politics and who have both played musical chairs with local political offices ever since are both pushing 70 now, do you think it’s high time for both of you vacate the stage to make way for a new generation of politicians and a new style of politics as symbolized by President Obama? Berkeley is sorely in need of new leadership which offers a real prospect for “hope and change!”

  • EBGuy

    For those of you wondering what Maureen is talking about (as I was), see this for an explanation of the spilt carts (link to City of Mountain View) ordered by Berkeley.
    How to Recycle Using the Split-Cart
    Homes use a 64-gallon recycling cart which is “split” into two sections: one side for newspaper and mixed paper (grey lid) and the other side for bottles and cans (blue lid). The split-cart is collected with a fully-automated truck using a mechanical arm to empty carts. The truck is also split inside to keep paper and containers separated until unloaded at the SMaRT Station.

  • John Holland

    while most cities are in the red, berkeley was in the black just a year ago. what are we going to do to get in the black again?

  • To “CE” who submitted a comment without a usable email:

    I haven’t approved your comment because you violated one of our rules (see by using abusive language about another commenter. Your point is perfectly valid, so if you want to resubmit without the needless abuse, we’ll be happy to publish your comment.

  • Hyperlexic

    I’d ask how in the world he puts up with being mayor of this city.

    Personally I don’t think the mayor is our elected representative – he’s the elected leader. His role isn’t to the human thermometer of the city, it’s to define an approach, get elected on that platform, and move the city in that direction.

  • Zelda Bronstein

    Following up on Jane Tierney’s questions and commentary: For Fiscal Year 2011, the City of Berkeley faces a deficit of $16.2 million, including a General Fund shortfall of $6.5 million. By the terms of the agreement that secretly settled the City’s 2005 lawsuit of the University over UC expansion—an agreement that you supported and reportedly brokered—the UC is obliged to pay the City $1.2 million a year for its use of City services (police, fire, sewer), to increase 3% annually through 2020. The 2004 report “UC Berkeley Fiscal Impact Analysis,” commissioned by the City, found that the current annual cost of providing these services is $13.5 million. So Berkeley taxpayers are now giving UCB an annual subsidy of about $12 million a year. In view of the City’s $16.2 million deficit, how do you justify that subsidy?

  • Diane

    I strongly support and echo what Zoe and Jane Tierney said above. I find it unconscionable that our roads and bike paths are falling apart and almost undriveable, yet we find tons of money for city employees – such as perks I never got even when working at a F’500 company (like fully paid gym memberships). We have way too many city employees, and too much time wasted on addressing non-critical agenda topics to the detriment of solid city governance.

    I am always embarrassed for my city whenever I bike from Berkeley to Albany. As soon as you cross the city line into Albany the roads and bike paths turn from pot-hole-ridden, cracked, dangerous routes to well-maintained, well-marked smooth roads. The mayor doesn’t have a car. Has he biked on Milvia lately? On the Ohlone Greenway? On California? All these are “bike boulevards” or dedicated paths, and all falling apart.

    ***So, one question I have is how can funds be directed to infrastructure that supports the whole city, and how can we scale down city staffing to be more in line with other cities our size?

    And I strongly support downtown development. Many of us want Berkeley attracting new businesses and developments.
    ***My other question is how can we attract new businesses to our city when its infrastructure is so horribly neglected?

  • EBGuy

    Why would you put the City in debt of over $2.8 million for split-cart recycling containers when our current blue bins work just fine?
    Maureen, maybe the split carts are self-financing?! The carts have been successful in reducing the poaching of recyclables in other cities, according to Councilmember Kriss Worthington.

  • Maureen Burke


    Wanna make a bet? The article to which you link says:

    “The fee is expected to generate about $989,000 in new revenue toward covering the $1.4 million increase in costs for the city’s recycling program, leaving a deficit of $440,000 to be closed by cutting other costs. ”

    The fee referenced is a $3.35 per month new fee on our property tax bill.

    I fail to see why poachers will not open up the lid of the new containers and grab the contents, just like they currently do.

    The analysis, if you choose to call it that, does not assume that any city resident will drop out of city recycling/refuse services. It assumes there will be a 10-20% increase in participation for the recycling program.

    I for one will be dropping city refuse/recycling services.

    This is not the right time to take out a loan to invest in these containers, which are not necessary for the recycling program.

    Here’s more info:

  • EBGuy

    Wanna make a bet?
    No, but I can at least try to be hopeful :-)
    I know that this is a WAG, but City officials say they’ve never calculated just how much Berkeley loses to recycling theft each year, but public records and interviews with recycling officials indicate that poachers steal up to 20 percent of curbside recyclables, reaching costs of up to $150,000 annually.

    I fail to see why poachers will not open up the lid of the new containers and grab the contents
    Well, I’m sure more adventurous/creative types will continue to ply their craft, but you can’t just reach in as the 64 Gallon carts are 3 feet 6 inches deep.
    I for one will be dropping city refuse/recycling services.
    I for one will be down sizing to a smaller size refuse cart (which I should have done long ago when the green bin went to weekly pickup). This new fee is a kick in the pants; unfortunately, I fear many others will respond in the same way — which means declining revenues.

  • Robert

    As already mentioned, the main budget stresses in Berkeley are attributable to high payroll/comp/benefits and hosting UC Berkeley. So I’d like you to ask Mayor Bates:

    1. When did the City last do a zero-based budget exercise, i.e. pretend you are a start-up and decide what you can afford to pay for under existing (not peak, not new) revenue streams? What level of staffing and comp/benefits makes sense? Then, how do you get there from here given contractual constraints?

    2. What is the present value of unfunded but existing promises to current and former employees? What is the current total indebtedness of the City? Then what is the total burden? How does that look per taxpayer?

    3. Some years ago, I heard that your wife was working in the California legislature on a bill to rein in the UC Regents’ powers, including their ability to impose on host cities and pay minimal PILOT fees. Any progress?

    4. When UC or other well-heeled Berkeley 501c3 non-profits buy local buildings, we lose the property tax revenues. Can the City enact a law that would provide a disincentive to non-profits buying space rather than renting, such as a very high transfer tax? (Similar to condo conversion fee when we want to preserve rental housing stock?)

    5. The 7.5% Utility Users Tax is green (and likely progressive) when levied on PG&E bills, but brown (and likely regressive) when levied on various communications services. Why not increase the tax on the former and reduce or eliminate the tax on the latter?

  • I have a question but I’m not sure how best to formulate it. Here’s a shot at it:

    Many well regarded economists are doubtful that there will soon be any strong economic recovery and, more particularly, they expect the financial condition of states like California to get worse rather than better. Similarly, federal aid to states is not something to count on.

    The worst case scenario is that Berkeley faces, in the next few years, essentially no financial support from outside. That’s certainly not guaranteed. Things might turn around. But it is a significant possibility that ought not be ignored.

    Is it not, therefore, prudent to plan while we can for that scenario? What variety of such planning is in place?

  • EBGuy:

    Well, I’m sure more adventurous/creative types will continue to ply their craft, but you can’t just reach in as the 64 Gallon carts are 3 feet 6 inches deep.

    Oh, man. You haven’t seen many scavengers, I guess. Around here folks rummage through dumpsters and tear open garbage bags looking for recyclables. They’ll go deep into the big garbage-can-sized recycling containers in spite of the payoff being relatively small. The ecology center hasn’t collected so much a single glass bottle around here for as long as I’ve lived here. Well, that’s slightly exaggerated. They’ve probably collected some 10s of bottles. Over 2-3 years.

    Some of us here have a new system. There’s a neighbor for whom it’s convenient to trade in glass recyclables directly and make a modest profit. We just divert to that neighbor. It’s a win all around – fun, easy, and some pocket money for the neighbor; fewer ill-behaved scavengers who not only rummage but make a mess on the street in the process; less mess in the recycling containers for me to clean out; more community spirit.

  • Robert: nice!

  • Robert Collier

    Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have seriously weakened the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program, the national version of Mayor Bates’ signature project, Berkeley First, and its statewide successor, California First. See: The Federal Housing Finance Agency then tried to partially soften the blow: Questions for Mayor Bates: What are the likely impacts on Berkeley homeowners of the Obama administration’s contradictory policies on this matter? And what more should be done at the federal, state and local levels to rescue/strengthen California First and other related options for Berkeley? (These questions could and should become the basis of a full interview of Mayor Bates on this topic alone, or perhaps a joint interview with Cisco DeVries.)

  • Zach

    I strongly agree with Zoe, David and Diane’s comments about the condition of the roads and bike paths. Maintaining city roads is a core, basic municipal function. I live on the “bicycle boulevard” of California Street in South Berkeley, and regularly bike with my kids on many of the bike boulevards in town, and many are in very poor condition. This is very dangerous, particularly for kids.

    Mayor Bates has supposedly gone “car free” according to Berkeleyside, so perhaps you could ask him if he has been biking much lately and noticed the poor condition of many of the bicycle boulevard roadways.

  • Zelda Bronstein

    Robert writes: ” 4. When UC or other well-heeled Berkeley 501c3 non-profits buy local buildings, we lose the property tax revenues. Can the City enact a law that would provide a disincentive to non-profits buying space rather than renting, such as a very high transfer tax? (Similar to condo conversion fee when we want to preserve rental housing stock?)”

    UC is legally exempt from property taxes on space that it buys AND rents.

  • Robert

    Zelda, thanks for your feedback. Let me see if I understand:

    Do you mean that if I own a multi-tenant commercial building and lease half of it to UC, that my property taxes get cut in half?

    Or do you mean that a landlord cannot explicitly pass through property taxes to UC as a tenant, but still pays the full tax bill?

  • deirdre

    Robert, the commenter at 7:13 pm: Your comments are so intelligent, so well-phrased. Where’s the shrillness? The stridency? You’re going to have to harsh it up a little, dude. Mayor Bates is gonna figure out that you do not actually live in Berkeley.

  • Peggy

    Gavin Newsom bravely declared that marriage was legal in SF and he had good legal arguments to back this up. We all know what has been flowing from that decision. And it ain’t over yet.

    Because of the 2/3 majority mandated by Proposition 13 for local bond issues, Berkeley does not get to keep its swimming pools strong despite the clear and large majority of voters who voted in favor of bond issue. And maybe the pools bond is a dead issue, but surely there will be others.

    So, Mayor Bates, are you interested in making a similar legal challenge to Prop 13, showing that local municipalities should be allowed to make up their own minds as to whether a simple majority (and not a mandatory super majority) is sufficient for local bond issues? I bet there are some sharp legal minds in Berkeley who would like to help you make this case.

    And Lance – this is fun. Thanks for posing the question.

  • I. Elioff

    Defeat of the pool bonds brings up several questions. Why is the city responsible for repair of swimming pools owned by the school district.? School construction bonds should pay for repair/building school district property. Use of the school district pools for city recreation should be paid for by the city.

    What other cities the size of Berkeley pays YMCA or similar dues for employees? Transparency has a way of illustrating the fact that our city has a high number of employees who are paid high salaries. For a small city with few means to generate income, how does our cost of running government compare with benchmark California cities? What are the benchmark cities that you and the council compare us with?

  • Andrew

    I just read this quote in another Berkeleyside post:

    The city bureaucracy is time consuming, expensive, and not very small-business friendly. It cost us hundreds of dollars and took eight weeks just to get a little sign in front of our store approved.

    What I’d like to know is, why is this the case, and along the same lines why is the Berkeley building/remodel permit dept so notoriously difficult to deal with? There is a strong sense of antagonism against anyone who wants to do something just a little different in Berkeley. Why?

  • South Berkeley’s Williard pool is now closed and low-income programs for children has been cut. Meanwhile Malcolm X and Cesar Chavez holidays give overcompensated city employees more paid days off. How does that honor Malcolm X or Cesar Chavez?

    Wouldn’t using the city holiday pay instead to reopen Williard Pool or help supplement Berkeley community centers or low-income children’s programs be more in the spirit of honoring Malcolm X and Cesar Chavez?

    Let’s simply call it Malcolm X and Cesar Chavez Remembrance Day.

    City employees have too many unreasonable and unsustainable entitlements as it is. City “leaders will not address this as long as Berkeley taxpayers keep voting “Yes” on tax and bond measures. Our “leaders” lack the courage and common sense to take the meaningful action that cities all over California have already taken.

  • Zelda Bronstein

    Robert: Re your follow-up query about UC’s exemption from paying property tax on space it rents. To take your example: If you own a multi-tenant commercial building and lease half of it to UC, your property tax is cut in half. Zelda

  • Zelda Bronstein,

    Ouch! So there is actually a positive incentive for commercial space landlords to encourage UCB sprawl, cutting some of their tax burden in half but presumably collecting a portion of that savings in higher rent.

    So, if I understand you correctly, that’d apply to such things as UCB / LBL biosciences labs in the so-called “green corridor”….

    Wow! Thanks for the info!

  • Lori Kossowsky

    I would ask the mayor why he asked the disabled people not to come to the city council to speak about the Warm Pool. I did write to him and the city council, feeling it went against our ADA rights. He did send me a sort of a apology, ( which I kept).
    He has NEVER been for the warm pool, a lifeline for the disabled.

    I asked friends who live around the country, and they wanted to know why a mayor was elected after stealing newspapers which didn’t support him. How does it feel to remembered by the country for this?

  • Alan Saldich

    Why doesn’t Berkeley have more 1) left-turn lanes and 2) where there are left-turn lanes, left-turn signals? For example, along Telegraph, at the Sacramento to Ashby intersection (N to E is the one I get stuck on; Eastbound Ashby onto Northbound Claremont (downright dangerous).

    Most other cities have decided that left turn lanes and lights make life easier, and safer. What’s the deal here?

  • Native

    Wow – where to start:

    Traffic – Unsynchronized stop lights, non-enforcement of jaywalking laws, lack of left turn lanes, unnecessary stop signs and huge lack of downtime parking.

    Homeless – Why not limit our generous services to Berkeley residents?, lack of required random drug and alcohol screening for those receiving benefits, allowing them to use our school locker rooms, turning our backs on illegal behavior such as petty theft, drug use and deficating in public.

    Schools – why can’t we use our police force to establish and enforce a zero tolerance policy towards drug use. Caught with drugs and you go to juvie – period.

    Most important – Cutting back on unnecessary spending. We all know the numbers – Berkeley spends 3-4 times the taxpayer dollars per resident than most comparable bay area cities. He’s willing to cut back on a pool here and there, but won’t eliminated the outrageous perks and pensions enjoyed by our large population of city workers. I contend that Berkeley is worse off with its 45 unnecessary boards and commissions than cities that lack these bureaucracies. Berkeley was “at its best” when we had part-time city counsel people, with no staff, who showed up every other Tuesday nights and debated issues such as filling potholes. Why can’t we emulate our old model that worked so well for Berkeley for generations.

  • Damian

    For Mr. Bates :

    Traffic light synchronization, more traffic light flashing after 10pm (to prevent needless late night idling) and preventing lights that turn red on major streets for no reason (Telegraph and Blake St) seems to lessen emissions and soothe and improve driving in Berkeley. Why not address this? I have asked the traffic department for a while now about these issues and I get the sense they are unimportant.

  • Dan

    Wow, I just got back from being out-of-town — what a fun way to catch up! Great comments and questions — I’m proud of you Berkeleyite-ans! Deirdre, your comment made me laugh out loud!

  • DianaK

    I agree with David on July 8. Who chose those horrible statues and what did they cost? Who decided to erect them? IMO, they ruin the lovely classic look of the pedestrian bridge.

    When will the soundwall be erected at Aquatic Park? The traffic noise and pollution deter from a really beautiful environment for the park visitors and the wildlife.

    And, yes, who decided to name a sports field after you, Mr. Tom Bates? And what did THAT cost?

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