Disability advocate challenges Max Anderson for council

Dmitri Belser, who is running for City Council, in a Victorian house on 62nd Street he is renovating with his partner. Photo: Judith Scherr

Dmitri Belser runs a program that makes technology accessible to disabled people, he chaired Berkeley’s Commission on Disability, he renovates dilapidated Victorian homes, and he has raised two sons.

Now he wants to be the District 3 city council member.

“I’ve been frustrated for a long time with how District 3 has been represented,” Belser told Berkeleyside in an interview conducted amid dangling wires, creaking floorboards, ladders and drop cloths at a 62nd Street Victorian he’s refurbishing with his life-partner and campaign manager, Tom White. The couple lives a few blocks south-west on Parker Street near Shattuck Avenue.

“I’ve heard from a lot of my neighbors and a lot of people in this district that they don’t get responses” from Council Member Max Anderson, he said, contending that Anderson, in office since 2004, has been ineffective in solving issues of crime and helping the struggling business district at Adeline and Alcatraz.

“If there’s one skill that I have, it’s customer service,” he said. “I know how to respond to people.”

Belser, executive director at the Center for Accessible Technology (CAT), pointed to his work helping to get the Ed Roberts Campus project built. The campus, above the Ashby BART station, houses nonprofits serving the disabled community, including the CAT. Belser chairs the Ed Roberts Campus board.

Getting the project built and funded “made me realize that working collaboratively, you can really get a lot of stuff done,” said Belser, who is legally blind.

“We worked a lot with the neighbors to get them on board with the project,” he added. “We listened to their feedback. We changed [the project] based on what the neighbors said.”

If he wins the seat, Belser will have council allies. Council members Susan Wengraf and Laurie Capitelli urged him to run. He’s also supported by Mayor Tom Bates, who endorsed Anderson before Belser’s decided to run, but frequently clashes with Anderson.

Belser said some people claim he’s on the side of developers, but “you can either stick your head in the sand and try to stop it from happening, or you can accept the fact that it’s going to happen and try to work within it,” he said.

He points as an example to a 135-unit housing-retail project approved for Shattuck Avenue and Parker Street, which, at first, he said he hated. But after getting neighbors and developers together to discuss concerns, the developers modified the project. “I think it’s a win for everybody,” he said.

Support for Measure T

Belser supports Berkeley’s Measure T, which will allow 75-foot buildings in West Berkeley on six parcels of four acres or more, or one square block, as long as the average height of the buildings on each parcel is 50 feet.

“I’m cautiously optimistic about it,” he said. “I wish I knew more about what the community benefits piece is.” He was referring to benefits, such as job training programs, developers would have to fund in exchange for permits to build the tall structures. The benefits are yet to be defined.

“That’s going to be hashed out, and I’d like to be part of that hashing,” he said.

Belser is not taking a clear-cut stand on Measure S, Berkeley’s anti-sit measure. “I’m very uncomfortable about it,” he said. “I really do not want to criminalize homelessness. I think that’s the wrong direction to go. On the other hand [I think] that the business owners do need a downtown area where people feel it’s safe to walk. I know a lot of people, particularly women, who feel very unsafe downtown.”

But more than the measure itself, he’s “appalled” at Anderson’s response at the city council meeting when the council put the measure on the ballot. “His approach …was so vehement. There was so much vitriol at those meetings,” he said. “I was ashamed of the city.”

In a brief phone interview, Anderson said his strong response was in line with the need to “defend the civil liberties of those who can’t defend themselves.”

Asked about Belser’s charges of his unresponsiveness, Anderson said he had helped neighborhood associations pull together and pointed to a decrease in violent crime in District 3 since he took office in 2004. He also noted that he helped rekindle the Adeline Alcatraz merchants association and was active in the reconfiguring of Derby Street that led to the farmer’s market move to the Adeline corridor.

District lacks parks

Arguing that Anderson was largely absent from supporting the business district, Belser said he’s working to strengthen it. He said the district lacks parks, which he’d support, especially a new dog park.

If Belser wins the seat, he’ll be the first Caucasian council member in District 3 since district elections began in 1986. He said he understands a concern around that issue. However, “I think that there is another African American on the council, so there is representation of African Americans on the council,” he said, adding that, since the death of Councilmember Dona Spring, there has not been a disabled person on the council.

“I feel like having somebody from the disability community is very important,” he said.

Asked whether he would represent the LGBT community, Belser answered in the affirmative, underscoring, however, that having raised two sons in Berkeley, he would be representing all families. “We’re not much different from most families,” he said. “A lot of the issues that we faced was saving money for our kids’ college education, and keeping our kids off drugs and all that kind of stuff that parents deal with.

“There are a lot of things that bind us together. There’s a lot that we have in common.”

Visit Dmitri Belser’s campaign website for more details on the candidate.

Berkeley election activity begins in earnest [09.04.12]
Max Anderson kicks off council re-election campaign [07.02.12]
Berkeley home moves across town, slice of history saved [02.24.11]
Ed Roberts campus is open for business [11.19.10]

Visit Berkeleyside’s Election 2012 section to see all our coverage in the run-up to November 6.

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  • Anonymous

    If you don’t know that steel and concrete buildings are less expensive overall as well as having lots of other benefits over their North American counterparts then you really need to look at post-war construction in western Europe. In Germany (the country I’m most familiar with because I’ve lived and worked there but not an exception) even a modest single family home will be built out of, you know, modern materials like steel and concrete. We build with wood here because it’s cheap upfront and, at least for small structures, does OK in earthquakes.  There really are no other benefits.

    But nobody who knows anything about engineering would choose a multi-story wooden balloon framed structure over a modern steel and concrete one when it comes to seismic safety and there are plenty of data supporting that. If all that matters is the initial cost then we might as house people in shipping containers.

    I live in a house that turns 100 this year by the way.  I never claimed buildings were being delayed by scarcity of lumber.  On the contrary, they are being built with crap lumber and the life span of all of the McMansions and crummy apartment buildings build in the last 20 years will continue to demonstrate this. There’s nothing “affordable” about having your apartment building red-tagged in an earthquake that the infrastructures of modern countries like Japan would laugh at.

  • Sydthekyd

    It is Darryl Moore.

  • Ryan_mykita


    How can people who want to support you get involved? Can you post some information here for us or give me a call?.

    Thank you,


  • Anonymous

     But it’s not charming and quaint like Paris therefore it is bad and we should reject it. Nevermind that it only has those old buildings because it’s free from natural disasters, is basically flat, and wasn’t leveled in the war.

  • Tangledwebs

    You will have to excuse some of us who do not have lengthy experience with Berkeley politics and the communities collection of vocal voices but is the “Zelda” posting here the same Zelda who commandeered the microphone at Berkeleyside’s “Start-up Forum” in March and helped take a productive conversation off the rails?  

  • Charles_Siegel

    You can start a crusade to change American code requirements so wood frame cannot be used, but I don’t think you will have much success. 

    Incidentally, there is also a bolt-together steel frame now available, which is almost as cheap as wood frame.  It is good for up to 6 stories, and it was used for the affordable housing near Brower Center. 

    If you do succeed in banning wood frames, I expect that most builders will go to this bolt-together steel frame, and not to highrises with a conventional steel skeleton.

  • Charles_Siegel

     If you think it is as good to live in an ugly impersonal city as it is to live in a charming city, then you certainly have plenty of options – beginning with Vancouver.

    Cities need to adopt zoning codes that determine what their character will be like, and they can choose codes that make them make them charming or codes that make them ugly and impersonal.

  • David D.

     And by fools you mean people who understand Berkeley can’t live in the 1960s forever?

  • neobrutalistgnome

    Charming is in the eye of the beholder.  What you find charming, others might consider twee.

  • guest

    I wasn’t at that meeting, but I’m pretty sure she’s the same Zelda who recommends the Berkeley Daily Pravda, er, Planet, as a source of information.

  • Charles_Siegel

     Lots of tourists go to Paris precisely because they consider its architecture and urbanism to be charming.

    How many tourists to to Vancouver to enjoy its architecture and urbanism? 

    A few city planners, and a few neo-brutalist gnomes might prefer Vancouver, but the vast majority prefer Paris.

    I am glad to see you are being explicit about the choice involved.  Let the majority decide whether they want charm or neo-brutalism.

  • Charles_Siegel

     Here is some recent construction in Western Europe.  It is built up to European codes, so it is concrete rather than wood frame.  The pictures show that the modern materials don’t mean that it has to be ugly, sterile, and impersonal:



  • You can watch Dmitri and other candidates for public office answer the question “why vote for me?” at the League of Women Voters of Berkeley, Albany and Emerville at http://www.youtube.com/user/lwvbae?