Berkeleyside launches one-stop, nonpartisan voting guide

With ten measures, contested seats in the mayoral, City Council, school, and rent stabilization board races, Berkeley voters have a lot to keep track for the Nov. 6 election.

Berkeleyside is here to make things easier for you.

We have teamed up with MAPLight, a Berkeley nonprofit dedicated to revealing money’s influence on politics, to produce a nonpartisan voting guide for the ten measures on the ballot.

Called Voter’s Edge Berkeley, we see it like one stop shopping: come to the Voter’s Edge Berkeley website to understand the measures (described in plain English); see how they might impact your pocketbook; see who is throwing money at them; and see who is endorsing or opposing the measure. As a bonus, there is a handy collection of links to various news stories, editorials, and organizational endorsements.

Based on software developed by MAPLight and used successfully to trace campaign spending in the 2010 and 2012 elections, the website is dynamic and updated frequently. So, for example, while there is not much information yet on who is putting money behind the most visible issue on the ballot – Measure S, which would prohibit sitting on sidewalks in commercial districts – it will be added and graphed right after Oct. 5, the deadline for the next reporting period. It will be updated again after Oct. 25.

MAPLight is also teaming up with NBC Bay Area to produce similar guides for San Francisco and San Jose. The organization, which was co-founded by Daniel Newman in 2005, works to expose the influence of money in politics. (The MAP in MAPLight stands for Money and Politics. The group’s motto is Transparency. Accountability. Reform. They call themselves the money-stalkers.)

The group has a cadre of researchers in its upstairs office on Shattuck Avenue digitizing public records and campaign contributions and cross-referencing them with Congressional voting records.

A snapshot of Berkeleyside’s new non-partisan voting guide

While it once took reporters days to figure out if a Congressman or Senator might have voted one way because he or she got a contribution from an interested industry, it now only takes minutes. The nation’s top news organizations, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, CBS, ABC News, and many more, have used MAPLight’s data to highlight the connections between donations and influence. In 2011, the news media produced 1,567 stories from MAPLight’s data, and they reached 55 million people. Pretty impressive for an organization with a $1 million operating budget.

MAPLight’s public database contains more than 14 million records, including campaign finance data, legislative voting data, and interest group support and opposition data.

Visit Berkeleyside’s Voters Edge Berkeley for complete coverage and tracking of Berkeley’s 10 ballot measures. You will also find the Voters’ Edge Berkeley button in the central column of our homepage and on every story we publish on the local elections.

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

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  • Zelda Bronstein

    But on what basis are you going to report endorsements?

     Looking only at the info provided for Measures S and T, it appears that for some weird reason,  whoever did the research approached the endorsements via the mayoral and council races. For both these measures, the pro and con endorsers are almost all running for office, with a very few non-candidates mixed in. Both Measures S and T were placed on the ballot by the mayor and his allies, who control the council; not surprisingly, the pro endorsers are all incumbents and the con endorsers are mostly their challengers. 

    Contrast the MapLight/Berkeleyside lists of ballot endorsers (pro and con) with the ones that appear on the city’s website under the arguments that will actually appear in the voters handbook. The pro-endorsers are again incumbents, but the opponent endorsers include not a single challenger or non-incumbent; they do include a few incumbent councilmembers. Instead, the con endorsers are people of standing in the community who are not elected officials–businesspeople, environmentalists, social service providers and so forth. 

    A balanced and fair presentation of endorsements would replicate the endorsements that would appear in the voters handbook.

    But this raises another question: why replicate that info at all, when every voter will receive it in the mail?

    Another problem with the MapLight/Berkeleyside info: the “Summary” of the ballot measures fails to indicate that in each case, this summary has been prepared by the City Attorney–hardly an objective observer (a statement that will also appear in the voters handbook). Moreover, the “financial effect” described in each case is the supposed effect on the city’s finances, not on parties outside city hall–namely taxpayers, businesses, residents, among others.

    So, for example, the MapLight/Berkeleyside summary of the Measure T’s financial effect says nothing about the likely inflation of property values and the attendant rise in rents that would result from the mega-development allowed by Measure T. Nor does it say a word about the consequent displacement of established West Berkeley businesses that rent their space and the loss of the jobs they provide.  

    In other words, these measures have financial effects outside of those envisioned by the Berkeley City Attorney. A reliable overview would note those as well.

    I suggest that the MapLight guide to Berkeley ballot measures be taken down and revised; when it’s ready for prime time, put it back up on your website. Right now, Berkeley voters would do far better to consult the city’s website:

  • Zelda, as we wrote in this story, Voter’s Edge Berkeley is an evolving site and we are adding new things, including endorsements, each day.

    You are incorrect in stating that the ballot summaries are prepared by the City Attorney’s office. The summaries were prepared by Berkeleyside after reading all the ballot measures, various news stories, and various websites and doing our own reporting.

    As for the financial effects, we include those we can quantify, like taxes and interest rate payments. 

    We do show how each side regards the financial impacts in the “campaign arguments” section. For example, the No on Measure T argument reads “The new development would drive up rental costs and force small businesses out of the neighborhood.”

    The Yes on Measure T section in campaign arguments reads “Improvements in West Berkeley will bring additional jobs to Berkeley, affordable housing opportunities, and stimulate the economy.” 

    So the site shows voters at a glance what the opposing sides are arguing. Short of hiring an economic development firm to do projections, I don’t think we can be more specific.

    As for whether Voter’s Edge Berkeley, with its link to campaign finance information, endorsements, editorials, and news stories is worthy, well, that is your decision. We think it is and will only get better in the coming weeks as we ad more information.

  • Zelda Bronstein

    “An evolving site”? Why not wait until it’s, shall we say, matured? What’s the point of sending something half-baked into the world? It hardly inspires confidence in the site.

    I stand corrected on the summary of the ballot measures–thanks.

    But you haven’t responded to my comments about your curious filter for endorsements of ballot measures. By featuring–and so far only publishing–the endorsements of candidates, you favor the Bates machine’s picks, since the machine has more incumbents in (and out of) the election. 

    Each ballot campaign, whether pro or con, tries to put forward the strongest endorsers. The fair approach would be first to post the endorsers that appear on the city’s website (and that will appear in the voters handbook). It would also be a lot less work for you; why don’t you do it that way?

    Nor do you address my concerns about how you present the financial effects of these measures. Tell me, please, where the financial effects of Measure T’s proposed rezoning of West Berkeley–for example, new revenues for the city–have been quantified. To my knowledge, no such analysis was ever done. If you have access to one, please post a link. 

    Yes, the pro and con T campaigns present their views on the measure’s effects on the economy (which go beyond city finances). But those are openly partisan arguments. By contrast, your heading “Financial Effects” appears separately, as if to say, this is the comprehensive and objective truth. As per my prior comments, it’s not.

  • Gswilliams2000

    There is a downside to enforcement.   The emancipated foster children who can’t stay in the shelters during the day have few places to go.  If they  develop a record,  they will have a very hard time getting employment or housing.   

  • bgal4

    Neighborhood elections forums are a tradition. South Berkeley volunteers have been working to schedule such an election forum, hoping to provide our community with an opportunity to meet and question the candidates. It has been amazing difficult to get this task done. First we learned that the city has changed its policy and now charges neighborhood groups a rental fee for the recreation and senior centers, $62 and $60 respectively. Obviously, our neighborhood groups cannot afford $180, we do not collect dues, nor would I ever expect citizens to pay to participate in local governance or learn about candidates positions. This NEW fee structure was a shock to me, and departed from past practice.  I probably scheduled at least 50 neighborhood meetings and several election forums over the past decade at both the senior and recreation centers. 

    Over the last few weeks I sent city council members the emails I received from the Mayor and City Manager office stating that that we could not use the facility without paying the fee, claiming the limited waivers from council members do not apply to elections forums. No council members wrote me back, I called Kris Worthington to ask him why the Gray Panthers were allowed to use the North Senior Center for an election forum free of charge. I called Jesse Arreguin office and spoke with Anthony Sanchez a couple of times asking if this bothered them. Anthony agreed it did not seem democratic and suggested a ask B-Side to expose this mess. 

    Long story short.Today three weeks into the scheduling saga, I learned today after raising a fuss that  Park and Rec Commission drafted a special use policy last Jan, which would reinstate residents right to host neighborhood meetings in our recreation centers free of charge. The policy might be reviewed by council for adopting in  Jan 2013.

    Once we are sure of a time and place of the south Berkeley Election Forum I will post the information here.

    Seems Le Conte neighborhood is hitting similar barriers to hosting an election forum.

  • Lori

      Since this has been explained a number of times, why these options aren’t possible, I seriously doubt your “listening skills” Read what you wrote and then tell us why you make no sense what so ever. Oh, and the warm pool has been trying to exist since at least 2000. Do your homework. Do you recognize the name Fred Lupke? I am too tired to discuss this with someone who has not done their homework, but when giving the above options can’t see what is wrong with this picture.

  • Guestronic

     As a placeholder, until someone with a grain of sense decides to run for mayor.  At this point, however, I don’t think anyone in their right mind would want that job.

  • Lori

    Gee Sharkey, this list was put on my an intern of a woman city council person. I saw this months ago, and went thru everyone, and nothing would work. Are you an employee of the city council or do you work for a member of one? I won’t dignify the obvious of having to travel over an hour to spend 45 minutes in a pool. Now be a good little sharkey and find out the times and schedule of the pools listed and then come back and tell me why they won’t work. My housemate and another person had to do that to find out why it is impossible. Now remember most people would spend about 3 hours in the pool. 

  • Guest

    community centers

  • Guest

    if you don’t like it, go make your own site

  • Nick Taylor

    Wondering how non-partisan the election coverage can be when the editors make their candidate favoritism known on their facebook pages?

  • Nick: If you are referring to Frances Dinkelspiel, she has made it a point of “liking” every Berkeley candidate and measure that has a Facebook page, that she is aware of, as a way of keeping informed of news and developments coming out of the campaigns. This includes the mayoral and council candidates as well as board candidates and measures.  

  • Nick Taylor

    You can’t position yourself as a neutral purveyor of the facts if in fact you’re not neutral or you are just repeating what the status-quo establishment told you. 

  • Nick Taylor

    Okay, I take that back. Weird way but okay.

  • It is weird, but that’s a consequence of Facebook terming following “Like”. The only way in Facebook to get updates on something you’re interested in is to “Like” it. I’m sure there’s someone in Obama headquarters in Chicago who had to hold their nose and “Like” Romney and “Like” Ryan to find out what was happening on their Facebook pages (and vice versa in Boston). Very annoying.

  • Jesse Townley

    FYI, the Daily Planet’s recommendation AGAINST Measure M is listed in the YES column. 

  • Mary

    I wonder if you all know that it will take both pool initiatives to pass in order to get warm pools: one to build, the other to staff. And, for you Property Owners out there footing the bill, the amount on your tax bill is a somewhat moving target, and, the assessment has the provision within it to increase annually, separate from your regular increase allowed by Prop 13…

  • Stephen Logan

    Wow, how sad. 20 mil is a huge sum, but asking someone in Lori’s condition (and we know she’s not alone) to commute to S.F. as a viable alternative is lunacy. Understanding folks with pain is difficult, and realizing how substantially important a warm water pool is for a baseline quality of life fact for them is just that-fact. It reduces pain med dependency, too, which is huge for many reasons. We have a skate park nay sayers said was expensive etc., etc., that’s the greatest thing since sliced bread for young people to have access to free, exciting and athletic activities until 10 pm or so. We have the Bates Athletic Fields which are always filled with active people doing their thing. Ground has been broken finally on the long awaited Moellering Baseball Field for BHS and other organized teams. Why the HELL can’t we get it together for folks in disparate situations and provide a warm water pool? One that can bring in SOME regular return, and be a model for other cities. Another cost to home owners? If some of the commentators here had pain issues they’d be singing a different tune. I do, and my wife is worse. Neither of us ever went to the old pool, but are considering the Y or El Cerrito. Cost is a concern for us, so, we’ll see. Pass the bill-yes, I’m a home owner, it’s the right thing to do. I don’t believe any of the people commenting here against it truly will feel an impact, and, in fact will come to find their neighbors, friends and even family members will benefit from it, sooner than they think. Stephen Logan