Mayoral candidate wants a more business-friendly city

Bernt Wahl is using the Berkeley mayor race to talk about improving Berkeley’s business climate

Bernt Wahl is running for mayor.

He’s been all but invisible on the campaign trail, having just returned from a trip abroad, and doesn’t plan to spend time raising campaign funds or opening a campaign office.

But then the adjunct UC Berkeley professor’s primary goal isn’t to snag the mayor’s seat. Rather, Wahl, 52, hopes to use the race to talk about improving Berkeley’s business climate.

“I have a lot of ideas of how to make Berkeley a better city, mostly dealing with technology or efficiencies,” he said, arguing that city bureaucracy gets in the way of entrepreneurs trying to start new businesses.

Wahl knows the challenges first hand. He works with faculty, researchers and students at UC Berkeley, mostly in the engineering department, helping to start new businesses.

Wahl believes the permit process for new businesses needs streamlining. “I’ve had to register [a new business] a couple of times,” he said. “For these start-ups, there’s always something that gets in the way. If we had a center, small businesses could come and say, you know, ‘I’d like to do this,’ or just come for advice.”

A better process would “change our reputation from being an unfriendly place to do business, to a place where we’re going to help you try to achieve,” he said.

Asked about his campaign, Wahl said he’s not running to defeat the other candidates. “These are my friends – Tom Bates and Laurie Capitelli [sic – Capitelli’s running for the District 5 seat, not mayor],” he said. “I’m running for Berkeley.”

He said he isn’t recommending supporters vote for a particular person in the No. 2 or No. 3 slots, which some candidates are doing under Berkeley’s system of Ranked Choice Voting.

Wahl has both positive and negative things to say about the current mayor. “I like Tom Bates,” he said. “I think he’s changed a lot to be more pro-active, more entrepreneurial.”

On the other hand, he said, “Tom Bates, I don’t think, ever had a business. A lot of these people running never had a business and don’t know what some of the issues are.”

Asked where he stands on measures T and S, Wahl asked Berkeleyside to explain the measures before responding.

Measure T would permit construction in West Berkeley of structures of up to 75 feet, with an average of 50 feet, in six parcels of four acres or more – or a city block – during the first decade the measure is in force; that cap would be removed after 10 years, opening up other similar-size parcels for development.

Wahl said Measure T could make West Berkeley more like Emeryville, which is a good thing. “Emeryville’s prospering because they’ve really created a structure where people want to go and build and live,” he said, cautioning, however, that it is important to preserve neighborhoods with tree-lined streets and craftsman houses.

“But if it’s places with old industry and things like that,” he said, “where we can bring more vitality and a better use of land, instead of it being a wasteland or an inefficient place, I think it’s conceivable to increase the density or [build higher] to make it economically feasible to build in our cities.”

On Measure S, which would outlaw sitting on sidewalks in commercial districts, Wahl said he is torn. He wants to create a positive business environment and said “we really should discourage the things that make Berkeley a negative place for people to go.”

However, he said, “I would probably try to do it some other way,” and suggested city officials “talk to the people [on the street] and see what the problem is. Right now we kind of ignore them.” He said he thinks persuasion might work better than regulation to get people off the streets.

This isn’t Wahl’s first campaign for office. In 2010 he ran for the District 4 council seat, losing to Jesse Arreguín, but attracting more than 10% of the votes.

Wahl said he probably won’t fundraise, but, if people offer, he’ll likely accept funds. His website is He didn’t list supporters in his initial filing with the city clerk, but said he’d attract them when he debates other candidates.

“I’ll challenge some of the prevailing ideas,” he said. “That’s what I want to accomplish, getting people to think about solutions, doing things more efficiently.”

Visit Berkeleyside’s Voter’s 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.

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

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  • AlanTobey

    I love the phrase “rank choice voting” — is this what you have to do when all the candidates are poor ones?  Surely you meant  “ranked.”

    Oh, and on Measure T — after ten years the cap of six sites is lifted, but any further sites need to have already been in existence as of August 2011, so no one can assemble a new 4 acre parcel that would be considered under the measure.  Opinions differ as to whether ANY sites beyond the current six candidates now exist, but we need not fear a mad west Berkeley land rush in 2023.  

  • Yes, “ranked” not “rank”. Thanks for spotting that, Alan. We’ve fixed it.

  • John Holland

    ”Rank” choice voting stinks, but so do some of the other forms of voting American voters have had to put up with.

    Dank choice voting happens when all the candidates are basically wet dishrags.

    Crank choice voting is when bunch of angry candidates run entirely negative campaigns.

    Prank choice voting: Sarah Palin

    Plank choice voting: Voting for members of the pirate party.

  • John Holland

    Go Bernt!

  • serkes

    Bank choice voting (restricted to the 53%)

    Drank choice voting … when the selection drives you to …. well, you know

    Frank choice voting – when Barney’s up for re-election

    Sank choice voting – when the candidates are titanically clueless … or members of the Plank party

    What hath John wrought?


  • TizziLish

    I have a question for Mr. Wahl, since he says he supports preserving craftsmen bungalow neighborhoods and tree-lined streets, does he realize a thriving, lively, culturally rich community of artists exists in WEst Berkeley that will be destroyed with the new W. Berkeley plan?

    And how does he feel about destroying the current view of the bay that virtually all Berkeleyans and all east bay residents now enjoy? With the tall buildings allowed under Tom Bates’ plan, only folks in those buildings will be able to see the waterfront. Does Mr. Wahl realize what a giganatic loss the view of the bay would be?

  • guest

     “Bank choice voting (restricted to the 53%).”

    Maybe.  I suggest that 80% of those who heard 47% of us being called slackers and self-declared victims thought they were included in the smear.  Thus, the 47% might be 80% leaving only 20% eligible for Bank Choice.

  • Guest

     I’d like a steak in Flank choice voting.  Please.

  • serkes

    There are some who also might want a stake in it.

  • Guest

     Only if they think of it as a Vampire.

  • Haselstein

    Re process: I don’t understand why the permitting process for both new businesses and small construction is so inefficient, wasting the applicants thousands of dollars. Why doesn’t the city publish its guidelines and requirements in manuals, instead of apparently redesigning the wheel every time? 

  • AlanTobey

     Measure T follows a previous West Berkeley Plan amendment that protects the existing zoning of established artisans, crafts businesses and small manufacturers.  T would allow more intensive use only on current properties that are now under-utilized, mainly for sleepy warehouses and departed large manufacturers.  The small amount of new residential development allowed would be no taller than existing zoning ans would have special setback requirements it it abuts or confronts existing housing.  View corridors must be considered for all projects, and all new buildings must follow bird-safe design standards.

    Dozens of council and commission meetings and more than FIFTY HOURS of public comment have worked through all the rational objections, leaving only  the inevitable NIMBY and fear-of-change ones.  Most amusing:  the very ones clamoring to protect views to the bay are also demanding an end-to-end freeway soundwall for the Park that would . . . block all views of the bay. 

  • Biker 94703

    Why do you want to reduce the chance for our hardworking pre-pensioners to take a bribe?

  • Haselstein

    My neighbor got three different answers for how many copies of the plans were required. That is just one example. 

  • Berkeleyan

    Carefull what you wish for, Mr. Wahl, you might actually get voted in!

  • Jane

    You are incorrect when you say the “new residential development allowed would be no taller than existing zoning.”

  • franhaselsteiner

    As a longtime resident of Dwight Way, which will have even more traffic, I resent being called a NIMBY. It’s in my front yard, and the traffic keeps increasing and increasing. Many of my neighbors–and I–have been here for years, before traffic became so onerous. I also resent that council has dumped this issue on the voters, because they lack the nerve to vote for this project on their own. If Measure T passes, we residents and existed businesses, will be victims of the majority’s tyranny. And don’t you realize that residential construction actually does not pay its way in taxes to pay for its infrastructure? Not to mention that this measure benefits about six or seven developers who have bought up all they could in West Berkeley and are just waiting for this measure to pass. And they don’t have to live here. We do.