Capitelli, Hahn go head to head in Berkeley’s District 5

Laurie Capitelli and Sophie Hahn are facing off for the second time for the District 5 Council seat. Photos: Emilie Raguso

Incumbent Laurie Capitelli and challenger Sophie Hahn will face off in November for the second time in a pitched battle for Berkeley’s District 5 City Council seat, in a race that has been tinged with allegations of distortion and ill will.

In 2008, Capitelli won District 5 re-election by defeating Hahn 4,299 to 3,898. But Hahn said Wednesday she believes her past four years of service and experience will help her come out on top in the polls on Nov. 6.

“I have a strong record of getting things done,” she said. “I do believe one person can make a difference. With hard work, collaboration, and really listening to and involving the community, you get good results for the community. And I think people recognize that. I think people have been waiting for a long time for change in Berkeley.”

So far, both candidates have raised about $30,000 for their campaigns. Each had $14,000 to $15,000 left in their coffers as of the most recent filing. The amount of money raised is second only to the mayor’s race on the ballot in Berkeley.

District 5 is south of Kensington in north Berkeley, bounded by Albany to the west, Spruce Street on the east and Vine to the south. Map: City of Berkeley

Both candidates have a long history of public service. Capitelli, a local real estate agent, is capping off eight years on the council with a focus on “livable neighborhoods, safe streets and vibrant business districts.”

Hahn, who describes herself as a “full-time community leader,” has served on the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board, examined exploitation and sex trafficking as chair of the Commission on the Status of Women, helped refurbish local libraries, and revitalized the King Middle School PTA.

Capitelli said Wednesday that he’s spent much of the past eight years working on neighborhood revitalization and simplifying zoning ordinances to make it easier for entrepreneurs. He pushed to suspend the restaurant quota on Solano Avenue. He worked to resurrect the neighborhood’s Business Improvement District. And he spearheaded an update of the city’s zoning rules to speed up and simplify the process for launching new businesses.

The incumbent, a nearly 40-year resident of the city, also said he surveyed more than a thousand businesses and residents in north Berkeley to find out their priorities. In response, Capitelli said he has worked to find money, through grants and other sources, to implement various changes on Solano, such as widening the sidewalks, improving lighting and planting street trees.

“Those are all things people said they wanted, and, by the end of the year, we’ll be well on our way to accomplishing that,” he said, adding that, if re-elected, he would like to duplicate these types of changes around the city.

Laurie Capitelli at Espresso Roma in north Berkeley on Oct. 10. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Hahn, a Berkeley native, said surveys are all well and good, but that she sees a need for much more outreach and community engagement than the district has had in the past. She said, as a council member, she would have regular meetings with neighborhood associations, and develop relationships with unions, under-represented residents and students. Around Solano, she said, she’d like to consult with neighbors, shoppers, merchants and property owners to come up with a common vision for the avenue to make it truly successful and attractive.

Hahn, a retired attorney, said her work as a leader in the PTA at King Middle School is one example of the community-building skills she would implement in District 5. The mother of three spent seven straight years as a middle school parent due to the ages of her children, all of whom are now teens. During that time she said she helped triple participation in the school email list-serve; increased fundraising by 500%; and developed a welcome fair, which became a model for other Berkeley schools, to ensure that all students had equal access to resources, services and activities.

She also pointed to her work on a city-wide Edible Gardens Initiative, to allow residents to sell and trade homegrown produce, as a sign of her approach to getting things done. After learning that Berkeley rules previously required an expensive permit that could take a year to obtain, Hahn said she created an organization and worked with a range of groups in the urban agriculture and sustainability movements to come up with a better way. The City Council ultimately changed the city code to allow residents to trade relatively freely without a permit.

Capitelli said environmental issues are a key part of his work as well. He said he made it a priority to ensure that the city’s Climate Action Plan was adopted with “doable and practical” goals to implement over time. He helped ensure that environmental standards for new buildings were included in the city’s plan for downtown. And, as a member of the Alameda County Transportation Commission, he said he’s fought to bring money into the city to use to encourage bicycle use and pedestrian-friendly measures.

District 5 candidate Sophie Hahn speaks with community members at Off the Grid. Photo: courtesy of the Hahn campaign

One clear area of disagreement between the candidates is Measure T, which seeks to change zoning in parts of West Berkeley and give some owners of property larger than four acres or one city block more flexibility in building, but also require them to offer more in community benefits. Over the next 10 years, Measure T would allow the property owners of six large sites to build, in places, up to 75 feet high. The average height, however, would be 50 feet.

Capitelli said he supports Measure T in part because West Berkeley has significantly underperformed as far as projected job growth; a city plan for West Berkeley from 1992 estimated that 2,000 manufacturing jobs would be created in the area by 2012, he said. Thus far, just 500 jobs have been created. Allowing for “somewhat denser” development over six areas would, he said, bring community benefits such as job training, subsidized housing and “jobs for the 21st century.”

Hahn said Measure T would result in a “significant up-zoning” of West Berkeley, and increase the property values for already identified landowners without locking in community benefits. (The Planning Commission is currently working out the community benefits package.) She said she opposes a process that would leave key decisions about these benefits unspecified.

As election day approaches, both candidates are making every effort to connect with voters. Over the past weekend, Hahn said she oversaw the delivery of more than 5,000 organic sugar snap pea plants to residents in District 5. The plants were grown at a friend’s home in Marin, and trucked over to Berkeley last week. From Friday through Sunday, Hahn coordinated delivery of the plants, along with a piece of campaign literature, to her constituents with the help of dozens of volunteers.

“It’s really symbolic of the fact that we really can be connected in our community,” she said. “We really can have renewal. And it’s symbolic also of the fact that I am willing to undertake ambitious things and get them done.”

Capitelli said he’s been pounding the pavement since July 6 to knock on every door in District 5. Walking two hours a day, five days a week, he said he’s lost 14 pounds and climbed 50- to 75,000 stairs. He’s on schedule to knock on the final door, of about 4,500, within the next 10 days. But a larger benefit, he said, is getting to connect with the community.

“The advantage of it is to be able to talk to people with incredibly diverse opinions,” he said. From global warming to free parking to the city’s Climate Action Plan, conversations have run the gamut. “I had to be able to think on my feet…. Most people have some connection to local issues. They do seem to appreciate having the opportunity to share their opinions with their local representative.”

The race for the District 5 seat has been the most contentious of the 2012 election season. Capitelli supporters say that in talks and conversations around town, Hahn has implied that Capitelli was in favor of the death penalty and not a strong supporter of women’s issues by referring to City Council votes on those issues from which Capitelli had abstained. Capitelli has said that Hahn is misinterpreting his voting record.

Voters will have at least two chances over the next week to hear more from both candidates. Sophie Hahn and Laurie Capitelli will take part in a candidate fair organized by the North East Berkeley Association on Thursday night, Oct. 11. The event begins at 6 p.m. and is followed at 7 p.m. with a Q&A with the candidates. Mayoral candidates also are expected to attend. Next Thursday, Oct. 18, at 8:45 p.m., Capitelli and Hahn also are scheduled to appear at a forum hosted by the Thousand Oaks Neighborhood Association.

Berkeley on course for $250,000 election [10.08.12]
Allegations fly in District 5 race [09.28.12]
Capitelli, Bates, lead in campaign fundraising [08.06.12]
Sophie Hahn announces candidacy for City Council [05.09.12]

Visit Voters Edge Berkeley, Berkeleyside’s non-partisan voting guide to the ten measures on the Berkeley ballot. Visit Berkeleyside’s Election 2012 section to see all our coverage in the run-up to November 6.

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  • bgal4

    TYPICAL Berkeley. Sensationalist politics takes priority over rational discourse about truly important issues.

    Gardens??? planning dept reforms??? as if these are new topics, Same old same old.

    how about some serious discussions about the city budget and crime issues, particularly juvenile crime and armed robberies.

  • TizziLish

    I am wondering if you, bgal4, are unable to see the forest for the trees.  You deride efforts to make Berkeley a more cohesive whole, or a meaningful community of connection between human beings,  but you don’t seem to understand that quality of life, and healthy eating, and smoother planning regulation have the potential to improve the city budget and reduce crime.  Planting congenial roots of community will grow the city budget and improve crime issues.  Have you ever tried to get rid of deeply rooted dandelions? You can’t, of course, just pull off the weed you see above ground. If you don’t get out the entire root system of a dandelion, that dandelion will keep growing.  

    We can’t solve our city budget and crime issues without systemic shifts in our culture of being humans sharing some commons.  Does it get more basic than feeding ourselves and one another?  What is more relevant to a city budget, not to mention crime often engaged in to get money for things like food?

    I see no ‘sensationalist politics’ in this article. I see two politicians with significantly different outlooks but both of them seem to really care about their, and our, city. I see two politicians, two long-time civic leaders, presenting voters in their district with a meaningful choice about fundamental strategies to do exactly what you have called for, bgal4:  both Capitelli and Hahn are seriously presenting their beliefs and actually-applied effort to seed change that will solve our city budget and crime issues.  Their ideas will not solve all problems instantly but at least they are stepping up and trying to bring about positive change.  That’s not sensationalism but realism.

    Far from ‘sensationalist politics’ I see two significantly different points of view on how to bring about positive change in their district and our city.  I think this Berkeleyside article presenting the contrasting viewpoints between Hahn and Capitelli is a good articulation of their respective points of view.

  • bgal4

     I am a capable weed puller.

  • TizziLish

    I can’t help noting the stark contrasts in the photos of these two campaign yard signs.  Hahn’s yard sign is nestled in a lovely patch of lavender and Capitelli’s is set in mulch. In my first glance, Capitelli’s yard sign looked like it was in a desert landscape.  One signals verdant growth and one signals dry stagnation.  I wonder if the photographer, or photo editor, saw this contrast.

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

     maybe there is no conspiracy… maybe Hahn’s volunteers are more creative about where they locate the signs vs. Capitelli’s folks don’t care.

  • The Sharkey

    Maybe Hahn’s volunteers know that her campaign reeks of dirty tricks and rotten politics, and feel like they need to stick their signs in patches of flowers to mask the smell.


  • Guest

    Agreed.  Although I have extremely strong personal feelings about both reproductive rights and the death penalty, and I love living in a city that largely shares my beliefs about those issues, they simply don’t belong in this debate (especially not in the way they’re being invoked here, which seems misleading).  My city-level political mind is much more heavily focused on things like road repair and zoning protocol.  And this is not just an election-season issue — I lean towards a candidate who’s going to spend more council time and energy focusing on our city and what to do with it than on crafting symbolic resolutions regarding issues over which they have no ultimate authority.

    I don’t know enough about either of these candidates to have a strong allegiance at this point, but the unnecessarily divisive campaign tactics (“Pro-choice democrat”) are a turn off for me.

  • guest

    That sure describes the candidates, not.  If you are BCA vote, for Hahn.  If you want no growth, vote for Hahn.  Personally I don’t see anything new that she can bring to the table except fresh vegetables that are grown by her private gardeners. 

  • Kalamazoo32

    I have a Capitelli sign in my yard right next to a lovely plant.  And I imagine there are some Hahn signs in mulch too.  People put their yard signs whereever is convenient and where they are visible.

    So far all that Hahn seems to offer is a free little plant which she didn’t grow with her own hands. Her campaign literature seems to show her pretending that she does her own gardening, rather than having a professional gardener. Maybe she can hire someone to do her job on the city council too.. 

  • Howie Mencken

    “Hahn said she oversaw the delivery of more than 5,000 organic sugar snap pea plants to residents in District 5.”

    Sophie’s channeling of Alice Waters’ schtick is another peas poor effort to ingratiate herself to a public she is clueless about. (The first being the attempted “anti choice” smear of the incumbent.)

    Her hunger to put her fingers prints on our daily lives has already created a certain source of nuisance for the neighborhoods, which our poor code enforcement folks have no hope regulating: Retail SALES in residential zoning.* 

    In Berkeley, tents come with camel’s noses already attached…So what happens when your uber entitled neighbors decide to ad hoc a little at the expense of your peace and quiet: “10…20 customers a day…what’s the difference…who’s counting?” You’ll be up a day-lighted creek without a paddle.


    The point is this; Serving special interests, no matter how trivial the cause has robbed Berkeley of its vision and purpose. Hahn wouldn’t be a change, she’s an embodiment of the worst kind of meddling we suffer from.



  • Berkeleyan

    Excuse me, but Capitelli signs are getting stolen and vandalized right and left.  I don’t think it’s a conspiracy, but I do think there are some Hahn supporters who are, of their own accord, doing some pretty underhanded stuff. 

  • guest

    Sounds to me like she is trying to buy votes.  Just sayin.

  • Howie Mencken

    “Sophie is one of the hardest working, most hands-on people I have ever met.”

    If ever there were hands I didn’t want micro-managing / meddling in my life, they are Sophie’s Hahn’s hands.. Self righteousness without a sense of itself is a sure fire recipe for disaster.

  • Lancecortland

     Has anyone noticed that almost 50% of Hahn’s campaign expenses were spent outside of Berkeley? Shop local? What hypocrisy!