The South Berkeley district is one of the more diverse in the city, both racially and socioeconomically. Although crime rates are down (as they are throughout Berkeley), crime remains a major issue in the district. Commercially, attention has been focused on developing the Lorin District as a true commercial hub.
Both Belser and Anderson talk about the importance of providing a voice for South Berkeley, reducing crime and supporting local businesses. For voters figuring out which candidate to support, it comes down to judging Anderson’s record against what Belser claims is a fresh approach.
“Politically, I don’t think Max and I are that far apart,” says Belser, whose election slogan is “The Blind Guy with a Vision for Berkeley”. “I think the biggest issue is the amount of time and energy I would give.”
“People recognize the contributions we’ve made over the last eight years to improve the community in various ways,” says Anderson. “I want to continue to make it a more vibrant place, a more conducive place for people to get along and work together.”
Anderson points particularly to the new Derby playing fields, the rebuilding of the South Berkeley library and a number of public health initiatives as signature accomplishments during his tenure.
Belser looks to his experience as the main mover behind the Ed Roberts Campus to demonstrate his ability to “build collaboration” and work with diverse stakeholders.
But while Belser and Anderson largely agree on priorities, the challenger says that too many people in the community are frustrated with inaction and a lack of responsiveness by Anderson and city official more generally.
“They feel they have never really been heard for a very long time,” Belser says. “I don’t feel anything is happening in this district. Having a council person who would show up when people are thinking of opening new businesses. Showing up and talking to new tenants, seeing what could be done to help them.”
Belser points to his experience restoring a Victorian house he and his partner Tom White moved to 62nd Street as an example of how the attitude of a neighborhood can be transformed.
“What we saw is that the neighbors, once they saw that the worst problem in the neighborhood is being dealt with, they said, ‘Let’s do something about the whole neighborhood,’” Belser says. “If you don’t respond, a lot of people at some point just give up. They think, ‘I’m just going to go into my house and lock the door and not pay attention.’ If you complain to the council that there’s a crack house in your neighborhood and no one does anything, it’s very discouraging.”
While he says there is frustration, Belser believes the district has a lot of potential.
“I think I’m lucky that I get to live in the best part of town,” he says. “This district has all the pieces to be really successful. We have a BART station, we have parking, we have great housing stock. It’s very walkable. There are a lot of pluses that would bring people here.”
Anderson admits “there continue to be challenges” for the district, but points to the many changes over eight years.
“Crime statistics have come down considerably,” he says. “We also are dealing more effectively in improving the Adeline Street corridor. We’ve made quite a few accomplishments, improving the physical structure of the city and providing opportunities for the people.”
Anderson says he works closely with the neighborhood associations to reduce crime. He cites a number of abandoned properties where he has worked with the community on disposal “so something productive can happen there”. “We got rid of the Dollar Store, which was a drug haven,” he says.
But as a retired Registered Nurse, Anderson is audibly most proud of the public health initiatives he has helped start. He cites the drop-in hypertension clinic which has been established at Alcatraz and Sacramento, the Breathmobile for asthma, and a healthy heart program.
Derby Fields, which is under construction after years of debate and planning, is another signal achievement for him.
“That was an eyesore and a pariah on the community for a long, long time,” Anderson says. “Now we’re going to have playing fields there.”
One area where Anderson and Belser disagree is on Measure S, which would prohibit sitting on sidewalks in commercial districts between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. Anderson is one of the three council members opposing S, while Belser supports the measure. Anderson, at the launch of the anti-S campaign, described the measure as “snake oil.”
“I’m really worried about about criminalizing homelessness, but I hear from lots of people, particularly women, who feel like the streets are not safe places to be on,” Belser says. “A big part of Measure S will be the implementation of it. I’d like to be involved in that.”
Belser makes a point of stressing his determination to work with others, and not to rely on his own ideas.
“It’s going to need a lot more people than just me,” he says. “I keep telling people I don’t have the answers. I have the energy and enthusiasm to work at it, but we have a lot of great minds in Berkeley. What are the thoughts that people have? Let’s come up with some creative solutions.”
Belser says it “amazes” him that “people that scream the loudest often get heard” in Berkeley. “I would really like Berkeley to move past the squeaky wheel always getting heard,” he says.
On the City Council, Anderson often sides with Kriss Worthington and Jesse Arreguín in the minority, offering eloquent and often harsh critiques of the majority. When the sitting ban was passed for the ballot he tore into Mayor Tom Bates and what he described as “his cronies” for “anti-democratic positions.” But his votes sometimes defy expectations.
“I’m unabashedly a progressive,” Anderson says. “I support those policies and initiatives that favor working people and their struggles in the community. But when good policies and good initiatives emerge from the left or the center and they make sense for the community, I’ll support them.”
In the 2008 election, Anderson ran unopposed and won re-election with over 96% of the vote.
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