On the surface, the local Berkeley vote appears to provide an echo of the national election story: after all the activity, accusations and counter-accusations, inside money and outside money, the city is about where it was before election day.
Many provisional and mail ballots have yet to be counted, but if the results don’t shift significantly, just about all of the incumbents were re-elected (only the Rent Board remains in doubt) and the majority on the City Council still sides with fourth term Mayor Tom Bates.
But Bates sees the results as a confirmation of change in Berkeley. Even seeming defeats, such as the currently trailing Measures S and T, spur his enthusiasm.
“I’m feeling great,” he said. “It was a really excellent election, for the presidential race, Prop. 30 and Prop. 32. And I got back my council.”
As for his own victory in pulling in 55% of the votes counted so far, Bates said he thought the result was remarkable given that he had “five opponents pounding away at me and at my record.”
He said he thought the result showed that “people like the tack we are trying to take with the city,” which he described as a denser city developed around transit sites. ”I’m really looking forward to the next four years and to seeing new green, well-designed developments in downtown Berkeley,” he said. “Stay tuned.”
Some contestants had been hoping this was a year for realignment of Berkeley politics. The “Anybody But Bates” plan by challengers Kriss Worthington and Jacquelyn McCormick, however, failed to force an instant run-off in the mayoral contest. Among local measures, the two designed to shake up the way city government works — Measure U, the so-called Sunshine Ordinance, and Measure V, which would have required biannual reporting of liabilities and a freeze on taxes and laws without certification — were roundly defeated.
The council voting bloc of Worthington, Jesse Arreguín and Max Anderson can, however, take some comfort on what looks like defeat of the sit ordinance, Measure S (although the 20,000 or so votes remaining to be counted might change the result). Measure S, above all other issues, inspired passion and protest from its opponents this year. The proposed revisions to West Berkeley zoning, Measure T, was also reviled by Worthington and his allies, but it remains too close to call, with 123 votes separating the sides.
“S did not pass but it was much closer than we thought it would be,” Bates said. “We did a poll that showed it would get 42% yes votes. This tells me what we knew: the issue is a divisive one and our approach did not garner enough votes. Even if it had passed it would not have had enough supporters. We need to approach the problem from a different angle. Everyone acknowledges we have a problem. I look forward to working with creative people to solve it.
“On Measure T I am shocked we did so well given how scurrilous and fraudulent the ‘No’ campaign was,” Bates said. He mentioned how the campaign included mentions of threats to Aquatic Park which was specifically excluded, and showed pictures of buildings that bore no relation to the proposals.
“We came so close. If it passes or not I am determined to try to unlock the opportunities in west Berkeley. The master plan that exists is possible and do-able. We can come up with good ideas for development.”
Mayor Bates expressed delight with the results on Measure M, the watersheds and streets ordinance which passed with 73% support. “This is fantastic,” he said. “I had to fight tooth and nail to get this put forward. Now we have the opportunity to make some improvements in the city.”
It’s understandable that campaigners involved with Measure T were also reluctant to draw any long-term conclusions this morning.
Darrell de Tienne, the secretary for the Yes on T campaign and a consultant to Doug Herst’s Peerless Greens project, the measure’s main funder, was disappointed that the no votes have the lead, he said. Measure T would have changed the zoning to permit a dynamic, pedestrian-oriented project that helped artists and manufacturers and reduced greenhouse gases by offering living spaces near jobs, he said. Without the height flexibility afforded by Measure T, it is likely that section of West Berkeley, on Fourth Street near Allston Way, will remain an undistinguished stretch of warehouses.
“He [Herst] tried to do something good for the community,” said De Tienne. “He doesn’t need to do this. He wants to do this. It’s discouraging.”
Herst, who has spent about $1.7 million on the Peerless Greens project, has already instructed de Tienne to stop all work on the Environmental Impact Report.
De Tienne said he thinks voters found Measure T complicated and decided it was just easiest to vote no. Private polling done before the election showed that 43% of Berkeley voters were undecided about Measure T. Those kinds of voters generally just say no, said De Tienne.
“The whole thing was an educational thing, “ he said. “We came close, but we’re not there.”
Patrick Sheahan, a planning commissioner and one of the prime organizers of the fight to defeat Measure T, said he thought voters were turned off for three reasons. First, they felt the 75-foot height limit was too high, second, they felt the measure was crafted just to benefit a small group of developers and third, they were concerned Measure T would drastically alter the unique character of the neighborhood.
Sheahan said he thought Measure T would return in some form, and that the City Council would ask the Planning Commission to take another look at possible changes for West Berkeley. That would only work, he cautioned, if the process was much more inclusive than last time and all the stakeholders felt their concerns were being considered.
Barbara Gilbert, who fought hard for the passage of Measure V was disappointed the measure failed. However she thought the campaign had gotten the word out and forced city officials to pay closer attention to the problems posed by looming unfunded liabilities. Gilbert, a Hahn supporter, said she was pleased by a mailer sent out by Councilmember Laurie Capitelli a few weeks ago addressing the police and firefighters’ contracts.
“It’s a issue that is not going to go away,” said Gilbert. “We have educated the council and the public. We have forced people to come around.”
In the vigorously contested race for the District 5 council seat, incumbent Capitelli has 54% of the vote at the moment. Sophie Hahn, his challenger, has not yet conceded.
“In 2008, there were over 8,000 ballots cast in the council race in District 5,” said a staffer with Hahn’s campaign. Just over 4,800 votes have been counted so far in the district. “They’re definitely still counting votes. We’re waiting just like everybody else for updates.”
“I think there are about 20,000 votes citywide still to count,” said Capitelli. “I talked to the city clerk today because I wanted to know what the procedure was. He said he thought the only one still in play was Measure T and possibly the Rent Board seats. He [the clerk] thought it unlikely that there could be that big a swing to change the outcome.”
Capitelli estimated that there were between 2,000 and 2,500 votes left to count in his district. “My experience over my 40 years of watching elections in Berkeley is that Berkeley’s always the last to report final tallies and we’ve had a lot of close elections.”
“I’m relieved, obviously,” he said. “We ran a good solid clean campaign. I really don’t think we ever left that commitment behind. I think it paid off.”
In the School Board race, in which four candidates were fighting for two seats, it is worth noting that Judy Appel at the moment has more votes citywide than even Tom Bates: 18,776 versus 18,057. Incumbent Beatriz Leyva Cutler came in a comfortable second with 13,821 votes (30.95%).
Clarification: The picture caption on the photo showing Aquatic Park was amended on Nov. 8 to include more information.
Remaining Berkeley votes could change close contests [11.07.12]
Live blogging the Berkeley elections: all the final results [11.06.12]
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