Op-ed: It’s not about the politics of the ’70s — it’s about the future of Berkeley

I’m pretty much known as a political middle-of-the-roader, so it didn’t really surprise me when people began asking me Why have I gone to the ‘other side’ in supporting Jesse Arreguín for Mayor instead of Laurie Capitelli and am co-hosting with Former Mayor Gus Newport, a fund raiser for Jesse Arreguin featuring Danny Glover this Saturday, October 15th? Here’s my answer.

The old days of “moderates” vs “radicals” (or whatever terms you want to use) are over. That page has been turned and it’s a new day and now it’s all about the future of Berkeley. Since I left the Mayor’s Office in December 2002, I have attended or observed on Chanel 33 almost every Council Meeting. No one watching these hundreds of meetings, could possibly have missed the lock-step march of six Council Members approving rampant development. This is the issue that is shaping the character of our community by determining who can live here, where and how.

November’s the fork in the road when we decide whether to continue constructing faceless buildings up and out until there is no community left, or grow in a way that values and preserves diverse, pleasant and safe neighborhoods. Recognizing that strong neighborhoods are historically the foundation for every great city, definitely does not mean we turn our backs on needed growth.

There is no denying we have a need for more housing as well as revenue to help us out of the economic hole that’s been growing over the last decade. Solutions aren’t easy. However, there is absolutely no need to destroy the community that attracted us to living here in the first place. But given that Berkeley is only about eight square miles and is already the most dense community in the East Bay, it is essential that we approach development in a thoughtful, managed way.

That is not what Mr. Capitelli has been doing, and it will certainly not happen should he be Mayor. Please note, I have many concerns based on Mr. Capitelli’s record, particularly regarding his false claim about establishing a $15/hour minimum wage in Berkeley after opposing Arreguín’s 3-year effort to get that done. But that’s another story, and this article is about the Capitelli record on development, so here’s a tiny piece of that record to consider:

  • Affordable Housing: Capitelli fought for years to keep the Housing Impact Fee at $20,000 per unit when City-hired independent economic consultants said the amount should be as high as $34,000 per unit. Arreguín has steadily worked to set that number between $28,000 and $30,000.
  • UC-Berkeley: Even though the Council promised it would notify the public, Capitelli participated in a secret back room deal in which the City approved the UC Berkeley 2020 Long Range Development Plan and agreed that the University would only have to pay 10 cents on the dollar for its impact on City infrastructure and public safety services. The result: today, the University has greatly exceeded the Plan’s capped enrollment and it has not built the over 3,000 housing units agreed upon. Students are homeless or quadrupling up in outrageously expensive apartments and Cal is enrolling1,000 more students in each of the next five years. Arreguin opposed the back room deal and wanted to re-negotiate it with the campus.
  • Landmarks: Capitelli co-authored legislation to weaken our Landmarks Preservation Ordinance which was overturned by citizen referendum. Arreguín was not on the Council at that time, but since has supported efforts to protect our designated landmarks.
  • Ignoring neighborhoods: Capitelli consistently demeans community members from the Council dais. He has called them “liars” when they presented professional drawings pointing out negative impacts on Aquatic Park from potential high-rise buildings in West Berkeley and intimidated persons who pointed out that City approvals are driving people out of their homes when 90% of the units in new development is affordable only to households with annual incomes over $120,000. He has ignored testimony regarding impacts from high rise developments on the backyards of adjacent low density residential neighborhoods from loss of sunlight or from roof tops that host evening parties lasting late into the night, or parking on neighborhood streets by new residents that aren’t supposed to have cars, but somehow do.   On the other hand, Arreguín has consistently listened to neighborhoods and worked to find solutions to their concerns.

So what is the future for development in the commercial transportation corridors along Solano Avenue, the Elmwood, North Shattuck, Sacramento Street, Alcatraz-Adeline, and the North Berkeley BART Station? We have already seen that new development in these areas automatically exceeds Zoning Code height limits. And, what will the result be of an increasing population packed in and along the Alquist-Priolo Earthquake Hazard Zone when the “Big One” finally arrives?

Lastly, I credit The East Bay Times with the following statement regarding whom they considered for endorsement:

Capitelli’s declaration that the city shouldn’t aim to fully pay off its retirement debt and his past ethical transgressions eliminated him from our list.

I agree, and because Jesse Arreguín can bring people like Gus and me together is why I am supporting him for Mayor in this election.

Berkeleyside welcomes submissions of op-ed articles. We ask that we are given first refusal to publish. Topics should be Berkeley-related, local authors are preferred, and we don’t publish anonymous pieces. Email submissions as Word documents or embedded in the email to editors@berkeleyside.com. The recommended length is 500-800 words. Please include your name and a one-line bio that includes full, relevant disclosures. Berkeleyside will publish op-ed pieces at its discretion.

Shirley Dean served on the Planning Commission, as an elected Council Member for 15 years and for eight years as Mayor.