Op-ed: Why I’ve decided to vote for Laurie Capitelli

Open letter to my neighbors whom were unable to meet Laurie Capitelli at a house event we hosted:

Until last night, I was undecided. I had known nothing substantial about our two candidates. (This is really a two-horse race.) Two weeks prior I went to a house party for Jesse Arreguin. Some of my neighbors, whom I respect, support Jesse, and I came away from that meeting with a somewhat positive feeling about him, although I felt he was also a bit slippery. My wife and I decided we should meet and question Laurie Capitelli. Last night, we hosted a house party where he came to answer questions.

My impressions

Laurie impressed me as wise, a realist, and an intellectual progressive. He is sincere in his positions. He has a record showing that he understands that advancement of a progressive agenda occurs with compromise. More than anything, I was impressed with how thoughtful, intelligent, and deep his knowledge on each of the issues was, and how well he understood the complexities of city policies and important issues. I also noticed how he listened to people. (I did not get the same feeling from Jesse.)

Housing

This was the night’s most discussed issue. When grilled on the need for affordable housing, Laurie had detailed, intelligent answers that went into the mechanics of how and why comprehensive housing plans work. By way of contrast, Jesse provided what I felt were crowd-pleasing, soak-the-rich, responses.

(I later learned that Jesse is a Kriss Worthington protégé, a prior Rent Stabilization Board member, and has a long history of opposing sensible housing solutions. Most recently, Jesse was an author of the disastrously unpopular and failed Measure R (2014)  which attempted to undermine the downtown development plan he had originally supported. In polite terms, he is a chameleon.

Laurie was able to explain how Berkeley expects to receive approximately 1/3 of a $30 million need for shelter, transitional housing, and homelessness prevention programs through the development of high-density housing on traffic corridors, by way of incentives, fees, and in-kind ’trade’; and that these developments would include no less than 10% below market rate units (affordable housing). More importantly, Laurie could explain how these programs get paid for, how they work, and why they lift all boats.

When I had pressed Jesse on how affordable housing would be paid for, he had one simple answer: “Developers will pay for it.” When I pressed Jesse on the basic economics of it, that costs must get passed on to consumers or taxpayers, he had no answer other than to say that he would write legislation to prevent that from happening. It was clear that Jesse did not understand economics. His thinking was simplistic and not based in reality.

Laurie, on the other hand, understood how economics work, and how compromise is a real part of moving things forward in a city where there are many different views and interests. His approach, which is the same approach that has successfully brought in so many needed housing projects in Berkeley and Oakland, is to provide incentives to developers (like allowing more units to be built if those extra units are below market rate) to develop more housing. He understands that these costs are always paid for, ultimately, by consumers (in purchase price) and citizens (in taxes). He did not pretend a soak-the-rich slogan could prevent this from happening. He recognized the need for reasonable compromise to deal with an increasing population density. He gets that you need more supply to meet higher demand if you want prices to be affordable.

Safety

Laurie recognized that safety is not just hiring more police. He spoke in great detail about the different ways he expects the city to deal with different causes of safety. One example discussed was that much street-level crime is committed by those with mental disorders, but that right now, Berkeley Mental Health Services staff that helps in criminal situations has been cut back to 36 hours a week, not enough to deal with the number of incidents requiring its services. He recognizes budget needs to be increased to deal with this, and the City Manager needs to be directed to do so, leaving our police free to take care of non-mental health-related crime.

Homelessness

This was a big topic. Laurie went into significant detail about the different levels of homelessness, and how you deal with each one, starting with providing city loans to those who are behind on mortgage or rent payments to keep them from losing their homes. (It is more difficult and expense to get someone back into a home than it is to keep him or her from losing it.) I was impressed listening to how deep his knowledge was on this issue and the solutions he has been part of at all levels of dealing with homeless.

Jesse, on the same topic, threw out slogans that sounded good to the audience, but in retrospect, I see they had no substance.

Alta Bates

When Jesse spoke on this issue, I was almost inspired. He spoke of bridging the parties to the table to come up with a solution. In retrospect, after hearing Laurie talk about possible solutions he is considering (a bond measure to retrofit the building; forcing Sutter to allow experts in to see the building and determine what actually must be done; Attracting new organizations to take over; looking at community hospital models; and others) I realized that Laurie understood the issues much better than Jesse, and had already been working with parties on solutions. Later, I found Laurie had co-sponsored an Alta Bates resolution in July 2016 to oppose the closure. Prior to that, in the spring of 2016, Laurie co-authored a resolution asking our Disaster and Fire Safety Commission and Health Commission to assess the community impact of a potential closure.

In short, I felt there was a night-and-day difference between the two candidates on this issue.

Council Time

Towards the end, some expressed frustration over the council wasting time on meaningless measures, like Kriss’ proposal September 20, ‘Supporting the End of the Dog Meat Festival in Yulin, China’. Laurie acknowledged that sometimes Berkeley can add an important voice to serious global issues, but that the council and Mayor’s primary concern really needs to be about addressing local problems, and that resolutions such as Worthington’s waste valuable city money and community time.

In short, after speaking at length with both candidates, and watching both of them discuss issues of importance, it is clear to me that Laurie is the far better candidate. His respectful, thoughtful, learned approach to solving real problems—and having a history of it—excited me to become a supporter. I can not get behind Jesse, in no short part because I cannot trust him, particularly after his attempt to undermine the downtown plan, but also because I came away with the sense that he is an opportunist who says one thing, but then does another for his own political benefit.

I encourage you to support Laurie.

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Jonathan Jaffe is a data security consultant and a privacy attorney who lives in the Elmwood.