District 6 candidates clash over development, homeless

Appearing in ballot order, top row from left, District 6 candidates: Susan Wengraf, Fred Dodsworth, Isabelle Gaston. Photos: Courtesy
Appearing in ballot order, top row from left, District 6 candidates: Susan Wengraf, Fred Dodsworth, Isabelle Gaston. Photos: Courtesy of the candidates

With less than two weeks until election day, District 6 incumbent Susan Wengraf has raised more than twice the cash as both her opponents — Fred Dodsworth and Isabelle Gaston — combined, according to the latest campaign filings.

Stark differences between the candidates emerged during a candidate panel sponsored by the League of Women Voters in mid-September, Dodsworth and Gaston appearing more closely aligned against Wengraf than each other. As cash separates the candidates, so too do their platforms.

Among the most contentious and disputed at the candidate forum were the perennial issues of affordable housing and development as well as how to handle the city’s homeless population.

The two challengers doubled down on isolationism as a response to the housing crisis. 


“Oakland has plenty of room, El Cerrito has plenty of room, and so do Walnut Creek and Concord,” Dodsworth said. “It’s not our obligation to feed everyone in the world, it’s only our responsibility to take care of people who live here now.”

Cooperation with other governments in the region, Dodsworth and Gaston say, is to invite outsiders without real knowledge of Berkeley’s needs and goals to have a stake in its destiny — which is unacceptable.

Referring to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission Gaston said, “I don’t buy these regional planners … nobody even knows who they are or where they meet.” (Commissioners are listed here, and meet here.)

For her part, Wengraf has signaled support for regional cooperation. Berkeley, in the long run, she says, needs to balance development with the residential neighborhoods by selecting specific areas as major, dense thoroughfares.

“We need to creation transition zones from commercial neighborhoods to residential, so that neighborhoods will be protected from development along transit corridors,” and added that it was indeed possible to protect neighborhoods and increase the housing stock through density.


District 6 sits at the northeastern edge of Berkeley and is outlined in turquoise. Map: City of Berkeley
District 6 sits at the northeastern edge of Berkeley and is outlined in turquoise. Map: City of Berkeley

Wengraf, 71, was first elected to the City Council in 2008. She replaced 88-year-old Betty Olds, to whom she had served as an aide. Wengraf is part of the moderate council majority, which includes Mayor Tom Bates and City Council members Darryl Moore, Laurie Capitelli, Lori Droste, and Linda Maio. No sitting incumbent on the council has been defeated for reelection since 1997, according to a recent study done by the Berkeley Fair Elections Coalition.

Wengraf is a former filmmaker who now serves as a visual advisor to the Emma Goldman papers. She has a lengthy list of endorsements from current and past elected officials, including Olds, State Senator Loni Hancock, former Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, Bates and four sitting members of the City Council: Moore,  Capitelli,  Droste, and Maio. The Berkeley Firefighters Association and the Berkeley Police Association have also endorsed her.

Fred Dodsworth, 65, is a retired journalist-businessman-teacher. He is deeply involved in the community and has served on the board of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce, the BUSD committee on the Future of Education, Arts Magnet PTA, Berkeley’s Zero Waste Commission and Disaster Preparedness Commission, and is the current chair of the BUSD Measure H Oversight Committee. He is also passionate about cultural issues and serves on the boards of the Beast Crawl Commune, Bay Area Generations, and the Watershed Ecological Poetry Festival.

Dodsworth has been endorsed by many people on the progressive end of the political spectrum, including two former mayors: Gus Newport and Shirley Dean. Two current councilmen, Jesse Arreguín and Max Anderson, have also endorsed him as has Sheila Jordan, the former superintendent of Alameda County schools and John Selawsky, the former chair of the Berkeley school board and a current member of the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board. Current Rent Board members Alejandro Soto-Vigil, Asa Dodsworth, Paola LaVerde, and Katherine Harr are also endorsers.

Isabelle Gaston, 54, is a medical writer with a PhD in cancer biology. She is also the president of the North East Berkeley Neighborhood Association.


Gaston has received endorsements from former Mayor Shirley Dean, Gene Poschman, a planning commissioner, former planning commissioners Zelda Bronstein and Patrick Sheahan, Sophie Hahn, a Zoning Adjustments Board commissioner who is running for the District 5 Council seat, Austene Hall, landmarks preservation commissioner, Barbara Gilbert, vice-president of the North East Berkeley Association and Ted Edlin, former president of the Council of Neighborhood Associations.

Jason McDaniel, a professor of political science at San Francisco State University told Berkeleyside that endorsements can often carry more weight than policy with voters.

Critics of Wengraf say she’s cozy with real estate interests and point to the fact that her campaign has been the beneficiary of $10,074 of soft money from the National Association of Realtors, according to campaign filing documents. Election laws, however, required those funds to be spent independently without coordination with Wengraf’s campaign. Overall in 2016, Wengraf has raised $37,673, and spent $11,631.

When asked, Wengraf told Berkeleyside that the support from the real estate group political action committee will probably cost her more votes than the ads it was used for will pick up.

Dodsworth has raised $11,428 and Gaston has raised $9,730. Neither has received soft money, according to campaign filings. The challengers have spent $3,605.56 and $8,901.89 respectively.

Of the two challengers, Gaston strongly criticized Wengraf and the City Council’s economic record at the forum. Gaston repeatedly said that the city is spending money that it does not have because it has not addressed its pension liabilities. Homeowners are also seeing their property taxes go up every two years, and this is part of the reason that Gaston opposes Measure T1, which would raise $100 million in bonds for street and park repairs. (Dodsworth also opposes T1. He said better accountability for what will be repaired is needed).

Gaston also questioned how Berkeley spends funds and said the $8 to $12 million the city spends on homeless services might be better allotted. (Gaston said that is a number the city manager supplied at a NEBA meeting). She also called into question the incumbent’s management of police resources during her term.

Wengraf defended the use of police resources and pointed out that when she took office in 2008, the country was suffering the greatest financial collapse since 1939, and cutbacks were all but unavoidable.

For his part, Dodsworth lashed out at the enduring turkey in American politics: the influence of money on elected officials, though according to experts that assertion is debatable, at least. Dodsworth made the case that the council has “sold out to developers” because, for most, running for office is beyond their means without endorsements from economic interests. In terms of new developments, the former journalist said that other cities around the Bay Area should be building new housing,

Despite the differences, the District 6 candidates shared some similar visions of how the city should arrive at its future although they used different rhetoric and in many cases favored different methods to achieve the same goals. For example, all three candidates hope to create a vibrant downtown that’s accessible by public transportation. They also hope to have figured out a solution to help those who don’t have housing so there are not as many people sitting on the sidewalks.

Gaston, however, said she is opposed to the seven tall buildings that voters approved in 2010. (Two tall buildings, one at 2211 Harold Way and a hotel at Shattuck Avenue and Center Street have been approved and three others are in process). She and Dodsworth both questioned all the new multi-unit apartments going up along Shattuck, Telegraph and University avenues. Gaston said she has not seen proof that “smart housing” actually reduces green house gas emissions. Dodsworth said that some of the new construction was designed as “destination housing” for millionaires who would park their Bentleys, Maserati’s, and Teslas in the garage and not use transit; consequently the big projects wouldn’t reduce green house gases. Construction should be built for workers, teachers and people with much lower incomes, he said.

The candidates also unanimously agreed that body cameras for BPD officers are an important new tool.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of the story had a paragraph that said:

“Gaston said elected officials have recklessly spent public money to grease the pockets of its own employees via ballooning pensions, wasted cash on ill-advised efforts to address homelessness, and called into question the incumbent’s management of police resources during her term.”

While Gaston repeatedly said during the forum that she thought elected officials spent the city’s money recklessly, she never suggested that they did so to “grease the pockets of its own employees.” Berkeleyside regrets using this phrase and has deleted the paragraph from the article.

See Berkeleyside’s 2016 Election Hub for complete election coverage.

Related:
Election 2016 Berkeley: Spotlight on District 6 (10.12.16)
Election 2016: Who is Susan Wengraf? (10.12.16)
Election 2016: Who is Fred Dodsworth? (10.12.16)
Election 2016: Who is Isabelle Gaston? (10.12.16)
Compare all three candidate responses in a grid (PDF)
Video of the League of Women Voters forum (09.20.16)
Campaign websites: Wengraf || Dodsworth || Gaston

Follow Berkeleyside on Twitter and Facebook or get the latest news in your inbox with Berkeleyside’s Daily Briefing. Email us at tips@berkeleyside.com. Support independent local journalism by becoming a Berkeleyside member.