Name: Laurie Capitelli
Job: Berkeley City Councilmember
What office are you are running for? Berkeley Mayor
What is the main reason you are running? Berkeley is a wonderful and exciting community. We also face many challenges. I want to work with my fellow citizens to address those challenges. For over 40 years I have worked collaboratively with members of my community addressing issues involving affordable housing, our schools, our homeless, our small business community, public health, minimum wage and labor protections, transportation, our deteriorating infrastructure and city finances. I want to continue those efforts. I am uniquely qualified to provide the leadership Berkeley needs to address the challenges we face. I want to unify our community and find the common ground we can all share.
Why are you qualified for the position? I know my community. I have raised my children here. I have worked with parents, neighborhood groups, small business owners and employees, educators, housing providers, the medical community…virtually every group of stakeholders in our town. People who have worked with me trust me and have confidence that I will seek consensus and common ground so we can move forward.
The challenges we face can be addressed but it will take more than promises or ideology. It will take hard work and I am ready for that hard work.
What sets you apart from other candidates? I am not a career politician. I have served in elected office only in the last 12 years but I have been actively engaged in my community for five decades. I have volunteered in the schools raising millions as a member of the Board of the Berkeley Public School Funds.
I support the creation of new affordable and market rate housing in the downtown and along transportation corridors. New housing broadens our tax base and makes it possible to support the many services that make our community unique. My opponents have resisted new housing.
I strongly opposed Measure R (2014, written by one of my opponents). It would have dismantled the Downtown Plan which a broad, representative group of citizens had approved after years of work and over 100 public meetings.
I support the training of public safety officers in dealing with catastrophic events like a natural disaster or terrorist attacks. My opponent voted against such training.
I supported a Green Vision and approved the EIR for the Downtown. My opponent didn’t.
I voted to consider a ferry terminal at the Marina. My opponent did not.
I believe in working by consensus. All stakeholders should have an opportunity to participate in policy development.
How did you end up in Berkeley? I spent my first 5 years in Berkeley attending John Muir Elementary School. My family left Berkeley at that time and I returned as a UC undergraduate in 1965. I have been here ever since. I married and had two children who attended the Berkeley schools graduating in 1988 and 1990. It is a community I love and know very well.
What are the three biggest challenges Berkeley faces in the near future?
Affordable housing and housing the homeless is our biggest challenge. We face a critical housing shortage that has driven rents and home prices to record levels. Many people who work in Berkeley or grew up in Berkeley cannot afford to live in Berkeley.
Our housing shortage can be addressed by increasing our housing along our transportation corridors. Many of our citizens are moving away from automobiles as their primary mode of transportation. Many people locating in the downtown are using public transit (BART and AC Transit), Lyft and Uber, bicycles and walking. They want to be able to live in a neighborhood that provides for most of their needs…be it shopping, entertainment or restaurants.
We have made great strides in our downtown to make it a safe and inviting environment. The more people live in the downtown the more it will serve as a ‘complete’ neighborhood for our citizens.
It is also appropriate that home builders include below market rate (BMR) units in their projects or pay a housing impact fee. The council recently increased the the BMR requirements to 20% of all units or pay an impact fee of $34,000 for each market rate unit in the project. I supported those increased requirements. This will provide significant resources to the city to increase affordable housing in our community.
We face a persistent achievement gap in our schools Our Latino and African American students are achieving significantly below those of their white and Asian peers.
Our unfunded liabilities (both our physical infrastructure and our pension and healthcare obligations) poise a threat to the fiscal sustainability of our City.
What are your ideas to solve them?
The achievement gap must be addressed early in our children’s lives. Children entering kindergarten already demonstrate this phenomena. I believe we need to provide access to universal preschool and childcare to everyone of our children. Experts agree critical development takes place between the ages of birth to 5. If that development is not nurtured it is difficult to recoup later on. Addressing the needs of our children at the earliest of ages (even prenatal) will provide them with the best chances for success later on.
I also believe that middle income workers should have the opportunity to live in this community. That is why I have initiated discussions to identify surplus city and BUSD land for potential housing sites for teachers, librarians, social workers and others who cannot afford to live here.
We have neglected our physical infrastructure for decades. We need to adopt a policy of ‘fix it first’ meaning we need to take care of what we have before venturing into new commitments. Our public buildings, streets, sidewalks, sewers are in disrepair. This is why I support measure T1 on the November ballot to give us a head start on infrastructure repairs. Once they are repaired we need to maintain them. Those costs must be built into every budget every year.
Finally, we have begun to address our pension and healthcare liabilities but must be vigilant. We have worked with our employees in a collaborative way to begin to reduce those liabilities. Additionally, state mandated reforms have raised the retirement age for our new workers and reduced benefits. It has taken us years to get where we are and will take us years to eliminate the deficits. We need a long term plan with annual benchmarks and we need to stick to those benchmarks.
What is your most inspired/unique idea for Berkeley? I was one of the leaders of ‘Berkeley versus Big Soda’. We built a broad and strong coalition which carried us to an overwhelming victory. Our pioneering success encouraged and inspired communities across the nation (and the world) to consider such a tax to deal with this public health crisis.
How will you be accessible to constituents? I have always taken great pride in being very accessible to my constituents. I hold regular monthly meetings open to all ( ‘Coffee with the Councilmember’). I plan to do the same as Mayor moving around our City with similar monthly meetings. My office door is always open to meet with constituents individually or in groups. The only way to build consensus is to engage one another with respect and an open mind.
How much money do you expect to spend on your campaign? My budget is $125,000.
A final thought? Berkeley is an inspiring community. The climate, the parks, the setting by San Francisco Bay, our diversity, the small commercial neighborhoods and UC are all part of what makes Berkeley so special. But most extraordinary are the people and the talent and diversity they bring to the table. At once we are engaging, creative and demanding…continually challenging the status quo.
I look forward to serving my community as Mayor. I want to thank Berkeleyside for giving me the opportunity to share my thinking with all of you.