Op-ed: It takes a special person to lead Berkeley and it’s Laurie Capitelli

I’ve been living in Berkeley since 1967, then as an entering freshman at the University of California. I attended Cal through the Oakland Induction Center protests, People’s Park, was tear gassed on my way to class, and was among the first graduating class of CNR (Conservation of Natural Resources). In 1976, I opened The Focal Point on Ashby, and have enjoyed living in this wonderfully diverse, and at times, “quite nuts” city. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

It takes a special person to lead Berkeley – it is unique. Most of us have a strong opinion or 10 to share, and therefore, building consensus is an art form. That’s why I strongly support the candidacy of Laurie Capitelli to be our next Mayor. I’ve known Laurie for more than 25 years. We have worked together on the renovation/operation of the Elmwood Theater, collaborating with the City of Berkeley and the community after a fire that caused great damage to the property. We worked with city staff, Mayor Loni Hancock and community leaders to save a city landmark, volunteering countless hours to save the theater, which today provides us with some of the finest films, many independently made.

Over the years, I have attended many Zoning Adjustments Board and City Council meetings as I have been involved in issues relevant to the Elmwood District, where I work and live. My experience of Laurie, who has served on both the ZAB and the City Council, is that he is gifted in his ability to hear different points of view and look for common ground. He is kind, able to communicate clearly and thoughtfully, and is genuinely interested in hearing what people have to say, even if he disagrees.

As an example, Berkeley’s homeless issue is a difficult one to tackle. It requires a multi-faceted approach that includes mental health professionals, housing, medical providers, and law enforcement agencies approaches to the problem. During the past few years, I have worked with Project Homeless Connect, and I have learned that this is a community undertaking – it will take ALL of us. Laurie is fully capable of looking at a complex problem like this and developing a long term strategy, working with individuals and organizations with opposing, and at times, very strongly held points of view, and finding common ground.

The same is true for our housing affordability issues. Solutions to this complex problem will not come from a single perspective but will require the input of tenants, builders, legislators, and others. Laurie’s skills will be invaluable in coming up with sensible, workable solutions. Rather than being “in the pocket of developers”(or anyone else), Laurie is an independent thinker and a consensus builder.

In addition to Laurie’s civic contributions, he has been principally involved in the Berkeley Public Education Foundation, raising a tremendous amount of money for our schools, and more recently led the controversial “soda tax” initiative to protect our children’s health.

Finally, there is the endorsement of Laurie by Robert Reich, a Berkeley resident, whose understanding of the issues such as housing, inequality, social justice and healthcare is without peer, as is his compassion for those facing these issues.

Being the mayor of Berkeley requires a very special skill set, one that combines experience, listening, collaboration, and implementation. Laurie Capitelli is well suited to be the next mayor of Berkeley.

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David Salk is the owner of Focal Point Opticians, president of the Elmwood Theater Foundation, and past president of the Elmwood Merchants Association.