Op-ed: Why Laurie Capitelli shouldn’t be mayor, why Jessie Arreguín should: Equity & jobs

West Berkeley Artisans and Industrial Companies (WEBAIC) urges you not to support Laurie Capitelli for mayor because of his central role in a destructive, multi-year, anti-equity effort to force out West Berkeley companies and their thousands of productive middle-wage jobs. Vote for Jesse Arreguín, who has been a consistently strong supporter of West Berkeley’s sustainable industrial maker and arts ecosystem and the thousands of good, family-wage jobs it provides.

The effort to displace West Berkeley’s thousands of good jobs for people who typically have difficulty finding them – people without college degrees, people of color, and immigrants — was called the West Berkeley Project. Capitelli spent years pushing this plan whose goal was stated publicly at the time by his ally Tom Bates: “People need to get over this manufacturing thing” (at the Chamber of Commerce), and “We don’t really need to make anything here anymore – these jobs can go somewhere else” (at the public release of the City’s Green Collar Jobs Study showing hundreds of environmentally-friendly jobs in West Berkeley’s industrial zones).

Those disturbing and dismissive statements would have stayed just words had not Mr. Capitelli energetically supported the West Berkeley Project and its policies to remove the industrial zoning protections that assured space for 320+ local-serving manufacturing, food processing, recycling, warehousing/wholesaling, and repair companies that provided the most good jobs (7000+) in Berkeley for the most disadvantaged. Though not specifically targeted, history clearly shows that the wake of the West Berkeley Project’s wave of gentrification would also have swept away West Berkeley’s 1000+ artists working in 250+ studios.

The Capitelli-endorsed West Berkeley Project was created without any consultation with the thousands of people that would be most affected by it, evidencing a deep disdain for citizen participation. This wrecking ball of plan forced hundreds of citizens, workers, and company owners to spend thousands of hours defending their livelihoods and neighborhoods while costing the City five years of wasted staff time and untold sums of money pulled from taxpayers pockets. To assure its safe arrival at Council, Mr. Capitelli appointed a planning commissioner who voted consistently for the West Berkeley Project’s displacement policies and against the aligned interests of third-generation resident West Berkeley company owners and their employees.


As staff for WEBAIC, I sat down with Mr. Capitelli for numerous negotiating sessions on the West Berkeley Project.  His positions always hardened after consulting his developer/real estate associates, particularly regarding 75’ heights and large site Master Use Permit (MUP) policies that would have resulted in West Berkeley’s wholesale gentrification.

Mr. Capitelli’s unwillingness to compromise on those issues ultimately led the City Council to place Measure T on the 2012 ballot. Strenuous efforts from citizens and strong leadership from Council member Jessie Arreguín defeated Measure T.  Despite Mr. Capitelli’s efforts, West Berkeley remains a vibrant (1% manufacturing & warehouse vacancy rate), local-serving and sustainable industrial maker and arts ecosystem providing thousands of good jobs, inspiring culture, steady revenue to the City, and important goods and services to the people.

In a recent interview with WEBAIC, Mr. Capitelli revealed he’s open to picking up where he left off by changing zoning and expanding the MUP, even though a development of hundreds of thousands of square feet for life sciences on 8+ acres is going forward under existing zoning. West Berkeley’s diverse workforce, expected to be displaced under Mr. Capitelli’s policies, would be replaced by scores of tech workers seeking to live here, pushing inflated real estate prices higher and completing Berkeley’s gentrification.

Council member Capitelli’s 35-year high-end real-estate career, where profit per square foot is preeminent, appears to have largely blinded him to the struggles of those on the middle and lower rungs. Real-estate and development interests are providing more money to his campaign than any other sector. Mr. Capitelli — along with council members Darryl Moore and Susan Wengraf — spent six years pushing policies that would have displaced the people and companies at the core of Berkeley’s equity and economic and ethnic diversity. That’s the antithesis of progressive.

In this time of extreme inequality we need a mayor who puts the interests of everyday people first. Laurie’s a decent guy to have coffee with, but if you want a more equitable Berkeley, he won’t get us there and does not deserve your vote.

Jessie Arreguín, the son of farmworkers who’s fought to keep Berkeley’s workforce and populace diverse, knows in his bones the struggles and dreams of the 99%. Bernie Sanders thinks Jessie’s the Mayor Berkeley deserves. WEBAIC agrees. Vote Jessie Arreguín for Mayor.

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. We also ask that the op-eds are grounded in facts, not speculation or unsubstantiated accusations. Email submissions as Word or Google 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.

Rick Auerbach is the staff of West Berkeley Artisans & Industrial Companies, a former consultant to Berkeley’s Economic Development Department, a member of the Association of Bay Area Government’s Technical Advisory Committee on Priority Production Areas, and a 35-year resident of West Berkeley.