Name: Mary Kay Lacey, attorney/planning commissioner (District 8)
What is the main reason you are running? After the devastating last presidential election, I took the advice I gave my distraught daughters, which was: “We all need to step up and get involved.” I serve as a Planning Commissioner, a Personnel Board Commissioner, an Alternate Commissioner on the Zoning Adjustment Board and Police Review Commission, and I am a key member of the Mayor’s Task Force to Save Alta Bates hospital. With this broad exposure to a variety of issues facing the city, I decided to run for one straight-forward and overarching reason. District 8 needs a strong, progressive leader to represent our interests.
Why are you qualified? As the first person in my family to attend college, I moved to Berkeley to attend Cal as an undergraduate, and then had the opportunity to attend Georgetown Law on a scholarship. I have experience working on land use and redevelopment cases, and I represented the City of Oakland to keep affordable senior housing in Oakland’s Chinatown. I have also worked on environmental cases representing the community. I will take the skill set I have honed after almost 30 years practicing law, and working on some of the most challenging cases in my firm, to be an advocate for our community and to tackle the difficult challenges facing our city. I have already started that work, and I am proud that my commitment and leadership on the Save Alta Bates Task Force has earned me the endorsement of the California Nurses Association. I will be the leader District 8 deserves.
What sets you apart from other candidates? I am very fortunate to have had the opportunities presented to me. I am the beneficiary of a well-funded UC system, and attended Cal when it was affordable to my working-class family. This is our legacy, and I have always been mindful of my obligation to give back to the community that has given me so much. I believe that my background, my commitment to work tirelessly as a public servant, and my deeply held progressive values uniquely qualify me to serve District 8. For instance, I know first-hand the power of unions to bring living wages and safe working conditions to members of my family who worked in steel mills and coal mines in Western Pennsylvania, and I am proud of my union endorsements. In addition to support from the California Nurses Association, I am endorsed by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 1021 and the Alameda Labor Council because they know I am not just campaigning to stand with labor, I will stand with labor on minimum wage, as well as living wage and benefit issues. I have a record of accomplishment and a reputation for professionalism that includes leading teams, building consensus and working collaboratively with colleagues.
How and when did you end up in Berkeley? I ended up in Berkeley because my mother did not listen to my Great Aunt Pearl. The matriarch of the family, Pearl was convinced if I moved to this radical town for college no one could possibly know what might happen. Turns out, it was all good. I got a world-class education from an elite public university and fell in love with a city that has been my home for virtually my entire adult life.
What are the three biggest challenges for Berkeley in the next five years? Housing Affordability: Everyone running for office says the same thing: solving our affordable housing crisis and preventing displacement is a top priority. But what that means differs widely. I am committed to tackling this crisis in a manner that recognizes unfettered market rate development will not “trickle down” to make housing affordable for all. We must build actual affordable housing now.
Homelessness: District 8 needs a leader who will vote “yes” on plans to solve the homelessness crisis for as many people has possible, by adopting a “housing first” approach, such as the Pathways Project. Pathways provides transitional housing for 3 to 6 months and then social services (including mental health and drug addiction services) are provided, as a “pathway” to secure, permanent housing.
Environmental Issues: It is said that all politics is local —and while that may be true, it is equally true that our environmental concerns are global.
What are your ideas to begin to solve them? Housing: The city must prioritize building housing for those who are most housing insecure. We can do this by partnering with non-profit developers, and if Measure O passes, we will have $135 million in funds dedicated to affordable housing. This will open opportunities for other creative approaches — for instance, to develop work force housing by partnering with public schools to build teacher housing. And, finally, where we do provide “up-zoning” benefits for transit-oriented market-rate development, we must ensure that the city receives benefits commensurate with the project, and that the level of affordability is sufficient to prevent displacement.
Homelessness: There is no one solution to the homelessness crisis and if it was easy to eliminate, we would have solved it by now. But our shelter-based approach — where people are housed at night and on the street during the day—is not moving forward to end the crisis. That is why I support the Pathways Project; and to those on the Council who did not vote to support it, we should all ask: “what was your alternative?” I also strongly support strengthening legal protections for tenants, so that we can prevent eviction caused homelessness to the full extent possible.
Environmental Issues: Running out of water in parts of the world is one of the greatest global environmental threats we face. I am a strong proponent of water reclamation in our new buildings, and the use of “gray water.” In addition, we must be vigilant in protecting our shoreline given its importance in protecting against environmental degradation caused by global warming. We must stop using Aquatic Park as a back-up plan for stormwater overflow, and as we upgrade our infrastructure as part of the Mayor’s 2050 plan, we should add pumps where appropriate and work to restore our creek habitats.
What is your most inspired/unique idea for Berkeley? Sutter Health’s corporate-driven plan to close Alta Bates is part of a national trend to close regional hospitals. To prevent the closure, the Mayor’s Task Force is looking at a variety of options. One option I proposed and will explore is for the affected cities on the I-80 corridor — Richmond, El Cerrito, Albany and Berkeley — to form a Joint Powers to work together to ensure the community’s public health needs are met.
How will you be accessible to constituents? As a Councilmember, I will use my policy experience to work on the “big” citywide challenges we face, but I fully recognize that what we sometimes think of as “small” problems can have a huge impact on daily life. I am running for Council because I genuinely want to address those issues. I will be in the neighborhood and at City Hall working hard every day, and my door will always be open.
Are you using public financing? Yes
How much money do you expect to spend on your campaign? I have reached the maximum public financing matching fund limit of $40,000, and expect to have limited additional public financing contributions.
A final thought? When I vote, I vote on policy issues — and the endorsements I have are particularly meaningful to me because I share the values of those endorsing me. In addition to broad union support, including the Berkeley Tenant’s Union, I am proud to be endorsed by the Berkeley Progressive Alliance, Berkeley Citizens Action, the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, and the Harvey Milk Club — named for the legendary progressive leader of the LGBTQ community. I am also proud to be endorsed by the Berkeley Progressive Student Association. I would be honored to have your support as well.