I truly hope Berkeley’s political forum hasn’t become a place where candidates say anything, true or not, just to get a vote.
Since I had a baby recently, I have been enjoying a bit more time at home. One Monday, a candidate for Berkeley City Council, Mary Kay Lacey, knocked on my door.
I’ve done my share of canvassing for issues and candidates I support, so anyone who knocks on my door for that purpose gets my ear and a baseline level of respect for good old-fashioned political organizing. Lacey asked me what issues were most important to me. I answered as many do: the lack of housing. I told Lacey I believed Berkeley should walk its talk in being a progressive city and allow people to live here. I hoped to hear her plan to address our housing crisis.
I am one of the lucky few to own a home in Berkeley, but have family and friends who have been displaced, are facing displacement, or, like my parents (currently displaced by the Carr Fire in Redding), want to downsize and live close to amenities and transit but can’t as prices soar on our limited supply of homes.
Lacey had an unlabeled map in hand that showed the Elmwood nearly completely blotted out by shaded areas and said that the shaded areas would be where “high-rises” would be permitted as a result of a state housing law (SB 827). [See photo to left] Lacey said this was supported by our current councilwoman, Lori Droste. “I live on Benvenue;” Lacey said, “do high rises belong on Benvenue?” I pointed out that her map was inaccurate. I know Councilwoman Droste supports homes near transit but the suggestion that she supports high rises in Elmwood was inaccurate fear-mongering.
Lacey admonished my skepticism of her claims before abruptly leaving our conversation. I heard no policies that the candidate herself was proposing to address our crisis. Instead, the candidate challenged my view that more people deserve to live in walkable neighborhoods like ours. I thought it strange that a candidate would attack the opinion of a constituent she hopes to represent on the City Council- hey, she’s the one running, not me!
To set the record straight: after the bill was introduced, Droste said that the bill needed to change and bring more stakeholders on board. SB 827 was amended to remove any possibility of multistory buildings in areas like the Elmwood before it came up for any votes. This state bill and the map were core talking points against Droste on my stoop and at a recent house party for Lacey I attended. I am not sure whether this is due to ignorance or duplicity. Either way, District 8 voters should be discussing the truth, even if our opinions differ.
Though Lacey has not cited a specific vote Droste took as a basis for her mischaracterization, Lacey’s claim might come from the fact that Droste and several of her colleagues abstained from a Berkeley City Council vote on SB 827 after it had died. That’s right– our City Council wasted time voting on a piece of state legislation that never even made it out of committee.
While some other councilmembers are grandstanding about state legislation, Droste is actually working on housing affordability in Berkeley. She recently held a backyard cottage workshop in our neighborhood. She has also been an ardent defender of the twice voter-approved Downtown Plan and has a track record of working through policy details with a wide variety of stakeholders. This is why I admire her as a pragmatic and progressive civic leader.
In contrast, Lacey is supported by a bevy of obstructionists who have attempted to undermine the Downtown Plan, tried to landmark views to stop downtown from ever-changing, and sued the City over housing near Downtown BART.
If the current state of political affairs at the national level inspires you to “do something”, I ask that you reject fear-mongering, falsehoods and divisiveness. Let’s keep our local politics honest, inspired and progressive. I believe that Lacey owes Droste and the constituents she is courting an apology and a commitment to a clean campaign.
Editor’s note: This op-ed was updated by Berkeleyside on Oct. 9 to remove the words fake and fabricated in connection with the first map presented.