Opinion: I offer a vision of progressive leadership for District 8

I believe building market-rate housing will not solve the affordability crisis, that Berkeley must seek higher percentages of affordable housing and that state law should not nullify local zoning.

As a practicing lawyer for almost 30 years, I know that (1) facts are stubborn things, and (2) biased mudslinging never withstands scrutiny. I decided to run for Berkeley City Council because the progressive values of District 8 have not been reflected in City Council votes over the last four years. I am writing today because District 8 voters deserve to know the truth about the policy differences between the candidates. And there are true policy differences from which to choose.

Affordable Housing: If California passes broad-brush legislation such as that originally set forth in the Senate Bill proposed earlier this year (SB 827) — which would have required cities to allow 5 to 7 story buildings within a ¼ to ½ mile of transit, broadly defined to include streets with regularly scheduled bus service — it is not hard to see that we could have tall buildings on virtually every block of Berkeley. The map prepared by Thomas Lord on Jan. 4 is not “fake,” for the reasons stated in his recent op-ed in the Daily Planet.  It was based on a map that the Metropolitan Transportation Commission had drawn up depicting “transit priority project areas.” [Editor’s note: Berkeleyside removed the term “fake” from the op-ed once we learned the basis of the map].

In July, l spoke with Savlan Hauser, a former Zoning Adjustments Board commissioner and supporter of Lori Droste. Standing on her doorstep, we looked at a copy of Lord’s map. Hauser did not dispute that it essentially reflected the original iteration of the bill. What she and I talked about, and what I consistently discuss with District 8 voters, is the policy that drives this type of legislation. That discussion is important because even though SB 827 died in committee, legislation like it will continue to be introduced. That is what makes this a policy choice, and I have been clear and consistent about my policy position — on doorsteps, at forums, and at the house party Hauser attended months later in September.

I do not believe the supply-side theory that building market-rate development will solve the affordability crisis. We also need to partner with non-profit builders to create as much dedicated affordable housing as we possibly can —including housing for teachers, city employees and working families. I don’t see a shortage of market-rate housing in Berkeley, but I do see a need for District 8 leadership to ensure that the community receives benefits, including higher percentages of affordable housing, commensurate with the benefit “up-zoning” gives to developers — who, not surprisingly, have not donated to my campaign.

I support new housing in every district in Berkeley. The question for me is not whether we build more housing. The question is who plans it, and whether we plan it wisely. To those of you who are troubled by state law that would nullify local zoning and planning, and who believe that new housing should maximize affordability to prevent displacement, I ask for your vote. This is a policy position — and falsely accusing one candidate of lying about any other candidate’s position disregards the intellectual integrity of the debate we should be having.

Recognizing this, George Beier, in the Berkeleyside comment section, asked each current District 8 candidate to answer questions he posed, with specificity, regarding our housing positions. I submitted my responses as a comment on Berkeleyside on Oct. 10th, following responses by Russ Tilleman and Alfred Twu on October 9th. At the time of this submission (around noon on Oct. 15th), there is no response from Lori Droste. The omission is notable. It would seem that a candidate who has a supporter publicly claiming her positions are being “distorted” would welcome the opportunity to answer Beier’s questions and clearly state what positions she holds on the questions posed.

Homelessness: I am also running for office because we need decisive District 8 leadership to move forward with a “housing first” approach to address homelessness. I would have voted “yes” on the Oct. 3, 2017 City Council motion to fund Berkeley’s Pathways project because I firmly believe that our budgets reflect our values. Pathways is a project that provides transitional housing for the homeless as a “pathway” to permanent housing. I fully support this “best practice” approach —which is to first provide stable, short-term housing, and then to provide permanent housing referrals, drug addiction, mental health and other social services needed to transition out of homelessness within 3 to 6 months. Councilmember Droste abstained from that vote. [Editor’s note: Droste later joined the rest of the City Council to unanimously approve the project.]

I have been committed to the success of Pathways from the outset, and I will roll up my sleeves to work side by side with the Mayor and the other councilmembers who worked tirelessly to establish transitional housing and services for the homelessness in Berkeley. Opened only a few months, Pathways has already found permanent housing for twenty people.

Minimum Wage: As Berkeleyside readers know, an op-ed was published on Oct. 8 by labor activists and organizers explaining why they support my candidacy. I am honored to have endorsements from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 1021 and the Alameda Labor Council (AFL-CIO), because they know I am not just campaigning to stand with labor on minimum wage and living wage issues. Born in Western Pennsylvania to a proud union family, I will stand with labor because it is at the core of who I am.

Leadership: I am also honored that my hard work and leadership on the Mayor’s Task Force to Save Alta Bates hospital has earned me the endorsement of the California Nurses Association.

I hope you will join with my union supporters at CNA, SEIU 1021, and the Alameda Labor Council, and the other progressive organizations that have placed their trust in my candidacy — the Berkeley Tenants Union, Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, Berkeley Progressive Alliance, Berkeley Citizens Action, Berkeley Progressive Student Association (PSA), and the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club. As the Green Party said in endorsing me: “Mary Kay Lacey’s victory will be a victory for the people.” That is why I am running. I hope to have your vote.

Mary Kay Lacey is an attorney and a candidate for the District 8 seat on the Berkeley City Council.