Interview of Shirley Dean: Written Version

 October 22, 2021     

  • Where were you born?

I was born in Colorado and lived my early years in Minneapolis, Minnesota until my father died in May 1945 when I was 10 years old.  

  • When did you come to Berkeley?

After about a year or so after the death of my father we were homeless for a short time, prompting my mother, sister and me to move from Minnesota to join my paternal grandparents in Berkeley.  We lived with them for awhile before my mother found a job and we settled into a small house on Sacramento Street near Channing.   While living in that same house, I attended what was then called Willard Junior High School, Berkeley High School and went on to graduate from the University of California, Berkeley.  After I married in 1956, I lived for about two and half years at the California Youth Authority facility, Fricot Ranch School for Boys, in San Andreas, California where my husband was a counselor.  We moved to Richmond, so my husband could obtain a Guidance and Counseling Degree from San Francisco State.  After about two years, we moved back to Berkeley in 1961 and haven’t left since, first living on Bonita Street and then around 1970, my husband and two sons moved to our current home in the north Berkeley hills.

  • Did you come from a political family?

Yes, at the foot soldier level.  My mother was a volunteer distributing literature and walking precincts in the two campaigns to elect Hubert Humphrey Mayor of Minneapolis. We would have lots of wide-ranging discussions at the family dinner table every night about issues and how things were going – in Humphrey’s first campaign which was unsuccessful in 1943, and during the second in 1945 when he won.  My father was starting a small business so there was more talk between those times when Humphrey brought about an expansion of the Minnesota Democratic Party with the Farm Labor Party.  My mother remained a life-long supporter of Mr. Humphrey and would always hark back to what she thought he would support or oppose. 

  • Who were some of the figures who made an impact on you when you were younger? 

Foremost it was my mother who had suddenly become a single parent that had to provide a home for two children.  She worked hard and long to teach herself a skill – sewing in one of those infamous sweatshops, rising to become a supervisor and eventually a tailor in a retail store and then operating her own clothing alteration business.  Second, there was her brother, John, who to me was both a national and personal hero.  He survived the Army landing in Normandy and then marched all the way to Germany.  He wanted me to learn something about the parts of Europe he was in so he sent me postage stamps that he collected along the way and when he returned teaching me “father” things like how to map a football game!  I missed my father so much.

  • What were some of the political events which made an impact on you growing up?

By the end of 1945 I was 11 years old.  I had experienced the special thrill of seeing my mother’s reaction when Hubert Humphrey became Mayor of Minneapolis. Then in April, I saw the end of a political era when FDR passed away and for the first time, I experienced the eerie quiet of a big city in mourning with people in the streets openly crying.  A month later, almost to the day, my own father died and I felt abandoned and cried again.  Four months later WWII ended, and I heard and felt the joy and happy exuberance that came from victory.  I heard the shouting and saw the dancing and people who were normally subdued while keeping a polite distance away, embracing strangers.  It was a year that words cannot ever adequately describe.

  • You went to Berkeley High and UC Berkeley – what did you study at Cal?

Berkeley High was a mixed experience during which I learned to play the clarinet (not too badly) and oboe (quite badly).  I played in the Young People’s Symphony and the BHS orchestra and Marching Band when the City held parades through the Downtown before Cal football games.  I loved those times and also participating in the plays and musicals produced by the famous Florence Schwimley who would be honored when the new Little Theater in the large Community Theater complex would be named after her.  The musicals she produced were surprisingly good and whenever they did ones like The Wizard of Oz, I got to play a munchkin because of my height.  I loved it! 

I had good grades in what was supposed to be a high-level academic program which I found to be utterly boring, uninspired and not worth paying attention to.  I had a reasonable social life and went on dates to school dances, but BHS had sororities and fraternities which I wanted to be a part of, but was excluded based on my address so I spent a fair amount of time trying hard not to care.   

Immediately after high school I entered Cal at age 16 which I came to realize was a huge mistake because no one on the campus cared about some pipsqueak freshman among the thousands that were entering at the same time. I started as a pre-med, did a lot of fundamental work in public health, and quickly got bored sitting in large lecture halls with hordes of other students.  I lived at home and worked many hours each week and every weekend at the Campus Bookstore on Bancroft to pay my education expenses.  I finally decided to walk away from medicine and instead study to become a medical social worker.  In four years, I took my Bachelor’s Degree in social work with honors and walked away from the campus to get married and go live with my new husband in a California Youth Authority facility, Fricot Ranch School for Boys, where I held essentially a minor job checking boys out for visits with their families.  I didn’t put my degree to work until I returned to the Bay Area and got a job with Kaiser Hospital in Oakland as a medical social worker while my husband pursued a Guidance Counselor certificate.  After he graduated, he worked in an elementary school in Fremont, then joined the staff in the Berkeley Unified School District working to desegregate the schools and placing guidance counselors at each school site, eventually ending up at Berkeley High School.  I resigned from Kaiser in 1965 to stay home and care for my first child.

  • You started the Bonita-Berryman Neighborhood Association – tell us about that.  When?

The Bonita-Berryman Neighborhood Association was started by a group of neighbors living on Bonita between Rose and Berryman when in the late ‘60s a man came knocking on our doors.  He had a strong German accent and introduced himself as Hans Hagen.  He said he wanted to demolish the two existing Victorian houses at the southwest corner of Bonita and Berryman, and he wanted us to see a model of the 22-unit apartment house he intended to build in their place at 1910 Berryman.  Our immediate reaction was to get organized to fight against the proposed development.  We knew nothing about zoning or city procedures.  We thought what was built around us indicated the zoning for our area and were horrified to learn later that according to the zoning in our area, the more land you put together, the bigger and higher you could build something new.  There were no demolition controls and no policies that provided for historic preservation.  We showed up in force at staff offices, Planning Commission meetings, and Council meetings.  We filed a lawsuit against the development. No one listened, although then Councilmember Sweeney tried to explain it to us, it was all to no avail as the necessary permits were issued, the houses were demolished and the building went up. In the years that followed, the city experienced a long series of eye-rolling clashes with Mr. Hagen who tried to avoid rent control by calling the building a church.   But that’s a whole other story in and of itself!    

  • Tell us about your work on the Landmark Preservation Ordinance (1974) with Fred Tamke, Carl Bunch (and Richard Ehrenburger)

While working on the Bonita Berryman Neighborhood’s issues, I came into contact with Roz Lepawsky, the working head of Urban Care. Inspired by the national response regarding saving Grand Central Station in New York and a proposed San Francisco preservation ordinance, an Urban Care subcommittee had formed under the leadership of one of their directors, Fred Tamke.  Fred was the president of the Claremont Elmwood Neighborhood Association at the time and a San Francisco-based advertising executive.  He brought additional information about preservation in the cities of Chicago and New Orleans so he was knowledgeable, very focused and energetic about getting a strong preservation ordinance passed in Berkeley.  Fred always maintained that doing this was the first thing and only after that was done, we would then form a formal preservation group to keep watch over what we had done.  He worked with Warren Widener from the beginning, and knew the Mayor was agreeable to passing a preservation ordinance but it had to be of real help to all neighborhoods.  So in addition to involving people such as William Walker and Eugene Troupe from South Berkeley and Martha Nicoloff from central Berkeley, a working group was composed of Thornton “Carl” Bunch, a labor attorney who actually wrote the proposed Landmarks Preservation Ordinance, Elinor Ritchey, Helena Lawton, JoAnn Price, Lesley Emmington, Richard Ehrenburger, and myself. 

Our strategy to get the ordinance approved was to first generate public interest in preservation.  In 1971, we got The Berkeley Gazette to run a series of articles featuring beautiful photographs and informative commentaries regarding Berkeley’s architectural heritage.  In that same year, we ran Greyhound-size buses that couldn’t be missed on the narrow streets of the Berkeley Hills carrying people to tour Maybeck and Morgan open houses during a National Conference of Architectural Historians being held in San Francisco.   The tours were immediately sold out at $15 a ticket and we later found out that the architectural historians were scalping the tickets to their buddies for around $100 each.  However, we felt great because we accomplished getting public attention!

Unfortunately, in 1972 Fred suffered a heart attack and died and the working group vowed to continue working to get the ordinance approved in his honor. The Council held the first public hearing on Urban Care’s proposed ordinance in November 1972 and responded by stating they wanted to adopt a preservation ordinance. This began a series of meetings to review and amend the ordinance which was finally adopted in 1974, and the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA) was born with Lesley Emmington becoming their first president.

In looking over these last years, it is clear that the Landmarks Preservation Ordinance is one of the few actions that has had a profound positive and lasting impact on our City.  At first, we worked for it because of the beauty and sense of history it brought to our lives.  Today, we have come to fully realize the additional immense environmental benefits that flow from preserving what has already been built.

  • What motivated you to run for Berkeley City Council in 1975?

In 1971, the Council appointed me to the Planning Commission probably because I wouldn’t keep quiet about the new building at 1901 Berryman.  I served on the Planning Commission until 1975, part of the time as President.  Deciding to run for a seat on the Council didn’t come quickly. It took four years and four issues to move me into thinking I could help make things better for the city by serving on the Council.       

Primarily I wanted to complete my vow to get the Landmarks Ordinance approved in honor of Fred Tamke. In late 1974, about the same time as the Council expressed interest in adopting a Landmarks Preservation Ordinance, my husband and I worked with Urban Care to publish a 1975 appointment calendar featuring 12 of Berkeley’s architectural gems.  The calendar was a huge financial and public relations success. I later donated several copies of that first calendar to the Berkeley Historical Society for your files.  Then in early 1975, after I had decided to run, in an effort to cement my connection to landmarks preservation, I held my first major political fund-raiser event featuring a tour of the Spring Mansion in North Berkeley.  A really interesting experience because the current tenant was then in daily contact with the stars.

Secondly, during ’71 – ’75, I was also appointed by the Council to serve on the Waterfront Advisory Board, a special subcommittee to determine land uses for “Berkeley’s Front Door,” the almost at capacity garbage dump on our Bay shoreline, an area that was proposed to become a huge shopping mall.  In the effort to instead convert that area into a magnificent state park, I became aware of the great lack of open space for so many Berkeley neighborhoods.  In response Ed Bennett, Recreation Commissioner, and I got together and wrote Measure Y, a five-year tax increase that would go to acquisition and renovation of park and recreation space. Not only did I help write the measure, my kids are pictured in its campaign brochure, and my mother unleashed her Hubert Humphrey campaign skills by walking miles, in unremitting rain, knocking on doors.  Much to everyone’s surprise, including ours, we won in November 1984. 

While learning about our open space shortage, I also learned how much Berkeley’s neighborhoods were concerned with a greatly increasing rate of drug usage.  In 1971, there was much criticism of the formerly highly-respected Police Department regarding their handling of protests regarding the University and the war in Vietnam.  As a part of the left’s response “to take the initiative,” a measure sponsored by the Black Panthers entitled “Community Control of the Police” was placed on the April 1971 ballot. It divided the Police Department into separate entities placing one each in different areas around the city.  I along with others opposed it and “Separate but Equal” did not fly, and the measure did not pass.  

Lastly, I had to drill down and get acquainted with the murky details of urban planning and zoning.  Another initiative was presented to the voters for the purpose of preserving older buildings from being demolished and replaced by new “ticky-tacky” apartment buildings. It was titled the Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance (NPO) and provided that notice of residential development be given to the neighbors within 300 feet of the project, followed by a public hearing before the Zoning Board which was appealable to the City Council, before any new residential construction or demolition could take place.   I initially thought that objective standards built into a zoning ordinance should be met rather than having to rely on approvals/denials granted by individuals that could change with each election.  I felt we needed some new housing compatible with existing neighborhoods, but none whatsoever was being built.  However, the proposal was approved by the voters in April 1973, and ultimately, I voted to fully incorporate its procedures into the City’s Municipal Code.  I remember that the very first housing project that came to the City Council under the NPO had to do with objections over its design.  Notwithstanding that experience I came to embrace its process because it allowed for consideration of factors like view and tree protection, backyard privacy and sunlight issues to enter into the design of new housing.  The idea was for neighbors and developers to find agreement before a permit was approved.  As Council and Zoning Board members changed, I think it worked at some times, but unfortunately, depending upon the people hearing the proposal, [at other times] it just didn’t work at all.

And, with all this happening, I made up my mind to run for a seat on the City Council, simply because I thought Berkeley could do better and I wanted to be part of that happening.   I would sometimes dream about sitting at the dais in Council Chambers and happily stopping the bulldozers from destroying our history.     

  •   You ran as an independent?   How did you mobilize votes?

In 1971, Mary Widener, who played a major part in her husband’s campaigns, approached me to become involved in the April 1971 campaign in which Warren was being challenged by Ying Lee Kelley for Mayor.  I agreed and became heavily involved in helping Warren win that election and also the one in 1973 – both of which featured strong slate campaigns on both sides.  That experience convinced me that many voters wanted to choose individuals that appealed to them based on issues that concerned them and what they related to in each candidate, rather than vote for a pre-determined group that the voter had not been involved in selecting and which contained another person that they didn’t know much about or actually didn’t like.

In 1975, both Widener and I declared we were running as independents early on.  My husband developed a citywide contact campaign for me that involved at least one sign with my name in every block face throughout the City.  Information was carefully kept not only for future donations and expanding contacts but for “get out the vote” purposes.  It was a campaign of direct and personal contact, followed by public declaration through a front yard or window sign.  This was done at the same time as the Berkeley Democratic Club (BDC) and on the other side the April Coalition which had re-emerged as Berkeley Citizens Action (BCA) was campaigning to elect their own selected slate endorsements that supported their platforms.

  •   What characterized for you the City Council in 1970s?

All of the Councils in the 70s were interesting and different but what stands out in my memory was the period that started with the April 1971 election in which Loni Hancock, Ira Simmons and D’Army Bailey were elected to the City Council and ended in August 1973 with the recall of Bailey.  It was a period accurately characterized by hostile confrontational behavior within a shield of secrecy.

The 1971 election theme was “New Blood” presented by an April Coalition slate that featured a black attorney with a law degree from Yale, D’Army Bailey, and his friend, Ira Simmons, Councilmember Loni Hancock and UC student Jeff Rudolph, that was endorsed by Congressman Ron Dellums, Assemblyman John Miller and County Supervisor John George. 

Bailey and Simmons had come to Berkeley together a short time before the election and they were said to be living together in a large expensive home in the North Hills.  In spite of lots of investigative reporting, Bailey and Simmons never revealed the names of their donors or the amounts given to their apparently substantial income as they openly spent large amounts on the campaign including an office on Telegraph Avenue. In the campaign they promised to stop “heroin pushing, make the streets safe from our police, stop job discrimination, make inexpensive housing a reality, fund the finest child care, provide tax relief, and bring humanity and appreciation of our local beauty to our zoning laws.” 

The slate won, except for Rudolph, the student.  The fourth Council seat went to Ed Kallgren, an attorney, and with Widener being elected Mayor over existing Councilmember Wilmont Sweeney. National newspapers declared the win as the first radical take-over of city government. At the first meeting of the new Council after the election, Hancock, Bailey and Simmons refused to stand and pledge allegiance to the flag.  In response, the city of Albany said allegiance twice, once for them and once for Berkeley.  The news reports were wild and widespread and it only stopped when Councilmember Kallgren stepped forward and arranged for the pledge to be dropped from future Council meetings except for once a year.  

By 1973 having seriously offended every single person on the Council, as well as City staff, and citizens who appeared before the Council, recall papers were filed against D’Army Bailey with the support of Councilmember Sweeney, who publicly called Bailey a son-of-a-bitch.  A recall committee was formed stating Bailey was personally nasty, that he called everyone who disagreed with him a racist, refused to ever back down, and engaged in endless parliamentary squabbles that forced Council meetings to last far into the night and get nothing done. The April Coalition candidates for the next Council election, Margot Dashiell, Peter Birdsall, Councilmember Ying Lee Kelley and Lenny Goldberg, cited differences with Bailey and stated that he was no longer associated with the Coalition, but nonetheless they called for defeat of the recall. A National Committee Against the Recall was formed with Julian Bond, and a Congressman from Georgia and a Manhattan Borough president as co-chairs.  Among a long list of supporters from all over the country were some 43 Berkeley residents, including Mary Jane Johnson, Helen Moncharsh, Maudelle Shirek and prominent black ministers James Stewart and Cecil Williams.   Councilmember Hancock also did not support the recall, saying only that recalls were “not acceptable” to her.  There was widespread speculation that the Coalition never really knew anything about Bailey and Simmons,  and that they had been added to the slate because of the need for blacks to be part of it.  However, the voters had the last word and Bailey was soundly recalled.  Not too long after his defeat, Bailey left Berkeley stating that he was through with politics and would henceforth be talking about economics.  

The whole process left me feeling disgusted and a wide, permanent distance between the Coalition, which was to become Berkeley Citizens Action (BCA), and the Berkeley Democratic Club (BDC) had been cemented in place.   I also developed a firm belief that Berkeley needed an ordinance requiring the disclosure of campaign donors with a limit on contribution amounts.  Councilmember Sue Hone would soon put forward just such an ordinance.

  •   Looking back now, do you understand the bitterness and factionalism of the City Council?

Prior to the Free Speech movement, Berkeley seemed to be a smoothly run city.  Led by a Republican Mayor, we had voted to tax ourselves to underground the new BART system so that we didn’t create a line that would divide the City between haves and have nots.  Residents were proud of that, but subsequent local elections were more focused on the past – what bad things x had done to y, rather than expressing a plan to achieve a shared future vision – for example, a way for each and every neighborhood to have accessible open space for a growing population or for how to achieve affordable housing within the confines of our limited land area.  It would take the environmentalists and the stark reality of climate change to bring those concerns into focus, and even at this point, I am concerned that we still haven’t found the way to civil discourse that is necessary to effect real change.  

When the Vietnam War protestors and Free Speechers spoke up and were joined by counter-culture devotees, resentment over the then current political system was replaced by the anger of civil disobedience. At first it seemed it could be positive and that free speech was what people wanted to have.  But when windows were broken, stores were trashed and vehicles burned repeatedly, there was anger over the violent destruction and the strong-arm tactics of the police in response.  During these times, residents saw uniformed soldiers carrying guns in formerly peaceful streets, experienced the effects of tear gas, heard gunfire and read about people being killed and wounded. There seemed to be no one in charge, no one to turn to for leadership out of the mess. As a result, Berkeley began to lose its diversity and our population was no longer balanced between homeownership and renters.  In our lower income neighborhoods where the twenty-five percent of our black community lived, 60% were homeowners who were moving out and in our more affluent neighborhoods, UCB professors and professionals were moving out, as well. Political groups formed and re-formed and eventually there was no place for Republicans. It was the “leftists” versus what were now called the “conservatives,” who called themselves  “Berkeley liberals,” and their politics were much to the left of the liberals in national politics.   The name “Berkeley” became all too often “Bezerkeley,” a place which had its own foreign policy and crazy laws and events.

The platform of change facing Berkeley was described in 1976 in a small paperbound book entitled The Cities’ Wealth, Programs for Community Economic Control in Berkeley, California, written by the Community Ownership Organizing Project, Eve Bach, Thomas Brom, Julia Estrella, Lenny Goldberg and Ed Kirshner.  It featured photos of Ying Lee Kelley, Loni Hancock and Ron Dellums and proudly proclaimed that it contained policies that were “concrete” and “grounded in experience” and that based on “the legitimate powers of the city – to tax, own property, borrow capital at reduced rates, and own productive enterprises” these policies “can be made to serve the needs of the majority of community residents.” Carrying out the policies in this book centered around residential and commercial rent control.  Lawsuits abounded over rent control issues. Ultimately, Eve Bach was to become an Assistant Manager for Planning and Community Development in the city of Berkeley, resident taxpayers became more and more restless, and landlord/tenant relationships deteriorated.

  •   What issues do you remember working on in the City Council between ’75 and ’82? (barriers, waterfront development, housing)?

This period of time was dominated by not only traffic barriers, waterfront development and housing (rent control and the School for the Deaf and Blind site) but also a firefighter strike, the passage of Prop 13, smoking in public places and crime – not listed in any priority order. 

The first major issue I faced when I became a Councilmember was the firefighter strike that began in July-August of 1975.  Mayor Widener appointed the unlikely duo of Councilmember Billy Rumford and me to join him in talking with the Firefighter Union, so I found myself sitting all night in hotel rooms with men I barely knew; Mayor Widener, City Attorney Anderson and others talked at night about what to do, and in the daytime, Dan, my husband would cross the firefighters picketing my house so that he could join the picket line of Berkeley Unified School District employees, who were also on strike at the same time. It was all sort of friendly and deadly serious at the same time.  

The firefighters were striking because of pay lower than in other jurisdictions, and inadequate staffing levels and equipment.  The strike got exceptionally serious when firefighters started blocking trucks from using the seven freeway entrances to the City and picketing around the entrance to the Berkeley garbage dump to prevent trucks from entering.  To my relief after countless hours of discussion, we settled the strike in late September.

Then on June 8, 1978, statewide voters approved Prop 13 and we immediately had to get to work to significantly cut millions from the City’s budget. Berkeley voters did not support Prop 13 and to determine how the Council should handle the $8 million loss of revenue and possibility of the layoff of 300 City employees, a series of very hostile, packed Council meetings were held.  It was almost impossible to get anything approved due to the fierce opposition to everything proposed and it all had to be done, if it involved new taxes by the date set within Prop 13 itself.  The Council increased taxes, made cuts, avoided massive layoffs and continued, but with reduced funding, to provide funds for community agencies.  The outcry was hostile between the public and the Council but also between Councilmembers, publicly and in our offices, as the Council votes had to be put together to meet the fiscal crisis caused by Proposition 13. 

I remember the insults hurled at me by opposing Councilmembers through the open door of my office as I sat at my desk. I marveled at the courage and persistence shown by my colleagues, the BDC-endorsed Councilmembers that got the job done. I was deeply saddened by the April Coalition (BCA) Councilmembers who just seemed to criticize without letting up.  Much of the debate was over the amount of funding for community agencies to provide services.  It was a debate that would haunt almost every subsequent future budget, particularly as the amount to fund community agencies grew, and the concern grew about how much review of City program expenditures was appropriate.

While members of the Council were generally inclined toward the City’s Traffic Management Plan, I drew attention and more criticism because I was more knowledgeable about its details and comfortable with it than they were because it was developed when I was a member of its sponsor, the Planning Commission.  

The goal of the Traffic Management Plan was to protect neighborhoods by diverting traffic from neighborhood streets onto designated traffic corridors through the use of traffic control devices such as diverters, which were a new and very controversial idea. The Council approved the Commission’s plan and launched a process to make changes as we experienced results. Every step was very painful, but the Council kept at it and I was often the target of angry criticism due to my long involvement with the plan. In 1976, opponents made an unsuccessful attempt to ban all 65 diverters (Measure 0) and in 1977, they submitted another initiative (Measure E) that would retain 24 diverters but eliminate all the others.  Opponents of the measure took its supporters to court trying to stop their initiative to remove diverters from being on the ballot. This was unsuccessful as was the ballot measure itself. The campaign against Measure E was sharp and I remember one incident when a “No on E” sticker was placed on the bumper of a small truck owned by an ardent supporter of E.  Apparently he drove around for a few days unaware of the sticker to the delight of his opponents. The biggest victory came when Tom Bates, then serving in the State Legislature, got a bill passed that allowed diverters to become acceptable traffic control devices.

There was little significant citizen resistance on the issue of waterfront development.  I was appointed to a special waterfront advisory committee and worked with Ed Bennett on the carefully detailed proposals put forward by Urban Care to reject building a huge shopping center on the waterfront and instead support a waterfront park.  Urban Care engaged many and varied professional planners and experts who spent untold hours presenting visuals and explaining plans for a park to the public and successfully turning Berkeley’s business community and residents into park supporters.  A different kind of fight would come later when the State wanted to make it a “recreation area” instead of a state park and how to get the owners, Santa Fe Railroad and George Murphy (not the actor), to back off from suing the City for a taking of the property. This was finally settled years later when limited development was approved by the voters and a lawsuit was won by the City. While in the end, it was City Council, East Bay Regional Park District and State actions that turned the garbage dump into today’s magnificent McLaughlin State Eastshore Park, I feel that not enough recognition has ever been given to the strong and consistent efforts made by Rosalind and Professor Albert Lepawsky through the organization they founded and supported, Urban Care, that led the effort to create the Park in the first place.

I do not remember a time when Berkeley wasn’t in a housing crisis.  Response took the form of rent and eviction controls and it seems as though every subsequent election contained some form of these controls usually as an initiative, with the April Coalition that became the Berkeley Citizens Action (BCA) group in support and the Berkeley Democratic Club (BDC) that became the All Berkeley Coalition (ABC) in opposition.  I had mixed feelings about all of this – outright opposed to some, sympathetic to others as it seemed to me that the problems were in the administration of some of the policies rather than in the policies themselves.  An example, in 1977, a rent control initiative (I believe it was Measure B) was on the ballot and a bitter fight ensued when the proponents of the measures clashed with the City Attorney over the costs to administer one of them (proponents said $100,000 – the City Attorney said over $1 million). Both failed at the polls.  In the meantime, students were actively complaining of needed housing and the banks were refusing to finance apartment buildings because of our rent control problems so no housing was being built.

In 1992, the Council was confronted with what to do about the 50-acre site, the School for the Deaf and Blind, which had been located for more than 100 years in Berkeley.  School Trustees announced they would move from Berkeley to Fremont due to earthquake hazards and Assembly Member Bates introduced a bill for the site be turned over to UC Berkeley.  Use of the site ballooned into a huge confrontational, shouting, land use controversy.  Neighbors were concerned about an increase in traffic to their already heavily traffic congested corridor. There was a push for City control of the site and a proposal by Councilmembers Hancock, Kelley and Denton to devote the site to park open space.  Others wanted the space to be used for housing for the elderly, a concept also supported by Councilmember Denton.  A group titled NABR (Neighborhoods are Berkeley’s Resources) headed by Martha Jones joined in support of elderly housing.  Alternative plans were presented.  Cal students wanted student housing and on May 30, 1979, the Daily Cal wrote an editorial that would prove to be prophetic. They wrote “Inadequate housing facilities can only lead to a raising of rents that will force out students and people living in low incomes sectors of the population from the city, destroying the City’s heterogenous identity.”  Assembly Member Bates decided to hold up on his bill until something was decided and he called for a compromise.

In 1981, a group of parents of blind students sued the School stating they should return to Berkeley because blind children should be taught in an urban center like Berkeley rather than in an isolated one like Fremont.  Also, the claims about earthquake hazards in Berkeley were found to be overstated.  Nothing much came of this and realizing that UC Berkeley could pretty much do what they wanted, but without stating that was the case, on May 26, 1981 I made a motion that called for the Planning Commission to review everything and come back with a plan that included both UC and the City.  The motion was approved by Councilmembers Bach, Dean, Feller, Sweeney and Washburn.  Voting no were Mayor Newport and Councilmembers Denton and McDonald.  Councilmember Fukson was absent.  That was a turning point in the debate and the plan that emerged was pretty much like you see it today.  Newspapers called it a “surprise,” BCA charged it was a blatant attempt to line up student votes, and Mayor Newport was furious – telling me so in no uncertain terms after the meeting was over and everyone was leaving.

Some issues, however, were more pleasant, such as the effort to ban smoking in public places.  It was tough going and seemed to go on endlessly, but the effects of the tension were reduced because I enjoyed working on and following it until the Council finally banned smoking and did not accommodate smoking and non-smoking in the same room. The secret of success was to keep at it and meet each small challenge with the resolve to create a healthier environment for people.  

  •   What led you to run for mayor in 1982?

The thought first occurred to me on May Day 1979 as I sat at the end of a line of chairs arranged in a straight line across the steps of Old City Hall occupied by John Denton, Veronika Fukson, and Florence McDonald, who had won seats on the Council, and Anna Rabkin, who had won the highly paid Auditor’s position.  Some 300 people had gathered that afternoon to celebrate the victory of Gus Newport over Warren Widener as Mayor on April 17, 1979.  It had been a hard campaign with Hollywood celebrity Ed Asner and Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda and their Campaign for Economic Democracy campaigning for Newport and his slate.  I cried at the results, but Warren was calm and relaxed, saying he felt relieved of the pressures of the office and now he would have time to spend with his family.  

The May Day ceremony was proclaimed as “The People’s Inauguration” with a playbill that featured appropriate May Day art.  The Master of Ceremonies was Alameda County Supervisor John George. Greetings were sent by Congressman Ron Dellums. The Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 was performed, gospel music was provided by the Voices of Legacy, and the new Mayor was introduced by his mother. Mayor-elect Newport gave a forgettable speech in which he stated that if a radical was someone who waited for change and finally got there, then he was proud to be a radical. So, I sat through the ceremony at the end of the row of chairs completely ignored and subsequently found out how such a placement made it easy for newspapers to crop me out of the picture.  But I sat there, listened and had fleeting thoughts about how I would like to be Mayor. 

With all of the issues that led up to the 1979 election that led to Gus Newport becoming Mayor, and my silent musings over running for Mayor myself, between 1979 and 1982 I was becoming increasingly worried about businesses leaving Berkeley and the overall economic well-being of the City.

Faced with a declining industrial revenue and jobs base, in September or October, Mayor Newport proclaimed that the Excar 1, said to be the world’s first ready for production electronic powered automobile, would be produced in Berkeley.  The Excar 1 was promoted by a Texas businessman, Edmond X Ramirez, who had a rather shaky financial background, but after reforming was said to have invested some $3 million in this new car and had attracted investors such as tv stars Pat Boone and Donna Douglas of Beverly Hillbillies fame. A sleek blue prototype that seats 5, designed by Pietra Frua who had done design work for BMW. Maserati and Lamborghini, was displayed for one day in a press conference held by the Mayor.  It was claimed that the car had met all standards in a test run held at the Ontario Motor Speedway in Southern California.  It was powered by 24 six-volt batteries that could be charged overnight in either a 110 or 220 electrical outlet and would cost around $9,000 (’79 dollars). 

All the PR stops were pulled out and the car was driven through the Downtown surrounded by a U.S. Army marching band, clowns, jugglers and The Dancing Dills (a group of women dressed in dill pickle costumes). There was lots of press, national and local.  Speeches were made and Mayor Newport presented Mr. Ramirez with a key to the City and said he wanted to buy one.  The deal that had been agreed to, but never put before the City Council, was that the City would help the car company get some $6.5 million in loans in exchange for a percentage of the before tax profits and a commitment that 320 jobs would be offered to Berkeley residents, and within 18 months, some 10,000 cars would roll off the assembly line.  Detractors said the results from the test were not as claimed and that it all couldn’t be done as presented.  That was the first and last time I ever saw the car, and apparently only one prototype was ever built and as far as I know, it disappeared shortly after the press conference and nothing about this plan was ever said about it again. I was disappointed and felt embarrassment for my City and our Mayor.

While Mayor Gus Newport was affable, charming and talked to each of us on the Council, in the next few years I saw Berkeley deteriorating as he spent countless hours traveling abroad and participating in foreign affairs which he really enjoyed.  The press dubbed him as “Galloping Gus,” one even referring to him as an “American Ambassador.”  Berkeley’s streets had grass growing in the cracks, sidewalks were full of trip hazards, trash was everywhere especially in the Downtown, neighborhoods increasingly complained about crime and open drug dealing on the streets and in the parks, and no housing was being built as the City fought over rent control and banks would not finance either repairs or new construction in Berkeley.  My feelings that I could do better for Berkeley grew. Obviously, the voters were not as concerned as I was as Gus Newport was re-elected in 1982.  I will never forget, however, the torrent of angry ugly calls I received about how could I  “dare to challenge Gus on his foreign policy” activities.

The November 1982 campaign also involved several initiatives, one of which, Measure U, that I believe played a significant role in my unsuccessful attempt to become Berkeley’s Mayor.  Measure U called for a moratorium on burning waste to produce energy. I had been heavily involved in solid waste issues as a Councilmember who was appointed by the Council to be a member of the Alameda County Solid Waste Management Authority, which also included heavy involvement in the City’s efforts about how to reduce waste through recycling and disposing of the remainder given the approaching need to close our waterfront dump and create a waterfront park.  During that work, the City was investigating European facilities said to be successfully burning waste to produce energy.  Berkeley was only researching those claims and no energy plant was even close to being approved. However, the Measure U citizens’ initiative made it sound like the City had already approved a waste to energy plant.  I supported No on U on the basis that we were only doing a study, but Measure U was approved, and Berkeley began trucking its garbage to distant landfills. In 1984 a goal was set to recycle half of our garbage by 1991 and in 1988 the City formally determined that we couldn’t realize that goal as we were then recycling only 15% of the 144,000 tons of solid waste annually so we continued to truck the other 85% to the Los Altos landfill in Livermore at a cost of over $100 a ton.  No study that I know of has ever been done to determine how much greenhouse gas emission levels are affected by these daily garbage disposal trips that continue to this day. 

  •   In 1986, you rejoined the City Council in the first district elections.  How did Berkeley end up switching from city-wide to district representation? 

After 1982, I stayed active in Berkeley politics, attending countless meetings many of which were held in former Councilmember Kallgren’s living room, discussing what was happening in the City and what could be done. The idea of establishing District Elections through an initiative grew out of the many discussions that were held. Signatures were collected and now designated as Measure C, it was placed on the June 1986 ballot. It called for the establishment of eight Council Districts with all new councilmembers to be elected at a subsequent election for 2-year terms.  

The reasons for the measure were pretty simple – it created the opportunity for people from all areas of the City to place their problems before the City Council, opening up a diversity of ideas reflective of the whole City and it made it easier for people to be able to run and win an election.  All in all, I felt District Elections would make it harder for political groups to control the election process.   I was excited by the idea and worked hard for its adoption in the strongly fought campaign that followed. 

The then BCA-dominated Council immediately called it a “thinly disguised recall” of their endorsed Councilmembers. Tom Bates and Ron Dellums announced their opposition as did The Daily Cal which said Measure C was “anti-student” because the election that would decide its fate would be held in June when students would be back home – an argument that didn’t sit too well with other residents who resided in Berkeley all year long.  

The Council responded by putting two additional measures on the ballot that were alternatives to Measure C:  Measure D called for the establishment of a Charter Review Commission and Measure E called for the repeal of Measure C if Measure E received more votes that Measure C.  After a vigorous campaign led by Jared Peterson and Marilyn Coons, a former aide to Councilmember Hone, Measure C was approved and Measures D and E defeated.  On election eve as the votes came in, reporters at BCA headquarters pointed out that Mayor Newport had again been out of town throughout the campaign, and they photographed him sitting next to Councilmember Veronika Fukson as they both gave the middle finger salute.  The picture was distributed nationally.  On the other hand, Measure C supporters were not only happy about the win, they announced they were eagerly looking forward to the fight that would now occur between Nancy Skinner and Veronika Fukson, both of whom were in the newly formed Council District 1. That picture, and the previous arrest of Councilmember Fukson in March 1985 for shoplifting, put a wet blanket on the future of this articulate and outspoken member of the BCA.

But it wasn’t over yet.  District Elections would be effective at the upcoming November 1986 election.  Mayor Newport announced he would not run for re-election. Loni Hancock who was well remembered, but who was no longer very prominent, was nominated by BCA to run for Mayor against Dr. Phillip Polakoff who declined to identify himself as a progressive or liberal but instead chose to call himself a “pragmatic humanist” who had received the BDC/ABC nomination.  Further, BCA described their party as being against the “rampant development” that BDC/ABC candidates would bring and competing measures regarding the waterfront were on the ballot.  Measure P, sponsored by Urban Care, didn’t provide for any waterfront development and wanted continuation of the plan that had been originally approved.  Measure Q provided for development such as a hotel in the northern part of the park.  Supporters of Q maintained that it had to be approved so that Santa Fe could not claim a taking of their property without adequate compensation.  Councilmember Denton broke with BCA in supporting Measure P and I also supported Measure P and that the City would win any lawsuit brought by Santa Fe. The ugliness came when opponents said our support was only a cover up for Santa Fe to get the property and build their massive project when both Councilmember Denton and myself were strong supporters of creating a waterfront park. Both measures were approved by the voters, but under the law, the one with the highest number of votes would prevail.   

Nancy Skinner sued BDC leader David Shiver over an election door hanger which she claimed forced her into the runoff, and Pam Sanford charged Tom Bates for pressuring her by asking her to withdraw in favor of Nancy Skinner.  One of the last acts of the Mayor Newport-led Council was to place a repeal of District Elections, Measure I, on the upcoming November ballot.  

The election was held, repeal of District Elections was rejected by the voters, both Measure P and Q passed but Measure Q received more votes than Measure P so Measure Q prevailed.  Loni Hancock became Berkeley’s new Mayor indicating that the Newport era was over without actually saying so when she announced she would hire Pedro Negura as a staff member and let go Newport’s staff, Sean Gordon, and Mark Allen, who had run an unsuccessful campaign in 1975 for Council with the endorsement of the Communist Party.  Runoffs in Districts 1, 2 and 6 would be required.  Again, there were angry election-related questions, this time over a $100 contribution to Veronika Fukson’s campaign that was claimed to be made by her three-year old son.  In December 1986, the first Council based on District Elections was sworn in with a political line up that indicated a bare BCA majority: Loni Hancock (Mayor); Nancy Skinner (1); Maudelle Shirek (3); Ann Chandler (4) and Don Jelinek (7).  On the BDC/ABC side there was: Mary Wainwright (2); Shirley Dean (5); and Fred Weeks (8). Alan Goldfarb (6) had run as an independent.  

I would answer the question about how the City transitioned to District Elections by saying, the Council led the City into District Elections kicking and screaming all the way. All of which exhausted everyone – the candidates, those that were elected, both political groups, the electorate and the City staff who had to deal with the mechanics.

  •  What stands out to you from your time on the Berkeley City Council from 1986 to 1994?

Starting with high hopes that District Elections would bring about a more calm and measured approach to governance, 1986–1994 turned out to be a period of nationally-noted crime in Berkeley, resident unrest over development, increased drug problems and aggressive street behavior, and continued political change.

I do not hold that these crimes that made national headlines during this time are directly attributable to City Council actions, but they did establish a reputation about Berkeley and fueled an atmosphere within the City that weighed heavily on residents. Following the national uproar over the assassination of Oakland Superintendent of Schools Marcus Foster and the kidnapping of Patty Hearst in the 70s by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) and all that followed, Berkeleyans were edgy about any subsequent incidents and residents seemed to develop an “OMG-what next – hold your breath” atmosphere.  Anyone asked what stands out during these times cannot help mentioning the incidents that occurred:

a. In 1985, Rainbow Village was given permission to locate on Berkeley’s waterfront in spite of concerns expressed by the State Lands Commission and criticism that the Council violated its own rules about first consulting the Planning Commission and Zoning Board about land use. As the Village grew, the hotel and sports center filed a lawsuit over impacts on their business and Santa Fe, upset about the slow progress of waterfront planning, resubmitted their original plan to build a waterfront “Harbor Town.” Then the bodies of a man and a woman were discovered in the water just off the shore and Ralph “International” Thomas who had a nine-year history of previous convictions was arrested. The trial consumed 1986 with the reporters filming jury visits to the waterfront. International was found guilty, and sentenced to death with the sentence being upheld in the subsequent automatic appeal to the California Supreme Court.  Fliers were circulated claiming that International was “railroaded into the gas chamber by racism.”   Trees planted by the family of the murdered woman disappeared and it’s unknown what happened to the plaque placed on the waterfront by the family of the murdered woman.

b. In 1988, Enrique Zambrano, a member of the Waterfront Commission, was convicted of bludgeoning Professor Robert Mishell and his wife, Barbara, with a blunt instrument in their home in North Berkeley where he had worked as a building contractor.  He thought the Mishells were threatening to tell his wife about an extramarital affair and he told Luis Reyna, a fellow Commissioner, about what had happened.  Then, worried that Reyna would expose him, he decapitated and dismembered the body of Reyna.  He was arrested, convicted and sentenced to death.  The California Supreme Court upheld his sentence and last heard of in 2019, he was in prison.

c. In September 1990, Mehrdad Dashti held some 33 people hostage for seven hours in Henry’s Publick House, a bar popular with UC Berkeley students and alumni, that was located in the Durant Hotel.  Two were killed including the gunman and a UCB student, and seven were wounded.  It started when Dashti, who had an engineering degree from SF State, but who worked as a handyman, entered the bar carrying a briefcase that held 445 rounds of ammunition, a revolver, an assault type pistol and a 9 mm semiautomatic  gun.  He sat down, opened the briefcase and started shooting at the 70 or so people around him, about half of whom initially escaped.  Police from all over responded, including Berkeley’s Special Response Team.  Dashti sexually abused some of the hostages, and made bizarre demands such as asking that the San Francisco Police Chief drop his pants on national tv.  After seven hours, with little hope that talks would resolve the situation, the police stealthily crept in and he was shot and killed.  The gunman had a history of mental illness, but had obtained his weapons from a gun shop in El Cerrito.  Mayor Hancock and a group of students traveled to Washington to lobby for a ban on assault weapons which ultimately would pass under the leadership of Senator Diane Feinstein, but later would be allowed to expire.

d. In October 1991, Rosebud Denovo and Andrew Barnum, both homeless, were arrested when six explosive devices were discovered in their campsite located in the hills behind the Clark Kerr Campus.  She was said to be a highly intelligent, but deeply disturbed individual who had come to Berkeley to be part of an organized protest movement. She found it in the protest against UC over Peoples’ Park.  Almost a year later, in August 1992, she would break into the campus home of Chancellor Chang Lin Tien and his wife who were alerted by their alarm system.  After being escorted outside of their home by responding police, the police  searched for the intruder.  She was found hiding in a second-floor bathroom and was shot and killed by an Oakland Police Officer when she lunged at him with a machete.  Days of street protest over her killing followed.

e. In January 1992, as more proof of violence on the campus, the body of pre-med student Grace Asuncion was found by a custodian in the basement of Eshleman Hall.  It would take 24 years to find the person who murdered her, John Iwed, who died in 1993 of a drug overdose.

f. In June 1992, two-day old Baby Kerri was kidnapped from the arms of her mother in Alta Bates Hospital by a woman who claimed to be a social worker who was taking the baby to weigh her and never came back.  The kidnapping was featured on the tv show, America’s Most Wanted, and Whoopi Goldberg sent out pleas asking for tips on the kidnapper.  Tip #1060 paid off and a few months later a woman living in Richmond was arrested and Baby Kerri was returned to her real mother.

Within this context, the Council attempted to fulfill its responsibilities.  I was particularly unnerved by the receipt of a mysterious 21-page packet of papers that had been placed in my  council mailbox by an anonymous person.  The enclosed material seemed to be a newsletter from a group named P.A.C.E. (Pacific Atlantic Creative Exchange) that had been sent by the Berkeley Redevelopment Agency to an undeliverable name. The contents were in my estimation weird.  I forwarded the material to the then City Manager, Hal Cronkite, with the note that I was extremely concerned about what was happening and that in addition to this material, I was receiving stacks of complaints from residents that employees were watching television and holding personal telephone conversations during working hours.  I never had a response from the Manager about the mysterious package and while deeply concerned, I did not feel I could bring up a personnel matter without more substantial information.

There was no doubt that residents were unhappy about the state of the City.  Multiple complaints, mostly from residents of South and West Berkeley rather than in my own Council District, came daily into my office about drug activity in front of private homes, in the parks and within Section 8 subsidized housing.  I would meet with people, and Black ministers would plead for support to be given to the Police, but little seemed to make a real difference.  A resident Crack Cocaine Task Force and a special police task force unit were formed to address the problem, but drug arrests were a “revolving door” with the dealer out on the street within days of arrest, and in a review of the police unit, it was clear that more police would have to be hired.  Landlords and tenants alike were complaining that drug dealing tenants could not be evicted without being paid thousands to leave their rental unit.

In 1988, Mayor Hancock proposed to use drug sniffing beagles and enact tougher sentencing laws to stop the door from revolving.  The search to find a dog with a kinder, gentler image went out over the wire services.  In May 1989, the Council agreed to meet the dog, a cocker spaniel named Stride.  A field test had been planned by secretly putting small amounts of cocaine in a confined area.  Scores of people attended the meeting to meet the dog, and the public and Councilmembers were obviously enchanted by him, all except Councilmember Shirek who was opposed to the use of dogs by the police because of how they had been used in the Civil Rights Movement.  The vote on September 12, 1989 was to authorize the dog’s purchase ($10,000 plus $5,000 for future training) and refer the matter to the City Manager to work out a final contract.  Later, the Council would learn that Stride had failed parts of his field test which was attributed to the large number of people and photographers present.  But unproven wild rumors floated around that the dog hadn’t failed but had indeed discovered that some on the Council were users. Later still it was learned that Stride was too emotionally attached to his owner to be separated and the matter ended.  

The issue of public nudity brought worldwide attention to Berkeley in 1993 when Andrew Martinez was expelled from UC’s Berkeley campus.  He became known simply as “The Naked Guy,” and was named by the Daily Cal in their Best of Berkeley publication as The Best Activist.  A demonstration of nudity was sponsored by the X-plicit Players in Civic Center Park during which Martinez explained that the “capitalistic and work ethic and laws requiring clothing are tools used to stifle individual freedom of sexual expression.”  He appeared before the City Council one evening which prompted some in the audience to join him. This also prompted Councilmember Wainwright to propose a ban on nudity when the Council was told that public nudity was protected by the First Amendment and was legal in Berkeley.  The ban on public nudity except during performances given in live entertainment venues, nursing mothers and children under 10-years of age was approved on a 6 to 3 vote (Councilmembers Maio, Shirek and Spring opposed) in July 1993. I wholeheartedly supported the ban because nude adults walking around the city made me uncomfortable, and it was one more thing that had people laughing and pointing fingers at Berkeley and turned Council meetings into non-productive sideshows. The Committee to Preserve Civil Liberties formed and circulated a petition to reconsider and repeal the ordinance to no avail.  Small incidents of public nudity continued now and then and in 2006 we learned that Andrew Martinez committed suicide while in the Santa Clara County jail.

  •   What motivated you to run for mayor in 1994?  

I entered 1987 tired but full of hope that a new Mayor and District Elections would bring change. It turned out there were changes, e.g. 2-year terms were changed to 4-year terms and Council elections would be held in November, but there weren’t any real major modifications in the relationship between the April Coalition/BCA group and the BDC/All Berkeley Coalition group.  In the 1990 election, Hancock was narrowly elected Mayor over Fred Weeks, and BCA Councilmembers Ann Chandler, Nancy Skinner and Maudelle Shirek were re-elected.  BDC Councilmember Mary Wainwright continued.  I trounced Wavy Gravy, who ran on a platform of a chicken in every pothole, and Carla Woodworth was also re-elected.  Fred Collignon ran unopposed and unaffiliated in District 8, and Alan Goldfarb was re-elected as an independent.   The Council went forward in a pattern often with 5-4 votes dependent upon the issue.

In early 1994, President Clinton recognized Mayor Hancock’s work (in setting up a student intern program in the Bayer plant that was locating in Berkeley) and appointed Mayor Hancock as a regional representative to US Secretary of Education Richard Riley, where she was to work as a liaison to Washington D.C. for the States of California, Arizona, Hawaii, and Nevada and the island nation of Guam.  After Mayor Hancock resigned, the Council, leery of being without a Mayor until the upcoming election, appointed Jeffrey Shattuck Leiter as Mayor on March 23, 1994. He was a descendent of the historic Shattuck family, a prominent business leader and openly gay.  He frequently and consistently said he had always wanted to be Mayor, but did not want to undergo the give and take that was required in running for the office.  He stuck by that statement in spite of strong urging by Councilmember Woodworth to run.

During his short time in the Mayor’s office, he sought to calm Council relationships and worried about the continued deterioration of the Downtown with increasing concerns about aggressive panhandling and homeless people camping in the Downtown.  The Berkeley Cares program pushed the distribution of 25-cent paper vouchers which people could give to homeless people instead of cash.  The vouchers could be redeemed for food but not for alcohol or cigarettes.  The program had some success, but didn’t make a real difference.  

In December 1993, a subcommittee had been formed with Councilmember Spring as Chair and Councilmembers Collignon and myself as members.  We worked closely with the City Attorney to find the wording that would stand up to a legal challenge and presented a proposal to the Council in mid-1994. We had all agreed on what we ended up proposing, but to our surprise when it was presented to the Council, Councilmember Spring backed off from support.  However, the Council supported it on a 7–2 (Councilmembers Spring and Shirek) vote.  Mayor Leiter thought that it should be placed on the ballot of the upcoming election and a petition with several thousand signatures opposing it was received by the City.  In addition, the Council had also been looking at an Anti-Loitering Ordinance for a couple of years, and it was decided that it too would be on the same ballot.  

The anti-aggressive panhandling proposal Measure O was an advisory to the Council that asked the question:  Should the Council create a law prohibiting panhandling at night and near such places as ATMs, store fronts and parking meters, and prohibit sitting and lying on sidewalks?  The anti-loitering ordinance became Measure N, which prohibits loitering for the purpose of selling drugs in such places as parks, schools, recreation centers, and in front of retail liquor stores and boarded-up buildings.   Both measures were tied to the spending of $442,500 for new drug abuse and mental health programs, and $189,000 for renovation of the Veterans Memorial Building into a center for services to the needy. The funding was to come from the City ($100,000), from UC ($50,000) and the balance from HUD. The voters approved both measures in spite of strident opposition.

While all of this was going on, campaigning for Mayor which would be on that ballot as well was heating up.  BCA was openly hoping that both me and Councilmember Collignon would run so that Councilmember Jelinek would have a sure victory.  I wasn’t totally convinced about running and some of my supporters were saying I had too much baggage and urged me to run for Auditor, giving Collignon, who had only been around for two years, a better chance.  Fred Collignon was a Professor at Cal, and I couldn’t see how he could be both an active Mayor and a professor at the same time. I also didn’t know enough about him to be sure how strong he would be as he, up to this point, had never been involved in a tough election campaign.  I wanted the Mayor to be more than just a ceremonial figure but instead someone who would make real change. We both were making a promise to expand the Police Department by hiring some 18 more officers.   I was still thinking about whether to run when about two days before the deadline to file papers to run, Fred Collignon dropped out saying he didn’t want to split the vote and give the race to Jelinek.  To this day, I don’t know what specifically influenced him to make that decision as we never had any real discussions about this matter.  

The election was held on November 8, 1994.  Winning outright were Maio (1), Wainwright (2); Shirek (3): Spring (4); Wooley-Bauer (5); Olds (6) unopposed; Woodworth (7); and Armstrong (8) unopposed.  Councilmember Jelinek and I faced a runoff which was a catastrophe for my campaign as he had received more votes than I did in the primary and we had to immediately move our office to a new location that was blocks away from our original headquarters.  Under great time pressure and having to do enormous hours of work, everyone pitched in and we went on to win the election.  I say “we” because it truly seemed to me it was indeed all of us that won. I emerged as Berkeley’s new Mayor surrounded by people that I truly respected who would become staff members in my new office.  Furthermore, without any intention, mention or fanfare, Berkeley emerged with an all-female City Council, another national mention! 

  •   Let’s talk about some of your accomplishments as mayor during your two terms as mayor (1994 – 98, 1998 – 2002):
Revitalizing the Downtown

When I took office as Mayor, it was readily apparent that our Downtown was in deep trouble with a ground floor vacancy rate of around 25%, a huge  trash problem, and a deteriorating appearance.  Our once great locally-owned department store, Hinks, had gone bankrupt and closed, other long-standing businesses associated with the City such as Educational Testing Services had fled to Emeryville, and Morrison’s Jewelry had left for Orinda. 

Prior to my election, Berkeley Rep was contemplating moving from Berkeley when they lost their lease in the Elmwood area.  They were convinced to stay and move to the Downtown, but they were struggling.  I started to work on revitalizing the Downtown on my first day in office.   It took two solid years of meetings to put together a financing package that involved a $4 million commitment from the City with the Berkeley Repertory Theater to raise $16 million to build a 600-seat theater alongside the existing 400-seat theater with a beautiful courtyard between the two. The City didn’t have $4 million lying around so I had to get the Council, over the strong objections of Councilmember Worthington, to agree to use Certificates of Participation, which require a yearly payment.  No operating subsidy was given to the Rep, but they had to meet certain requirements such as provide performances for our school children.  In 1997, it was all helped by the Berkeley Rep winning the Tony Award for the Best Regional Theater.

While Berkeley Rep would be the magnet for the formation of turning Addison Street between Shattuck and Milvia into an official Arts District we needed more to be done.  I didn’t know much about economic development, but what I read convinced me that to attract shoppers in a highly competitive environment like the Bay Area, you must offer shoppers something more than shopping.  They wanted an experience, and the experience in my vision was a thriving downtown that offered a combination of live theater, music and good food.  So we placed a $49 million bond measure, Measure S, on the November 5, 1996 ballot that would provide $30 million to seismically retrofit the landmark Main Library building, $15 million to seismically retrofit the City Hall building on Milvia, and $4 million for other purposes in the Downtown Civic Center area.  We knew that we already had the highest tax rate in the State so I put together a group of three experts from UC Berkeley who acted as consultants on the seismic issues to hold the costs down and we would need 2/3 of the voters to say yes.  Well, with hard work, we did it, with a 2/3 majority plus 86 votes!

The $4 million was used all over the Downtown, but some of it went directly into the Arts District, and I spent untold hours over such matters as a $100,000 loan to the Capoeira Arts Café; $500,000 to Freight and Salvage for acquisition of what had been a garage as an incentive that would help them raise $3 million for a 400-seat venue;  $240,000 in grants and a $350,000 loan to the Aurora Theater while they raised over a million privately and received another $1 million from their landlord to make a permanent home; and to convince the JazzSchool to locate at the entrance to the District and for the 5-story Art Tech Building which features a giant salamander crawling up its side, 21 units of housing and gorgeous metal gates at the other end of the District.  In between, the sidewalk features a poetry walk.  It was all based on six straightforward principles: 1) Start with a vision; 2) Work around a quality anchor like the Berkeley Repertory Theater; 3) add uses that will appeal to a diverse group of people; 4) cluster everything together for maximum impact; 5) use public funding that forms a partnership with the arts groups that have the capability to fulfill their financial commitment and 6) tie it all together with improved public infrastructure.  

The District initially attracted over $30 million in private investment and inspired an atmosphere of optimism and hope for the future. Berkeley was recognized nationally by Sunset and Diablo magazines and in April 2002, Berkeley received the Paine Knickerbocker Award, the grand prize in the Awards of Excellence competition held by the California Association for Local Economic Excellence.

Establishing the Berkeley Guides

I felt that a key part of a program to revitalize the Downtown was to ensure that people felt safe while there.  Under a contract with the City that provided some funding, the Guides were selected and paid to help people feel comfortable in the Downtown by the Options Recovery Services agency led by Dr. Davida Coady, a charming and altogether wonderful health activist and her husband Tom Gorham, who handled the administrative work.  I was convinced that Options was making a difference working with people who had been alcohol and drug abusers and I wanted them to help us address these problems in our Downtown.  The Guides were a great success in reaching out to people, reassuring visitors and residents while shopping, eating or going to the theater or movies in the Downtown.  They were also part of my campaign to clean up the streets from the large amounts of trash since they could keep an eye on where it was accumulating and make clean-up calls into Public Works.  Martin Sheen of TVs The West Wing series was a strong supporter of Options, and one of my most valued mementoes is the autographed photo he sent thanking me for my work with Options.  Options still provides valuable services from the Veterans Memorial Building, but unfortunately the Guides program was cut from the budget right after I lost my re-election in 2002.  However, some years later a similar, but not as successful program, called the Ambassadors would be funded.

Improving the Economic Future of the City:  New Businesses

I realized that the Downtown needed an economic shot in the arm, some visible proof that retail business could thrive in Berkeley.  The building on the corner of Shattuck and Allston had been constructed in the 1890s.  It has been used in a variety of ways until it finally blossomed into Edy’s, a “malt shop” beloved by residents for years but which in the Downtown’s economic downturn had finally closed leaving only fond memories of their extraordinarily delicious hot fudge sundaes. In 1996, the Eddie Bauer Company connected with Patrick Kennedy, the developer who had recently secured some proposed development approvals in the Downtown, because they wanted to put a new store in that location.  They also called me and it seemed that each day afterwards, I would have an extended phone conversation, soothing anxiety, explaining what was happening, outlining the benefits of being in Berkeley, and urging them to continue their discussions with our Planning Staff.  

The issue boiled down to whether the proposed development was a renovation or a demolition.  Under City regulations if less than 50% of the building was demolished it was a renovation for which a permit could be issued over the counter.  If more than 50% was demolished, it would have to go through public hearings before a permit could be issued.  A member of the City’s Landmarks Commission took a look at the plans and announced that false information had been provided and that the amount of demolition was actually 50.45% which would require public hearings before granting a permit. City staff investigated and concluded that the ruling that it was a renovation was correct.  In early October 1998, the Landmarks Commission responded by voting to landmark the building, which ignited protests and the pro and con sides lined up. This was very hard for me because of the clash of historic preservation versus what I saw as the desperate need for a new Downtown retail business.  I lined up on the pro Eddie Bauer side and cut the opening day ribbon later that same month.   

Eddie Bauer would remain for some years doing a good business with their biggest problem being a flood of teenagers entering the store at noon time.  Other merchants made similar complaints. but the School District refused to close the high school campus during the noon hour.  Long after I left the Mayor’s Office, Eddie Bauer closed for good in another economic downturn.

In this same time period, I spent equally huge amounts of time smoothing the way for a Pyramid Alehouse to locate in West Berkeley.  Headquartered in the Seattle/Portland area, they were looking for a Berkeley location.  They selected a vacant warehouse on Gilman, and they called me to find out about the possibility of opening there.  They proposed to build a brewery with a large restaurant seating more than 200, combined with on-site parking which would later be combined with an outdoor movie screen where people could watch from their cars.  I was completely sold on the idea, as I felt it would become an anchor destination for that area.  This proved to be correct, as later after Pyramid located there, today’s thriving Fieldwork alehouse located there and are doing a great business with their great food and happy atmosphere.  

Pyramid opened in 1997, and while the food wasn’t what you would call gourmet, it attracted crowds of people, especially around designated “nights” for groups.  It won the AIA East Bay Merit Award and also an award from the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association for Outstanding Re-Use.  After 18 years in Berkeley, Pyramid abruptly closed in 2015 saying they needed to focus on their Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington locations.

 I-80 Pedestrian Overpass

Many people, including Mayor Hancock, had put forward the idea of constructing a pedestrian overpass over the congested I-80 freeway which would connect Aquatic Park with McLaughlin Eastshore State Park. When I became Mayor it was still just a great idea.  Around 1995 the city of Emeryville forfeited some State money and I set out to claim it for Berkeley’s long sought pedestrian overpass. Getting the money was successful and there was great support by bicycle, pedestrian and disabled advocates.  For over two years, the staff held numerous meetings on the design and various improvements that were needed at both landing areas.  Both the Planning and Waterfront Commissions unanimously approved it.  I particularly remember numerous contacts with Mark Liolios, who should be commended for the huge number of hours he spent attending meetings, reviewing contracts and reports, and urging Council support. Kudos also to the bicycle community for ensuring that the broad curves, allowing great bicycle usage, were a part of the design.  It opened on February 27, 2002.

The bridge is 15 feet wide, which makes it one of the widest crossings in California so that it can be used by walkers, people pushing baby strollers, bike riders and wheelchair users.  It cost $6.4 million to build and was recognized as a merit winner in the 2003 National Steel Bridge Alliance competition.  

In 2003, artwork was installed on the Aquatic Park side landing.  In 2020 that artwork was removed at the urging of the Civic Arts Commission because of the cost of needed repair.  The artwork had always been somewhat controversial, but, to be frank, I miss it and had hopes it could somehow be retained.

Restoring the Marin Circle Fountain

The Fountain, designed by John Galen Howard, was built in 1911 and destroyed in the 1950s when a truck coming down Marin Avenue lost its brakes and it had been an eyesore until the early 1990s, several individuals who wanted to restore the Fountain contacted me separately.  I simply brought them together and the Friends of the Fountain and Walk took off.  Their energy and private financial assistance toward that goal was more than amazing—it was spectacular.  There were many who contributed, but of particular note was Phillip O’Hay, a building contractor who contributed personal money and resources toward the restoration project.  On February 4, 1992, I obtained from the City Council approval of the concept of restoring the Fountain, surrounding balustrades and Fountain Walk through a private effort.  

On September 15, 1996, a gray Sunday morning, Gerry Tierney, acting as Master of Ceremonies, opened the dedication ceremony, which was attended by a huge crowd of a thousand people.  Sylvia McLaughlin poured water from the Bay into the Fountain.  Vice Chancellor Horace Mitchell followed with water from the Hearst Mining Circle, the other fountain in Berkeley designed by Howard.  Thomas Hughes. a student from the School Board, added water from Marin Creek.  Then Sarita Waite, who had restored the sculpture of the bear cubs in the Fountain added what was said to be very good champagne.  I arrived at the scene on a 1912 fire truck and pulled the switch that started the water flowing.  Music was provided by the Cal Straw Hat Band, the UC Berkeley Men’s Octet and the Berkeley High School Jazz Band.   

The water has flowed ever since to the delight of everyone.  The Friends have continued to this day to provide actual maintenance and repair in cooperation with the City, in what is recognized as the largest grassroots effort in Berkeley’s history for the improvement of a public space.  To me it is The Fountain of Smiles, and I recall finding in a book about creating beauty in urban spaces, that the beauty of a city is based on how many fountains there are.  In that vein, I still hope that a way will be found to restore the non-functioning fountain in Civic Center Park to the kind of amenity that brings beauty and serenity to its surroundings as does the Marin Circle Fountain.

Vietnam Memorial: the Wall that Heals

On Veterans Day, November 11, 1996,  many people were stunned when I unveiled a bronze plaque honoring 22 Berkeley residents who died in the Vietnam War.  The plaque was in the foyer of the Veterans Memorial building that looks out on Civic Center Park, once named in honor of Ho Chi Minh, a least likely location for something like this to happen. Many were further stunned to learn that Country Joe McDonald, the least likely catalyst for something like this, was the person who did the work to make this happen.  I reassured people that the War was not the issue, but instead this was being done in the name of love and justice and to send the message that all were welcome home. Councilmember Dona Spring, in whose District the Memorial was located, spoke, as did U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass and B.W. Hodges of Vietnam Veterans America.

The Mayor’s Office was contacted by representatives of the Latino community and on November 11, 1997, we celebrated the relocation of a monument honoring residents from the Korean War to the front of the Veterans Memorial Building.  The monument had been located on a University Avenue site that I was told was symbolic of keeping Latinos below Sacramento Street and that the area was now so crowded and overgrown that it now was impossible for people passing to see the monument and they wanted the names to be displayed east of Sacramento street. So, we held another ceremony over the monument’s relocation where it would be prominently displayed, this time with Latino music and Aztec dancing.

Later that same year, I was contacted by Jan Scruggs from the Washington DC Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund; she excitedly offered to bring their one-half-scale replica of the Memorial in Washington DC to Berkeley.  It was named the “Wall that Heals.”  I agreed, and Country Joe went to work immediately to raise the money to bring it to Berkeley. My office worked to have it installed and illuminated in Civic Center Park, where the public could visit it 24 hours a day.  There are some 58,000 names that everyone thought would be impossible to read out loud in a ceremony. My aide, Tamlyn Bright, took over and in a huge and impressive effort made all the arrangements to keep the lights burning and for volunteers to read each and every name one after the other.  It took almost three days.   I remember standing in the center of the “Peace Wall” at 3 a.m., facing the “Wall that Heals” and seeing people bringing mementoes and flowers and making rubbings of the names.  My heart ached particularly when I saw the name Winfield Sisson, the brother of one of my friends at Berkeley High and UC Berkeley.  UC’s ROTC, students and teachers from Berkeley High, and scores of Berkeley residents helped, such as Kim Larson, a Berkeley firefighter and Vietnam vet.  While some doomsayers predicted divisiveness, there was none at all, and the Wall That Heals magnificently did its healing for all of us.

Gun Control

At a Council meeting in February 1989 I announced that I had planned to purchase an AK-47 assault rifle and show it to everyone at the meeting in a demonstration of how easy it was to obtain such an item.  It was small enough to fit into a shopping bag, the cost was $475, which you could pay by cash or credit card. You had to fill out a form that you weren’t a crook, and when you were finished with that, you could walk out of the store with the weapon in hand.  The only reason I didn’t buy one for a demonstration was that the store had a “no return policy,” and I certainly didn’t want to keep one around my house or office.  The Council was shocked and unanimously approved sending a letter to State Legislators to ban such sales. This was followed in 1933 by the approval of the proposal by Councilmembers Maio and Shirek to change how easy it was to buy handguns from so-called “kitchen table dealers,” of which there were some 31 in Berkeley. It directed the City Manager to draft legislation similar to other cities’ that would restrict such sales.

When I became Mayor, I immediately became active attending strategy sessions with the U.S. Conference of Mayors group that was working around the issue of gun control. In 1999 at my request, Berkeley joined cities such as San Francisco and Sacramento, and the County of San Mateo, to bring a complaint of maintaining a public nuisance and unlawful and unfair business practices of sections of the California Business and Professional Code, against manufacturers such as Beretta, Glock, and Smith and Wesson.  A judge would years later dismiss the suit against the manufacturers, but the cities, including Berkeley, would settle with two major retailers, one in Northern California and one in Southern California, and three major distributors on providing training on sales and restrictive practices to customers.  Berkeley was one of several cities (Oakland, East Palo Alto, Sacramento, Los Angeles, Inglewood, Compton and West Hollywood) and counties (San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Mateo) to continue an appeal re the manufacturers to no avail.

News conferences, meetings and press releases were held in Washington with President Clinton and Andrew Cuomo, then head of HUD. In 2000 I helped form the East Bay Public Safety Corridor that included all cities, school districts, public safety jurisdictions plus two Counties, Alameda and Contra Costa, in the 75-mile strip from Carquinez to Newark. The objective was to inform the public by demonstrating the problem, such as holding a visual of a line of empty shoes worn by those that had been killed by gun fire, and to lobby for legislation to control the guns, particularly hand guns such as the “Saturday Night Special.”  The Corridor supported several State bills that were approved, prohibiting the purchase of a handgun by someone under the age of 18, requiring purchasers to pass a written and demonstration test to obtain a safety certificate, and the creation of a database of Persons Deemed to be Prohibited from Possession of a handgun.  

During this time, I also actively supported Senator Diane Feinstein’s bill to ban assault weapons, which was approved.  However, over the years much of this work has been rescinded, fallen by the wayside via the courts, or passed over by different technologies that get around the prohibitions, so that today, we have no effective technology. 

I continued my work with the U.S. Conference of Mayors and in 2002 was elected to be a member of their governing committee.  I had hoped to actively continue my gun control work – hopes that were dashed when I lost my election.  However, despite all the setbacks, one visible project of our past gun control activities is the sculpture that sits outside of the western facing entrance to the Civic Center Building.  That sculpture is made from melted guns, but that fact and the names of the private donors that paid for the sculpture which were supposed to be listed near it, have never materialized.  Today, it seems to have been forgotten that it was made from melted guns and stands as Berkeley’s statement in favor of gun control.   

A New Policy for the Animal Shelter

After complaints about Berkeley’s Animal Shelter I formed a committee that included Councilmembers Betty Olds and Dona Spring.  The goal was to change the policies that made the Shelter a killing center into one with a minimum or no-kill agenda.  The mandatory spay and neuter ordinance we first proposed became a highly emotional issue that was opposed by those that wanted a voluntary process.  It took months of discussion, but in the end we succeeded in taking the Shelter away from Police Department control, improving adoption rates, and approving a spay and neuter ordinance that was required when an animal was released from the Shelter, and empowering the seizure of colonies of feral cats so they could be cared for, adopted and neutered. The spay and neuter ordinance was approved in June of 2002 on a 6 to 2 vote (Councilmembers Woolley-Bauer and Shirek opposed).  As Councilmember Spring later put it, it was a banner year for animals.

The Prenatal to Pre-School Policy

In 2002 I introduced the concept that the City should work with the School District with the objective that each child would enter kindergarten ready for school ahead.  The concept was titled Pre-Natal to Pre-School and was based on studies that indicated too many children, particularly those from low-income families of color, entered school when they were not ready and in the years ahead never did catch up and frequently dropped out without graduating high school.  The program would start with a trained public health nurse from the Berkeley Health Department contacting women giving birth in Berkeley hospitals.  A family assessment would be made, with individualized referrals to appropriate services needed by that family, and a coordinated plan between social services and School District that would follow through.  The concept was unanimously approved by the Council but disappeared when I lost the election in 2002.

  • The Gaia apartment building on Allston (2001) was one of the earlier new downtown apartment complexes.  Was it difficult to get developers to build residential or commercial buildings in Berkeley at this time?

Yes, and the Gaia Building is a good example of that, but first I think a little background context would be appropriate.

In 1984, the year before a new progressive-dominated City Council was elected, the City Council applied for and received a grant from the Reagan Administration to build some 75 units of public housing and the School Board had separately compiled a list of school land they didn’t need. City staff logically put the two together and Mayor Newport formed a special committee and in mid-1985, it became the Council’s task to designate the actual sites for these low-income units.  The crowds protesting the project at subsequent public hearings were so large they couldn’t be held in Council Chambers in Old City Hall.  For more than three months, shouts and insults were hurled at Councilmembers by the crowds, many of whom were strong and active supporters of the new Council who felt they had been betrayed by BCA’s promise of participatory government, that decisions had already been made, and that no one was listening. The BCA Councilmembers who usually heaped blame for things going wrong on the BDC side because they were “conservatives” now had to make the unpopular decision to get the units built.  The one area that wasn’t protesting the units planned for the corner of Rose and Martin Luther King Jr. Way was my old Bonita and Berryman neighborhood. I was really proud of them.  In 1985 The East Bay Express wrote that while BCA has mastered the techniques of winning elections, it has “yet to show an equal skill in the art of governing.” Further if the ordinary citizen “cannot set foot in city hall without being alienated, the endless squabbling which may result is likely to prove harmful to the city itself, and ultimately, to the very idea of urban democracy.”  It should also be noted that after the units were built, many were found to have serious code violations that needed to be corrected.

In addition, throughout all the years that rent control was a central issue in Berkeley politics, I and my colleagues, after many outright mistakes and clumsy starts, had finally been able to get a few reforms accomplished, such as landlords being able to evict tenants for drug offenses, allowing an elected landlord to have a vote on the Rent Stabilization Board, and instituting informational programs.  I can’t claim that I did this, but I did have a hand in supporting trying to make rent control workable. 

The Bay Area Council stated in the 1980s that Berkeley had lost 599 units of housing.  I don’t remember that this statement was ever challenged as to accuracy, but there was no doubt that the community was crying for more housing.  During the time that Jeffrey Shattuck Leiter was Mayor, Patrick Kennedy proposed construction of the Shattuck Lofts, at the corner of Shattuck and Hearst.  It was said to be the first commercial and residential (24 condominiums) combination built in Berkeley (low rise – four floors) over the last 30 years.  It also featured stacked parking (14 spaces), one car on top of another, in Berkeley.  When I became Mayor, I strongly supported its construction, which was completed in 1999 and the opening of a wonderful little restaurant on its ground floor.

After public hearings, with supporters pushing for more housing and opponents saying Berkeley was already too congested, in June 1998, the Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) approved Patrick Kennedy’s Gaia Building, said to be the first significant residential project in the Downtown, at 2116 Allston Way, just one block west of the Cal campus. Formerly a stable and creamery, the new building would have 91 units, 19 of which would be affordable. ZAB approved two additional floors to the building because the first floor would host a 10,000 square foot space for the Gaia Bookstore and Community Center.  This was defined to be a “cultural space” and a community benefit.  The top floor would be a roof garden and deck that offered spectacular views of the Bay. 

After it was built, the original plan fell apart. The Gaia Bookstore went out of business and closed and never moved into the new building.  Various other cultural uses such as the Shotgun Players were tried and it didn’t work out until about 2003 when Anna’s Jazz Island came into the picture and changes were made to the ground floor and mezzanine.  In 2006, there were multiple problems between various church services and private parties interfering with Anna’s Jazz Island, and Anna DeLeon and Patti Dacey sued the City on the basis that the Use Permit had been illegally modified by the City Council.  The Alameda Superior Court upheld their lawsuit and the City had to re-do the Use Permit, but things still weren’t right.  Downtown merchants and residents were complaining about noisy parties held in the building and in 2008 there was a huge confrontation between people who had paid to enter a Cal fraternity sponsored party after a football game. Over 200 police officers had been dispatched to the site because the crowd was too big for the already full space, public drunkenness was occurring and the noise from the gathering included gun shots.  Around this time, Kennedy sold all the projects he owned in Berkeley to Samuel Zell of Equity Residential and moved on, only to come back in 2021 with a large residential project on Telegraph Ave.  It is still unclear to me whether any resolution that a cultural component in this project was ever resolved.

There can be little doubt that it took a long time and it was difficult to get housing approved at that time, and it was even more difficult to get what was approved implemented.  Density, height, parking and affordability are major issues that are still with us.  The voters ultimately approved allowing three projects in the Downtown that they were told would be no higher than the existing Great Western Building.  However, they were not told that it wasn’t the height that they could see with their own eyes, it would be the height as the City calculated it, making new buildings higher than any existing building in the Downtown. 

  • Final remarks about what you learned from your years on the City Council?  Lessons for City government today?

It was a wonderful journey that I stumbled into when I first encountered that building on the corner of Bonita and Berryman.  I learned a lot holding office and am still learning more every day not being in office and I have no regrets no matter how everything turned out.  At the heart of what I learned through this experience is that a firm position of never backing down is not workable in finding a path to meaningful change.  That’s why the “taking the initiative” strategy was and is such a problem.  I believe that citizens should have that power, but that representatives should work toward finding the way forward in a manner that won’t create strong division, which has been at times based on misinformation.  Both citizen and Council initiatives must be exercised with the greatest of care, since the flexibility to correct unworkable mandates is lost except by another vote of the people. 

The atmosphere of cooperation must be set by the elected representatives.  It must echo real and respectful listening and response and should not be based on or reflect those who shout the loudest.  Far too many representatives see being elected as their lifelong career and respond based on what they see as the next step in increasing their political power.  

Of vital importance is establishing that the public is a respected partner in the governance of a city by ensuring that there is strong, meaningful and consistent public participation.  Members of boards and commissions must be free to express their opinions even when there might be some difference with those of their appointer.  Items which significantly amend proposals on an agenda should not be acted upon when they are submitted right before action is set to be taken and there has been no time for review by the public.  Meetings of Council committees should not be held during normal working hours that ensure that members of the public cannot attend, nor should they take the place of input from established boards and commissions.

Stepping back:  Berkeley has a lot of amenities — a beautiful setting and weather, the University, intellectual and cultural activity, tolerance of ethnic and racial diversity, proximity to San Francisco — do you think Berkeley has been living up to its potential?

That’s the goal, but response to climate action conditions needs to be added to the list.  Today, mandates from the State and other agencies which do not fully recognize the individual conditions that make each city unique are a major problem that greatly affects all cities around our magnificent Bay.  Cities should not be allowed to ignore problems such as housing, but we all must find solutions that fit each unique situation. Berkeley could and should be a leader in creating truly smart planning that balances such factors as the need for affordability, geologic conditions, beautiful architecture and environmental protection.   

By Shirley Dean      

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