Skip to content

Berkeley ballot a referendum on Smart Growth

Tomorrow, Berkeley voters will cast votes either for or against Smart Growth. From the candidates to the ballot measure, Bus Rapid Transit and transit-oriented development are the key issues facing Berkeley. Older divisions between progressives and moderates have fallen by the wayside, while anti-growth activists have expanded their opposition from development to transit service.

Berkeley Mayor: Bates vs. Dean

This rematch of the 2002 race confuses some local observers. Tom Bates, the progressive candidate traditionally aligned with Berkeley Citizens Action, has the endorsement of the Chamber of Commerce, the Berkeley Democratic Club, and many people working the real estate industry, while moderate Shirley Dean finds herself with the support of the Berkeley Daily Planet (called “the most liberal newspaper in the Bay Area,” by the Express) and neighborhood activists. The candidates have not necessary changed positions, but the divisive issue in Berkeley has changed. When Mr. Bates, his wife Loni Hancock, and Shirley Dean were at loggerheads in the 1980s and 1990s, it was mostly about rent control. Now, that is no longer an important issue in Berkeley.

In 1990, the Searle court decision led the Rent Stabilization Board to raise rents dramatically (up to 45%) and compelled it to follow a survey of operating costs when determining rent increases. Landlords no longer seriously contest Rent Board elections, and combined with vacancy decontrol in 1996, rent control faded as Berkeley’s hot-button issue. Ms. Dean’s two terms as mayor (1994 – 2002) encompassed this period.

What now separates Tom Bates from Shirley Dean is support for non-car-oriented transportation improvements and transit-oriented development, which together constitute Smart Growth. Ms. Dean strongly opposes Bus Rapid Transit and supports Measure KK (below). At an endorsement interview I saw her say that “we have to realize that four-story buildings ruin the quality of life for the entire neighborhood,” and suggested that the shadows cast by mid-rise buildings would make it harder for people to grow their own food. Tom Bates supports high-density development in downtown Berkeley and fairly dense development along transit corridors, and is open to Bus Rapid Transit.

If I lived in Berkeley (God forbid) in 2002, I would have voted for Ms. Dean. Her priority, and decent track record, of downtown revitalization appealed to me, and regular readers know that I generally side with more moderate politicians. But Tom Bates has made some very persuasive criticisms of her record. He is right to point out that the Council was more divided and less productive under her watch than his, and that the same neighborhood activists who criticize him were just as angry in 1990s. Of course, downtown Berkeley has gone downhill, which means that Ms. Dean’s downtown policies weren’t sustainable. But the clear distinction between the two is their contrasting policies on Smart Growth. It’s not that they have switched sides, but that the issues have changed. Urban business is increasingly aligned with the environmental movement, both stressing infill growth to combat their mutual enemy, suburban sprawl. Mr. Bates and a broad consensus on the City Council increasingly subscribe to this position, with Dean and neighborhood activists (and Berkeley’s always prominent fringe, like Zachary Running Wolf) firmly placed on a different side.


Berkeley Council District 4: Doran vs. Arreguin

Jesse Arreguin has gathered some impressive endorsements in his quest to succeed Councilmember Dona Spring, despite his age (24) and lack of elective experience (as explained above, the Rent Stabilization Board is not an important agency any more). Terry Doran, his opponent, was School Board President, and both have served on the Zoning Adjustments Board and Downtown Area Planning Advisory Commission. In their endorsement interviews and votes on the ZAC and DAPAC, Smart Growth is a key distinction between them.

On the DAPAC, Mr. Arreguin opposed “tall buildings” while Mr. Doran supported them. Mr. Arreguin bases his anti-high-rise position on old fashioned class warfare, while Mr. Doran stresses the need for increased tax revenue, transit ridership, and a built-in customer base for downtown businesses. Jesse Arreguin, despite being a former student and a supposed environmentalist, is iffy on Bus Rapid Transit (he opposes key elements of the plan) while Terry Doran strongly supports it. Finally, there is a key vote on the ZAC that put them on opposite sides: the Trader Joe’s on MLK. Mr. Arreguin voted against it and Mr. Doran for it. In Oakland, that would be the end of the contest right there, but Berkeley voters may be looking at other things, such as political affiliations and key supporters.

Mr. Arreguin works for Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who find himself the odd man out in Berkeley’s new political alignment: with no support from NIMBYs yet never pro-business or pro-growth, Worthington is the only Councilmember who didn’t endorse a mayoral candidate. His unexpectedly poor showing in the Assembly primary in June suggests that his support for Arreguin may not be terribly helpful. Former School Board President Terry Doran enjoys the support of Bates and most of the City Council. I’m not in a position to judge their respective campaigns (I really don’t like Mr. Arreguin’s slogan, Viva Jesse – is he running for King?), but transit and transit-oriented development are the issues. Tomorrow will show how downtown Berkeley, more or less Ground Zero for Smart Growth in Berkeley, feels about their future.


Berkeley Measures: KK and LL

Berkeley is infamous for an anti-development Preservation Ordinance that allows a great deal of protection for “landmarks” that are deemed so by an irrational process. Thus, tumbledown cottages, retaining walls, and even surface parking lots have been saved from demolition by developers, and the City of Berkeley has more official landmarks than San Francisco and Oakland put together (though the Oakland Heritage Alliance has proposed drastically expanding protections for “historic” buildings as part of the Zoning Update). Berkeley’s process does not comply with state law and makes development in Berkeley very difficult. Measure LL is a referendum on the City Council’s decision to update the Landmarks Preservation Ordinance to make it less arbitrary and to bring it into compliance with state law. A previous attempt to preserve the LPO failed two years ago; this is now the NIMBYs last stand to keep their most powerful anti-development weapon.

Measure KK, whose key supporters overlap with those against the LPO update, would delay or disrupt plans for a regional Bus Rapid Transit network by submitting it to a vote of the electorate. Eric at TransBay Blog has an excellent summary of what’s at stake and the serious problems with this measure. In its context alongside Measure LL and as a key distinction between mayoral and Council candidates, Measure KK represents another facet of the explicit Smart Growth divisions facings Berkeley voters. In Oakland, those who oppose dense development still support transportation improvements (and it’s important to note that no organized group in Oakland is opposed to tall buildings in most of downtown); in Berkeley, Smart Growth is on the ballot in its entirety.

Posted in berkeley, brt, california, citycouncil, measurekk, oakland.

Tagged with , , , , , .