Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Climate Takes a Hit

By Robert Gammon
Tue, Nov 20, 2012 at 8:01 AM

Sometimes we feel like a broken record here at the Express. During the past several years, we’ve written extensively about climate change and the most effective ways to combat it. As such, readers know that cars and trucks are among the primary causes of global warming, and that one of the most important things that we can do in the Easy Bay is to spur urban growth and limit suburban sprawl so that people will have shorter commutes — or better yet, will walk, bike, or take mass transit to work. However, the narrow defeat of two key ballot measures — B1 and T — in this month’s election will make it much more difficult to achieve those goals.

Measure B1, a proposed countywide sales tax that would have generated billions of dollars over the next thirty years for mass transit, bike lanes, pedestrian walkways, and urban housing developments, lost by the slimmest of margins — just 0.14 percent of the vote, according to the Alameda County Registrar of Voters final tally posted last Thursday night. It received 66.53 percent of the vote — just shy of the 66.67 percent it needed to pass. In terms of actual votes, it fell short by 721 of the 527,403 ballots cast in the contest.

Measure T, a proposal to spur housing growth in West Berkeley, lost by 512 votes, 50.5 percent to 49.5 percent. The measure would have allowed dense housing developments on six underused sites in West Berkeley. It was backed by Mayor Tom Bates and Councilmembers Darryl Moore, Laurie Capitelli, and Susan Wengraf — all four of who won reelection as Measure T went down to defeat. The Express endorsed both Measure B1 and T.

Unfortunately, the Yes on Measure B1 campaign was lackluster. The narrow defeat of the measure also provided yet another example California’s dysfunctional political system. B1 received nearly twice as many “yes” votes as “no” votes — 350,899 to 176,504. Yet that wasn’t quite good enough, because Prop 13, passed by California voters in 1978, requires a super majority, two-thirds vote, for tax measures like B1 to pass.

The good news is that while Measure B1 was losing, Democrats were winning a super-majority in both houses of the state Legislature in the November 6 election. And starting the process of reforming Prop 13 will hopefully be one of their immediate top priorities. It is ridiculous that a small minority, in the case of Measure B1, just 33.47 percent of the electorate, can prevent a large majority from taxing itself to pay for essential programs and services — particularly when those things will help fight climate change.

In Berkeley, the narrow defeat of Measure T doesn’t mean there won’t be any dense housing developments in the so-called “green corridor” of West Berkeley; it just means it will be much tougher to build them. One of the primary sponsors of the measure, Berkeley businessman Doug Herst, is now weighing his options on what to do about his proposed Peerless Greens mixed-use project, which was to include an artists’ colony and top-level green-building standards. “We’re waiting to here from the city on how to move forward at this point,” said Darrell de Tienne, a consultant who is working with Herst on the project.

Councilman Moore, whose West Berkeley district includes the proposed Peerless Greens development, won reelection in a landslide, trouncing his closest competitor, Denisha DeLane, by more than thirty percentage points. Moore strongly endorsed Measure T while DeLane adamantly opposed it. So why did Moore win big, while Measure T lost?

In an interview, Moore attributed the Measure T defeat to two factors. First, he noted that the measure was rather complex. Indeed, it included more than nine pages of proposed zoning changes for West Berkeley. Moreover, research has repeatedly showed that when voters are confused by a measure, they tend to vote no.

Moore also blamed the No on T campaign, which called itself Save West Berkeley, for promulgating “a lot of misinformation.” “Their yard signs said, ‘Save Aquatic Park,’ when they knew full well that we [city council members] had taken the Aquatic Park [development] sites out of the measure,” Moore noted. As a result of the false and misleading No on T campaign, some voters mistakenly believed the measure would have harmed Aquatic Park.

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