Berkeley at a Crossroads 

Why the mayor's race, two council contests, and several ballot measures will shape the city's future.

Page 3 of 5

Sophie Hahn, a zoning board commissioner who is running against Capitelli in North Berkeley and also is being backed by anti-growth activists, agrees with the West Berkeley residents and businesses that oppose Measure T. "I'm concerned about the impacts to the existing community," said Hahn, who is Worthington's appointee to the Berkeley zoning board. When asked whether she would have voted for the downtown plan, Hahn responded: "I really can't say."

As for Moore, he strongly supports Measure T, and contends that it would not only help revitalize West Berkeley, but also the city and the region, because it promises to spur growth in the green-tech sector. He also sees parallels with the first Measure R.

"It's some of the same people who didn't want the downtown plan to go through who also don't want changes in West Berkeley," he said.

Moore's opponents, Denisha DeLane and Adolfo A. Cabral, both oppose Measure T. DeLane, who is considered to be Moore's top rival, has been endorsed by Worthington, Arreguín, and anti-growth activists. She did not respond to an interview request for this story.

Measures U and V

Measures U and V are two of the farthest-reaching local initiatives in the history of Berkeley politics — and perhaps the entire state. They're so radical, in fact, that even Worthington said he opposes them. Anti-growth activists — who are deeply unhappy about decisions that the mayor and council have made in the past several years, particularly when it comes to development and smart growth — predominantly back them. McCormick is an ardent supporter of both measures, and is the primary backer of Measure V. Hahn also is in favor of Measure V, but said last week that she had no position on Measure U.

Called the Berkeley Sunshine Ordinance by its supporters, Measure U would impose many strict rules on the city and the council. Several of these regulations likely would greatly increase the length of public meetings in a city in which it's not unusual for council sessions to last well into the early morning hours. Measure U would require that every speaker at council meetings receive at least three minutes at the podium. On controversial items that draw two hundred speakers or more that could work out to at least ten hours for public comment alone. Measure U also would allow groups of one hundred or more people to place items on the council agenda — and then receive three minutes each to speak about them.

Measure U also would create a new commission with sweeping, unprecedented powers. Designed as an enforcement mechanism, this commission would have the ability to hire private lawyers to sue the council and the city at taxpayer expense if the commission believed that either the city or council had violated Measure U. In an impartial analysis, City Attorney Zach Cowan stated that city staffers estimate that Measure U could cost taxpayers $1 million to $2 million a year. Cowan also stated that the lawsuit provision conflicts with the Berkeley City Charter, because the charter gives the council sole authority to initiate litigation. As a result, if the measure passes, and the new commission sues the city, then the case likely would be tied up in the courts until judges decide whether Measure U is legal.

Backers of Measure U, however, contend that it's key to ensuring open government in Berkeley. "We don't have enough transparency," McCormick said, adding that the new commission is essential to making sure the city and council abide by the measure. "It really, truly needs to be independent," she said of the commission.

Although many agree that Berkeley's existing open government law needs to be improved, good-government groups, including the Berkeley League of Women Voters and Berkeley Common Cause, strongly oppose Measure U. Linda Swift of the League of Women Voters said that the measure is not only overly broad, but also too stringent. "It's unnecessary," she said. "It puts far too many restraints" on the city and council. She also argued that the new rules would dramatically slow down city government.

Bates, Capitelli, and Moore contend that slowing down — or even halting — city government is precisely what the anti-growth activists want. Measure U is not a sunshine ordinance, but rather an attempt by a group of activists to block the council majority. "They're frustrated and paranoid," Bates said of the anti-growth crowd. "And they don't like the direction that the council majority is taking the city, and they want to stop it — all of it."

The council majority views Measure V in the same vein. Like the proposed sunshine ordinance, Measure V looks reasonable at first glance. It would require that, every two years, the city manager or an "independent professional" prepare a comprehensive report on the city's long-term debt obligations and then "certify" it.

Although there are few objections to preparing such a report, the "certify" provision has sparked a strong backlash. Bates and others call it "poison pill" because if some resident — say, an anti-growth activist — believes that the report does not accurately or completely take into account all the city's financial obligations, then that person could sue the council and the city.

Opponents of Measure V argue that such a lawsuit would be disastrous and possibly force the city into default, because while the lawsuit is proceeding in the courts, the council would be prohibited from making any financial decisions. For example, it would be blocked from issuing temporary revenue bonds that cities use to maintain cash flow, meet payroll, and pay bills.

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