Berkeley at a Crossroads 

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

Page 4 of 5

Capitelli, who has a reputation for trying to find compromises with those who disagree with him, had worked for a time with the proponents of Measure V, but then gave up when they steadfastly refused to get rid of the "certify" provision. "I think there are plenty of people in town who would try to take the city to court because they don't like something," he said. "And then you can't do anything. ... That's dangerous."

But Capitelli's challenger, Hahn, along with McCormick, contends that opponents of Measure V are making too much of the "certify" provision. "If someone were to challenge it in court," Hahn said of the report, "I don't think they would get very far."

The certify provision, however, has prompted the League of Women Voters to also strongly oppose Measure V. And in his impartial analysis, City Attorney Cowan stated that Measure V would also violate the Berkeley City Charter because the charter states that the council has sole authority to make financial decisions for the city. Cowan also stated that Measure V appears to violate the California Constitution.

Measure R

Measure R, the redistricting measure, also has prompted a split in the alliance between anti-growth activists and far-left progressives. Both McCormick and Hahn oppose the measure, but Worthington and Arreguín strongly support it, as does the rest of the city council. Regardless, the outcome of Measure R could prove pivotal to Berkeley's future.

The measure would allow the council to redraw city council districts, and to ignore the boundary lines created in 1986. Opponents of those old boundary lines contend that they were gerrymandered in order to split the UC Berkeley student vote and thus limit the power and influence of students on Berkeley politics.

There has only been one Cal student elected to the city council in Berkeley history — Nancy Skinner, who is now Berkeley's Assemblywoman. In fact, Skinner was on the council in 1986 when voters approved the boundary lines. At the time, voters weren't necessarily enamored with the lines; instead they favored the idea of district elections. Prior to 1986, councilmembers were elected from the city at large. And proponents of district elections rightly noted in 1986 that at-large elections had resulted in some communities not having a voice on the council.

Skinner views Measure R as a way to keep district elections but fix the problem of students having almost no influence on city politics. The old boundary lines, she said, "diminished the power of student votes in the city."

Numerous student groups strongly back the measure, and so do the League of Women Voters and Berkeley Common Cause. Aryndel Lamb-Marsh, president of Berkeley Common Cause, noted that many Cal students have traditionally lived on the south side of campus, and yet the 1986 boundary lines carved up that section of the city. "The Southside neighborhood is generally considered to be its own cohesive neighborhood, but it's currently split among three council districts," Lamb-Marsh pointed out.

McCormick and Hahn said the reason they oppose Measure R is that it would allow the council majority to decide the new district lines. They say that redistricting should be the job of voters or an independent commission. McCormick argued that allowing the council to draw the boundary lines is "gerrymandering. There's no other way to define it."

But Bates and other proponents of Measure R point out that it's common in California and other states for city councils and county boards of supervisors to draw their own boundary lines. Moreover, city residents and groups will have ample time to provide input during the redistricting process should Measure R pass. The measure, Bates said, also "offers for the first time an opportunity to elect a campus-oriented candidate."

Bates and Skinner also view the opposition to Measure R as being much like that of Measure T. Anti-growth activists know full well that Cal students have traditionally advocated for more housing in the city, and if students can elect a councilperson, then it would make it easier for pro-growth proposals like the downtown plan to become law. "I think some people are just stuck in the past," Skinner said of the opposition to changing the 1986 boundary lines and revising West Berkeley zoning rules enacted in the 1990s (as Measure T would do). "For me, the question is: Do we want a vibrant Berkeley or do we want a lot of empty storefronts and empty buildings?"

The Contests

There have been several news reports in recent weeks regarding a supposed plan by Worthington and McCormick to team up against Bates and use ranked-choice voting to defeat him. This reported effort has been likened to the strategy used by Oakland Councilwomen Jean Quan and Rebecca Kaplan to defeat ex-state Senator Don Perata in the 2010 mayor's race. However, both Worthington and McCormick backed away from such a plan last week. In fact, Worthington said flat-out that he's not asking his supporters to vote for anyone but him.

It's also unclear whether a Worthington-McCormick team strategy would work. Quan and Kaplan are both pro-growth progressives who agree on a wide range of issues, and so it was easy for them to team up against the more moderate Perata. But in Berkeley, Worthington and McCormick have very little in common politically. In fact, a substantial number of McCormick's supporters appear to be moderate or conservative, and so it's unlikely that they would select the ultra-left Worthington as the second choice on their ballot rather than Bates, who is closer to them on the political spectrum — unless they're staunchly anti-growth. Likewise, it's questionable whether Worthington supporters would select the more conservative McCormick, who talks a lot about the problem of public-employee pensions, as their second choice rather than Bates.

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