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Does Tom Bates want his wife's old job? Does anyone really want a Berkeley planner's job?

It's a family affair: She was once mayor of Berkeley. Now she's headed to Sacramento to become the next 14th Assembly District rep, a job previously held by her husband. And now her husband is a top prospect to win her old job as Berkeley top dog. Nice storyline, eh? Apparently, some Berkeley progressives are hoping to make it a reality by persuading former Assemblyman Tom Bates to run for mayor. Bates' wife, Loni Hancock, Berkeley's mayor from 1986 to 1993, recently won the primary battle for his old Assembly seat.According to Berkeley City Councilman Kriss Worthington, who himself has toyed with the idea of a mayoral bid, he recently came across a petition being circulated during a meeting of the Gray Panthers trying to persuade Bates to run for mayor. Worthington, however, said he didn't know who was behind the recruiting petition.

Before the election, this space reported that current Assemblywoman Dion Aroner might run for the honor of chairing six-hour city council meetings. But, with the resounding defeat of Proposition 45, which could have allowed state Sen. Don Perata to seek another four-year term, Aroner will likely vie for Perata's seat in 2004 when he's termed out of office. No doubt, Aroner would have been a formidable opponent to incumbent Mayor Shirley Dean -- certainly more formidable than anyone else being mentioned as a possible candidate from the left.

But if there's anyone more formidable than Aroner, it's her mentor. Bates spent two decades in the Assembly representing this area and is well known and respected. The question is: Is he either masochistic or bored enough to do it? Bates couldn't be reached for comment before our deadline. But a Bates confidant doubts he would: "He's got to be cognizant of how aggravating the job is from his wife."

As proof, we offer this example: Two weeks ago, Berkeley said goodbye to Andrew Thomas, a much-beloved civil servant who deserves credit for bringing the city's General Plan back from the brink of ruin. It was Thomas who assumed the task of rewriting the plan in 1999 after the Planning Commission rebelled against a draft that would have allowed twelve-story buildings to be built downtown. But rewriting is not a complete description of what Thomas accomplished. He mediated disputes between various factions and, when he was done, walked away with nearly everyone admiring his honesty and evenhandedness -- no small feat in Berkeley politics. The city council even adopted the plan's housing and transportation components last December, on the eve of a state deadline.Thomas's departure temporarily brought the staff of Berkeley's advance planning department -- the part that works on long-range policy -- down to zero. The city's other advance planner, Karen Haney-Owens, took a mysterious leave of absence from the department several months ago, and has not been heard from since. Thomas says his reasons for taking a similar job with the city of Alameda are: more money, a 36-hour work week, and that holy grail of professional perks for parents with young children, flex time. He says he's sorry to go. "I've loved working in Berkeley," he says. "I feel I've gotten a tremendous amount of respect from the community."

But not everyone in his position shares his enthusiasm for Berkeleyans. Off the record, some planners grouse about the city's abnormally large number of planning gadflies and their sometimes less-than-subtle efforts to depict city planners as lackeys of big-time developers. Planners are trained to build buildings, the reasoning goes, and if nothing were ever built, they'd be out of work. Why wouldn't they favor the likes of swashbuckling developer Patrick Kennedy over a handful of querulous neighborhood activists?

With no staff, the Planning Commission's work was brought to a screeching halt. But help is on the way. Into the fray steps Tim Stroshane, late of the city's housing department. Stroshane, a trained urban planner who has worked on housing policy and homelessness for the last eight years, will assume Thomas's duties on April 8. 7 Days reached Stroshane as he was moving his personal effects from his old office to his new, and he's jazzed about the job. "I'm eager to get back to doing the things I've been trained to do," he says.

Stroshane says his first priority will be to shepherd the remaining elements of the city's 2001 General Plan through the city council. Then he'll turn his talents toward the Southside Plan, the document meant to guide development in the Telegraph Avenue area. The Southside Plan, which the commission had hoped to deliver to the council this summer, has been discussed and punted around for the last eight years. Interested parties -- residents, businesses, UCB students and administrators -- are calling for an end to the madness. Thomas' flight to Alameda will inevitably set the Southside timetable back somewhat.

So: crisis averted, right? Not quite. Carol Barrett, the city's new director of Planning and Development, made a presentation on department staffing to the Planning Commission last month, and the picture is somewhat grim. Incidentally, Barrett's recently published book, Everyday Ethics for Practicing Planners, can be read as a prescient rebuttal to the notion that planners are only concerned with ramming developers' projects through.

Fully one-quarter of the city's planning staff -- which includes a redevelopment agency and current planning, which deals with specific proposed projects -- is vacant, she said. The department has a hard time recruiting and keeping planners. No one knows precisely why, but many suspect that it's mostly for the same reason the city lost Thomas: planners work long hours and are paid less than their counterparts in other Bay Area cities. With the upcoming slashing of the Berkeley city budget, this is unlikely to improve.


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