The l979-l980 City Council: The BCA/Carole Davis Majority
Passing the Torch
Several eras came to an end at the April 24, l979 Berkeley City Council meeting. The final meeting of an outgoing Council is always a ceremonial occasion as retiring Councilmembers and praised and presented with their nameplates.
The departure of Mayor Warren Widener and Councilwoman Loni Hancock, the two rival leaders and senior members, with a total of l8 years service, severed the Council’s final ties to the tumultuous l97l election. Widener’s supporters brought him a cake, and the outgoing Mayor thanked the voters “for lifting a heavy burden off my shoulders.”
Ying Kelley led a parade of emotional tributes to Loni Hancock, calling Loni “a very special and very human leader.” From among the April Coalition’s ruins, only Loni and her politics had survived. As a Councilmember, Loni Hancock set the modern standard for effective representation, backed by a large, mostly volunteer staff that was always in touch with the community. Loni changed the way the Council operated, from instigating citizen review of the budget, to setting up new procedures such as the consent calendar, and even introducing a time for rest – the annual August vacation.
Now a new generation of BCA Councilmembers would try to carry on in her footsteps. They were expected to be the majority, as over seven years of unbroken rule by the Council’s right wing came to an end.
While Hancock and Widener received tributes and presents, no one appeared from the audience to praise the departing William Rumford, Jr.. Rumford seemed totally alone at his last Council meeting, disowned by the people who had elected him in l973 and l975. This was a symbolic lesson for any true independents who sought to represent the conservative coalition on the City Council.
The May Day Inauguration, May l, l979
BCA organized an elaborate “Peoples’ Inauguration” for the new Council on the City Hall steps before an audience of about 300. It included a program that explained the history of May Day, with a classical drawing on the cover full of political slogans, (artwork that later appeared on BCA T-shirts and calendars), an introduction by Supervisor John George, classical and gospel music, the oath of Office by City Clerk Edy Campbell, and Mayor Gus Newport’s inaugural address (echoing the words of Congressman Dellums):
“From time to time during the campaign I’ve been called a radical.
If being ready for change that is long overdue means that I’m a radical, then yes I am. …
And I tell you quite honestly and joyously, that’s a label I’m proud to wear. And I am confident that I am not alone, and that this city council will be radical, pragmatic and proud.”
Shirley Dean also took the oath at this highly partisan BCA event, looking very out of place along with a few of her outnumbered, sign-carrying supporters.
In contrast to the tone of his inauguration speech, Gus Newport usually promised there would be no rash changes. He told the Gazette in an April l9, l979 interview, “People should remember that I am a bureaucrat who analyzes the feasibility of new programs.”
Three days after he took office, the Gazette reported that Newport might be forced out of his Department of Labor position because the agency deemed it incompatible for the Mayor of Berkeley to be their employee. Newport did in fact lose his job as a consequence of being elected Mayor, a harsh financial penalty from which there was no recovery. Being Mayor only paid $600 a month, but this part-time job precluded Gus Newport from holding the conventional civil service positions that had been his livelihood.
Job promises, which were plentiful when Gus was persuaded to run, failed to materialize. The new mayor had to scrounge for other employment to support his family. Gus Newport resented having to pay for the privilege of being Berkeley’s Mayor, but he was stuck for four years.
The Politics of Being in the Majority
For nearly eight years, the very term “Council majority” was synonymous with the conservative coalition. The Council that took office on May l, l979 still consisted of five people who had been elected as BDC candidates (Sue Hone, Gilda Feller, Shirley Dean, Bill Segesta, and Carole Davis), to only four from BCA (Gus Newport, John Denton, Florence McDonald, and Veronika Fukson). Technically, this was not a BCA majority. But politically, there was no longer a BDC majority either.
The intrinsic reality of this Council was that the side Carole Davis supported became the majority. By May l979, Davis had been voting with BCA for well over a year, although she considered herself to be a freethinking independent.
Davis’ true political loyalties seemed very hard to decipher. In April l979, she had endorsed BCA’s Veronika Fukson and BDC Council candidates Taylor Culver, Shirley Dean, and Andrea Washburn, plus the BDC nominees for Auditor and School Board.
Taylor Culver’s election might have changed everything, because he was apparently compatible with Davis. But since Culver, Widener, and Guy Jones all lost, the Council had now dropped from five black members in l973-75 to only two, Davis and Newport. Everyone expected the remaining two blacks on the Council to be allied. Carole Davis went to the BCA victory party election night and was quoted by the Gazette as saying she and the BCA Councilmembers would “work out a relationship.”
With Carole Davis volunteering her cooperation, Mayor Newport and his BCA colleagues had little choice but to accept the political responsibility of being in the majority. Having served four years with Carole Davis, John Denton considered her unreliable and not very principled. (Of course John Denton felt this way about most Councilmembers.) Although reluctant to join with Davis as part of a new majority, John Denton nevertheless did so. Beginning on May l, l979, the BCA/Carole Davis coalition was the one and only Berkeley City Council majority.
For various political reasons, some BCA people have disavowed responsibility for the l979-80 Council and tried to claim that either BDC or no one was in charge. The Widener/Hone forces used to make similar denials that they were the Council majority. The truth is that while Carole Davis was the dominant power in certain areas of personal concern, she generally deferred to her BCA allies for most of this period.
The BCA/Davis alliance was neither tightly disciplined nor stable, but in l979-80, Newport, McDonald, Fukson, Denton, and Davis hired a City Manager, passed budgets, placed measures on the ballot, and met all the tests which objectively define a governing Council majority, one that was four-fifths BCA. Along the way they made mistakes, but compared to their predecessors, this was still the most progressive Council majority in modern Berkeley history up to that time.
The Burdens of Leadership
In his campaign for Mayor, Gus Newport promised to bring “creative leadership” to the City Council. The burden that fell upon him was enormous, not counting his personal problem of trying to find a new job. Gus was supposed to lead a 5 vote majority composed of three Council rookies, including himself, plus two veterans, Denton and Davis, who didn’t trust each other. Gus was in the middle, together with Florence McDonald, his loyalist ally, plus Veronika Fukson. The three of them anchored the majority, united more by inexperience and nervousness than anything else.
Since BCA never expected to win the April l979 election, there had been no advance planning on how to govern the city. The new Council majority needed Loni Hancock’s eight years of experience, but she was gone, along with the large volunteer/community staff of the l97l-77 period. The Councilmembers brought in a new paid/semi-paid staff of BCA campaign veterans: Sean Gordon, Teresa Bergman, Ann Chandler, and Luanne Rogers.
As Gus Newport’s full-time administrative assistant, Sean Gordon became a Council and BCA campaign power from l979 on. While the Councilmembers and their aides went through a period of on the job training, volunteers were not encouraged. The BCA Councilmembers declined to re-establish the huge volunteer staff network of earlier years, preferring to rely upon their own aides, boards and commissions, plus city staff.
City Manager Elijah Rogers resigned in February l979 to become Washington, D.C.’s City Manager under reform Mayor Marion Berry. The old Council had appointed City Attorney Michael Lawson to be acting City Manager. He was now double trouble, remaining as City Attorney.
Lawson believed it was his duty to educate the inexperienced new Mayor and Council in the legal, political, and administrative realities of local government. With an intensity reminiscent of William Hanley confronting the l97l Council, Lawson lectured, cajoled, and pleaded with the new Council not to do anything he disagreed with. Lawson’s painful obstructionism from the City Manager’s chair was far worse than anything the BDC minority could come up with.
The New Council Tackles the Issues
The Council started off with a package of procedural reforms, most of which had previously been defeated by the Widener/Hone majority:
- The Council would now begin each meeting by returning to the agenda items carried over from the previous meeting. This eliminated dead spots on the agenda where proposals from Councilmembers and commissions used to languish for months, even years. (Adopted May l, l979 unanimously).
- Council meetings could no longer continue past midnight without a 2/3 vote. The Midnight Special was not about to make a comeback. (Adopted 8-l, May 8, l979; previously a Ying Kelley motion defeated on May l8, l973.)
- For a $5 fee, the public could once again be placed on the mailing list to receive the Council agendas and minutes. The previous subscription service, which was free, had been abolished after passage of Proposition l3, making it harder for the public to know what was happening. (Adopted July 3, l979 without dissent).
By informal tradition, the senior member of the Council majority, or else the majority’s leading vote-getter, was appointed to the symbolic post of Vice-Mayor. John Denton qualified on both counts. But Carole Davis also wanted to be Vice-Mayor, an ambition Warren Widener’s side had ignored at their peril. Now Gus Newport had to try and satisfy both Denton and Davis.
Newport’s Solomon-like solution was to create the brand new designation of Vice-Mayor pro tem, or acting Vice-Mayor. The Vice-Mayor presided over the Council in the Mayor’s absence. Now the Vice-Mayor pro tem would preside if both the Mayor and Vice-Mayor were gone. The Council established the new post, appointing John Denton as Vice-Mayor and Carole Davis as Vice-Mayor pro tem.
On June 29, l979 the Council provided $96,000 towards the University Avenue Housing Cooperative (next to the University Avenue Co-op Supermarket). Sue Hone voted “No”. This was the city’s second affordable housing construction project, similar in concept to Savo Island. The Council’s $633,000 loan, approved 6-l-2 on February l4, l980, allowed the organizers to put together a complete financing package. Thanks to the work of project coordinator Susan Felix, the plan to rehabilitate existing housing and build new units became a reality.
The Council adopted a Housing Advisory and Appeals Board recommendation to prohibit the conversion of existing rental units to condominiums unless the rental housing vacancy rate rose to 5%. (Berkeley’s vacancy rate was then estimated at l-2%.) This party-line 5-3 action on November 27, l979 provided tenants with badly needed protection from displacement.
In other cities “condomania” had driven thousands of tenants from their homes. As Florence McDonald’s appointee to the Housing Advisory and Appeals Board, BTU leader Dan Lambert spearheaded this reform. It was a major affordable housing preservation achievement, an atypical example of BTU-BCA cooperation.
Another part of the Council’s anti-displacement effort was an emergency moratorium on the conversion of residential hotels into tourist hotels. (September 23, l980.) The ordinance prohibiting discrimination against families with children was also strengthened by adding city enforcement provisions for the first time. (May l3, l980, 8-0.)
However, the Council overturned the Board of Adjustments and approved a new, market-rate, ten unit condominium in disregard of the Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance’s requirement that one quarter of the units be set aside for low/moderate income housing. This 8-0 vote on June l7, l980 was based on a highly questionable legal opinion that the NPO’s affordable housing provisions did not apply to new condominiums. Similar City Attorney interpretations in the future would continue to erode other key ordinances designed to protect and expand low to moderate income housing.
Ocean View (a dream deferred)
The new Council tried to move forward on its commitments to housing preservation in Ocean View. A Project Area Committee of neighborhood residents was established on July l0, l979 to advise the City Council/Berkeley Redevelopment Agency, replacing the Redevelopment Commission.
But Acting City Manager Lawson prevented further action to implement the pro-housing redevelopment plan amendments that passed in l978-79 after a laborious process. Lawson “discovered” that the amendments were invalid without the written consent of 2/3 of the West Berkeley Industrial Park bondholders.
While failure to obtain such consent in the previous two years amounted to city staff negligence and the legal argument could be made that the bondholders’ silence was a waiver of their rights, Lawson passionately argued that the Council could make no industrial park changes until the bondholders consented. For the first time, Ocean View Committee-type stalling tactics were being used to preserve the industrial park plan.
The Council capitulated to Lawson’s legal arguments and began a search for the bondholders and their consent. This was a very prudent, cautious approach, but the new delay would last over two years as the bondholders were pursued.
The Council’s most interesting action during this waiting period was the demolition of several badly damaged houses, primarily to make way for the new West Berkeley Senior Center. Nearly five years after litigation commenced over whether the Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance (NPO) applied to the industrial park, the Council negated the court decision (Kehoe vs. the City of Berkeley), by voluntarily adhering to the NPO’s procedures and then demolishing houses which had been deemed unrepairable (and allegedly hazardous) in l975. (votes taken November 20, l979 and May 20, l980).
While everyone waited for the bondholders, the fate of Ocean View and the Industrial Park would be decided by future City Councils not the first-ever pro-Ocean View majority elected in l979.
In a heightened attempt to preserve neighborhood shopping districts and keep them from turning into regional commercial centers, the Council adopted a Restricted Neighborhood Commercial Zone (July l0, l979). The fragile Elmwood shopping area, College Avenue near Ashby, was placed in this zone on April l5, l980. The inadequacy of such measures later became apparent as the commercial neighborhood preservation struggle escalated to center stage in the l980’s.
To halt an unwanted influx of banks and savings and loans into commercial areas, the Council passed a zoning ordinance amendment on December 4, l979 to require use permit public hearings. This was another try at protecting existing small retailers from being driven out of business.
On the fast food front, Carls Jr. was denied a use permit for the corner of Shattuck and University, opposite the controversial (but heavily patronized) McDonald’s. Following a re-run of all the McDonald’s arguments, including the need for new jobs, the Board of Adjustments’ permit denial was upheld on a near party-line 5-3-l vote. Shirley Dean voted against Carls Jr. while Mayor Newport abstained. The politics of fast food would be highly unpredictable as Burger King found out a few years later.
The longest running police policy dispute concerned the use of dogs and helicopters in Berkeley. Police dogs had a very bad political reputation because of their historical role in attacking civil rights demonstrators. A vocal segment of the Berkeley black community opposed any use of police dogs.
Helicopters earned their negative image during Peoples Park in l969 when the south campus area was harassed and teargassed from the air. The purchase of Berkeley Police helicopters had been rejected by the Council in l970.
Political activists in the black and campus communities thus viewed dogs and helicopters as dangerous symbols of police repression. The Berkeley Police Department viewed them both as useful tools whose value had been proven in neighboring cities. If the police couldn’t have their own dogs and helicopters, they continuously wanted to borrow them.
The Council had previously established a policy against the use of both dogs and helicopters. However, the police and several BDC Councilmembers kept trying to reverse this policy. On February l4, l978 the Council authorized the use of dogs and helicopters to catch the rapist known as “Stinky”. A motion to allow far more general use of dogs and helicopters lost with four votes.
On November 20, l979 the new Council reaffirmed the policy against any use of police dogs by a 5-3 party-line vote. The subject would periodically be raised again in future years.
In addition to dogs and helicopters, the other lingering police issue concerned the continuing refusal of officers to testify at Police Review Commission (PRC) hearings on citizen complaints. Officers were ordered to testify at internal police department investigations, but not in front of the PRC. Over seven years after the PRC’s creation, the new Council majority established the policy on January 22, l980 that officers accused of misconduct should be required to testify at PRC hearings. Efforts to implement this policy produced several more years of controversy.
On December 4, l979, the Council tried to implement the new Berkeley Marijuana Initiative (BMI) in a manner that would not produce a replay of the l973 lawsuit that killed the first such measure. The Council approved a Police Review Commission recommendation requiring Berkeley Police officers to file special reports explaining the circumstances and motivations behind all marijuana arrests and citations. The burdensome reports, intended to discourage enforcement of marijuana laws, were adopted on a 6-3 vote with Segesta joining the majority.
As Acting City Manager, Michael Lawson made only a token effort to cooperate with the progressive Council majority. But the Council didn’t know what to do with him. Even if they dismissed Lawson as Acting City Manager, he would revert to being the City Attorney, a post from which the Council could not remove him. But firing a black Acting City Manager was a step the Council was unwilling to take.
Meanwhile, little progress was being made on finding a permanent replacement for the departed Elijah Rogers. So Lawson stayed on for several unpleasant months, until he finally resigned on September ll, l979 to become Oakland City Attorney.
BCA Councilmembers were tremendously relieved by Michael Lawson’s voluntary departure. His recent conduct had been highly erratic, apparently from the strain of many years in city hall’s pressure cooker atmosphere. Now, without the Berkeley City Council having to do anything, Lawson would be Oakland’s problem.
As Oakland City Attorney, Michael Lawson’s difficulties grew. He was arrested, tried, and acquitted by a jury of petty theft from a blind vendor in Oakland City Hall. There were newspaper reports alleging more thefts from other places. Lawson resigned as Oakland City Attorney. He later re-emerged in Berkeley black community politics as Executive Director of the South Berkeley Community Development Corporation.
Lawson’s departure from Berkeley in the fall of l979 left two vacancies: City Manager and City Attorney. Forest Craven, a non-partisan, veteran city hall administrator, was appointed the new Acting City Manager on September 25, l979 while the Council proceeded with its search for a permanent City Manager. On October 9, l979, the Council established a nine member citizen group to help interview City Manager finalists and advise the Council on who to select. The committee included ex-Councilmembers Jack Kent, Wilmont Sweeney, and Loni Hancock.
The Council’s official job announcement didn’t restrict the position to traditional City Manager types. The Council encouraged a wide open spectrum of applicants, especially local people with administrative experience in comparable fields. This was an obvious affirmative action technique to avoid disqualifying minorities and women. It also represented the Council majority’s view that a good City Manager might be someone with fresh ideas from outside the normal pool of bureaucratic city administrators.
The City Manager appointment turned out to be the single subject of greatest concern to Carole Davis. Her choice for the post was Wise Allen, Ph.D., a black administrator from the College of Alameda, a Peralta Community College. Allen actually lived in Berkeley. Davis and some BCA Councilmembers knew him as an intelligent, progressive individual, but he had absolutely no experience in local government. Allen was one of the finalists interviewed by both the Council and the citizens committee.
Charlene Harrington was another finalist. She had been in charge of regulating nursing homes for the California Department of Health However, her strict enforcement practices outraged the nursing home industry and she was fired by Governor Jerry Brown. Like Wise Allen, Harrington was a stranger to municipal government.
However, finalist John Altshuler, 3l, was an Assistant City Manager from Hartford, Connecticut. Altshuler had worked for a progressive City Council which lost its majority. His administrative experience in local government and good politics made him a strong contender for the Berkeley job, except for one major liability: Altshuler was white.
Carole Davis wanted a black City Manager, specifically Wise Allen. Paul Williamson and Elijah Rogers had set the pattern, aided by the firing of the only recent white City Manager, John Taylor. The black community now expected one of their own to remain in the top city job, and Carole Davis was determined to deliver. It was a partial replay of the BCA Convention fight for Mayor, with race and experience again in conflict.
John Denton favored Altshuler on the basis of superior qualifications, ability to help the Council quickly, and his reduced vulnerability to partisan political attacks. There were strong arguments in favor of both men. Wise Allen received the citizens group’s recommendation. Most importantly, Wise Allen would keep the Council majority intact, while an effort to pick Altshuler might drive Carole Davis away from her alliance with BCA.
The Council majority’s continued existence became dependent upon the Wise Allen appointment. Carole Davis simply insisted upon Allen, while Gus Newport, Florence McDonald, and Veronika Fukson agreed with her. That left John Denton as a lonely minority of one for Altshuler. Two make things much worse, Wise Allen would not give up his College of Alameda job without a contract guarantying him a term of several years as City Manager, the same arrangement given Elijah Rogers. John Denton was on record twice declaring such contracts to be in violation of the City Charter.
Now, for the sake of political expediency, John Denton had to vote for a City Manager he didn’t want and a contract he felt was illegal. Yet there was no other way to keep Carole Davis and the BCA Councilmembers together as the majority.
John Denton very reluctantly cast his vote as a team player. On December ll, l979, the Council majority voted to offer Wise Allen the City Manager post, subject to negotiations. The appointment was made by a 5-4 party-line vote on January l5, l980, with Wise Allen receiving a multi-year contract to be Berkeley City Manager. Wise Allen’s selection was treated as a partisan political act by the press, with BCA’s opponents heavily criticizing his “lack of qualifications”.
Having failed to vote his conscience, John Denton atoned by resigning as Vice-Mayor. He wanted to put more political distance between himself and the Council majority he had saved. Having “given in” once, Denton would be less inclined to do so in the future. John Altshuler was later appointed Santa Monica City Manager by that city’s progressive Council majority which was elected in l98l.
Objectively, Wise Allen’s lack of municipal experience was a serious handicap. It limited his ability to help the Council immediately on the toughest issues, because he had to learn the job of being City Manager.
Allen and the new Council would both be learning at the same time, with the City Manager heavily dependent upon the “old guard” department heads until he became more experienced. Secondly, as a non-professional City Manager, Wise Allen was a marked man politically. BDC viewed him as a Carole Davis/BCA appendage, and if the conservative coalition returned to power, they were certain to force him out of office, regardless of the contract.
Yet, compared to his predecessors, Wise Allen was unquestionably Berkeley’s best and most progressive City Manager. He established a badly needed spirit of cooperation between the Council, city staff, and the boards and commissions. Wise Allen abolished the insidious practice under previous City Managers of generally refusing to hire anyone with an April Coalition or BCA background, regardless of qualifications.
This traditional blacklisting of political people only applied to the left. Allies of the Widener-Hone Council majority, such as Margaret Watson and Myrna Walton, were hired by earlier City Managers. The Council minority kept quiet on this subject, preferring to focus upon issues, not people.
But when Wise Allen hired Eve Bach to work in the City Manager’s Office on the budget, conservatives protested bitterly that this was “political”.
As a volunteer in Loni Hancock’s office, Eve had been in charge of reviewing the city budget for several years. She brought both practical and professional experience to her new job. But because Eve Bach had donated time to Berkeley municipal affairs, worked with BCA, and co-authored the City’s Wealth, the right wing wanted to permanently disqualify her from city employment. With Eve Bach’s selection, the political blacklist was broken, at least for the time being.
Eve’s budgetary skills and experience made her an important part of the City Manager’s team, as the new administration tried to undo the fiscal damage left by Michael Lawson. As Eve blended into city hall over the next few years, she would occasionally be attacked from the left for having abandoned her principles. However, her major adversaries remained the conservative Councilmembers who regarded Eve Bach as an illegitimate symbol of BCA influence.
A Little Bit of Everything
- Closing Telegraph Avenue. The closing of Telegraph Avenue to traffic in order to allow street festivals is a political/cultural act that generally pleases the South Campus community. Traditionally, progressive Councilmembers vote to close Telegraph and the new Council’s actions on July 26 and August 29, l979 followed that pattern. BDC Council majorities normally refuse requests for Telegraph Avenue celebrations or else they establish insurance requirements that make street festivals prohibitively expensive.
- Camps, Inc. The future of the city’s three recreational camps far from Berkeley had been in doubt since passage of Proposition l3. City staff tended to favor eliminating the camps as an economy move.
But a private, non-profit, community group, Camps, Inc. offered to run the camps themselves, thus saving them. This innovative approach had been approved conceptually in l978, but most BDC Councilmembers still opposed it. On December ll, l979, the Council leased Echo Camp to Camps, Inc. on a 5-l-2 vote. Camps, Inc. eventually was to operate Cazadero and Towolome also, becoming a real success story.
Many BCA people, including Ernie Landawer, and Pat McClintock, worked hard to save the camps.
- Responsible Investments. The Council adopted the recommendations of the Citizens Committee on Responsible Investments and implemented Measure A from the April l979 ballot. (February l4, l980 and May 27, l980.) City funds would now be placed only in financial institutions with no South African investments. The list of approved banks and savings and loans was made available to the public and updated annually.
The Responsible Investment Ordinance was put into effect without political or financial controversy thanks to members of the citizens committee such as Walt Millikin and Royce Kelley, plus Auditor Anna Rabkin and Director of Finance Bernie Erickson.
- Energy Conservation. The Council established an Energy Commission and an Energy Office to encourage conservation and help Berkeley citizens save on their gas and electricity bills. Kathy Rhodes (now Dusky Pierce) became Berkeley’s first Energy Officer. She had several years experience organizing local energy conservation programs with Environmental Action in Washington, D.C. Before that, Dusky was Loni Hancock’s first administrative assistant.
With citizens and city staff working together, there was a grassroots mobilization to encourage use of low-cost/no-cost energy conservation techniques. The Council also adopted a Residential Energy Conservation Ordinance on December l6, l980 that required the installation of specific measures whenever a house was sold. It was another good idea that proved hard to enforce wherever it was tried.
- Preferential Parking. A new program was established on February 26, l980 that restricted street parking in the Bateman Neighborhood (near Alta Bates Hospital) to only the residents. Without a parking sticker, sold exclusively to people who lived in the Bateman area, cars could only park for a short time. Preferential parking had been tried successfully in other cities such as San Francisco. John Denton was an enthusiastic supporter of it.
Commuters naturally hated the program because it discriminated against them. Neighborhood groups sought to expand it. As with traffic diverters, preferential parking divided the Council along atypical 5-3 lines. Shirley Dean and Sue Hone voted “Yes”, while Florence McDonald joined Feller and Segesta in voting “No”. Davis was absent. Preferential parking later expanded from Bateman into most of south campus and central Berkeley.
- Pesticides and Herbicides. Use of pesticides and herbicides in city parks was severely restricted on July l0, l980 by a 7-0 vote in response to citizen concerns about public health effects. City staff always favored traditional spraying techniques, and this issue would keep coming back to the Council.
Mayor Newport Teams Up with Peoples Park
Peoples Park celebrated its tenth anniversary in l979. It was still a symbol of youthful/counter-culture/student rebellion against the establishment in general and the University of California in particular. U.C. continued to own the land without controlling it. The hated l969 fence, knocked down in May l972 by a crowd originating at a Berkeley City Council meeting, had never been rebuilt.
The east end of the park had been extensively planted and the remainder was a grassy field. Everything had been relatively calm for some time. The Peoples Park Council, representing the park’s users and builders, had now signed agreements with the University calling for mutual cooperation.
West of the park proper, closest to Telegraph Avenue, was an unsupervised, no charge, asphalt parking lot, also owned by the University. This free parking area had always been considered an adjunct to the park. In the fall of l969, the University had rented it to the Parking Corporation of America as a fee lot, but a community boycott forced the company and the University to abandon the venture. For ten years the lot had been open to everyone at no charge, a “Peoples Parking Lot”.
On October 29, l979, the University announced that the parking area would become a fee lot for student and faculty parking. Peoples Park supporters viewed the University’s new policy as a violation of U.C.’s signed agreements to negotiate any significant changes in the park prior to making a decision, and thus a threat to the park itself. As rallies protested the fee lot, the stage was set for another confrontation.
The ASUC Senate officially opposed the fee lot. Then the City Council voted on November l4, l979 to reiterate its decade old “Hands off the Park” position that the University should leave the park alone or else give it to the city.
Earlier that same day protesters confronted a University hoisting machine that was removing log benches which divided the park from the parking lot. Viewing the attack on the logs to be a physical threat to the park, parking lot opponents responded with acts of civil disobedience and obstructionism, leading to vandalism, arrests, the destruction of the new fee lot sign, and the occupation of the parking lot by Peoples Park defenders.
Following a script that had not been acted out for years, the conflict escalated as Park people tried to blockade, occupy and annex the parking lot to keep the University from using it. The struggle went on all night.
Mayor Gus Newport entered the picture when he made several visits to the parking lot battlefield area. Gus found that the Peoples Park defenders were being opposed by Berkeley Police as well as U.C. Police. Given the Council’s opposition to University park policy, the Mayor felt Berkeley Police had no business in Peoples Park. On at least two or three separate occasions, Gus Newport ordered the city police to leave the area and they complied, only to keep returning after Gus had departed. (Legally, under the City Charter, no Mayor had authority to issue such orders to any city staff.)
These sudden departures by the Berkeley Police left the U.C. Police unable to cope with the crowd. Park defenders pressed their advantage by strengthening the barricades, destroying the asphalt, and planting flowers and trees in what used to be the parking lot.
By the next day, November l5, l979, as the Mayor told the Berkeley police to leave again, all the cops had been reduced to observers.
Newport followed up by negotiating the University’s terms of surrender and the battle ended with the fee lot indefinitely “postponed”. Peoples Park vegetation had advanced into the parking lot to stay.
Having helped trigger this tremendous Peoples Park victory over the University, Mayor Gus Newport became a hero to the South Campus radical/counter-culture community which had always been the backbone of Peoples Park. Here, at the end of l979, was the most distinctive example of the Gus Newport style of “creative leadership” promised during the campaign.
As for Peoples Park itself, now expanded to maximum size, negotiations over its future stalemated throughout the l980’s, with the University periodically threatening to build on the park.
Budgets, the BCA Way
On March l3, l979, the Council had voted 5-4 to establish a Citizens Budget Review Committee. This was the most significant modern action taken by the Council to open up the budget process. It had been nearly four years since the BDC majority first defeated this proposal. But a month before the April l979 election, Bill Segesta broke ranks to cast the deciding vote for John Denton’s motion.
When the new Council majority took office in May l979, the Budget Committee was its most logical vehicle for developing creative alternatives to the city staff’s proposals. Acting City Manager Michael Lawson kicked off the l979-80 budget season by ordering the layoff of eighty workers in the Police and Fire Departments. With bi-partisan support, the Council delayed these layoffs, giving itself time to develop less draconian methods.
With help from the Budget Committee and other commissions, the Council majority spent five months developing its own proposals. A combination of saving money by not filling vacant positions, adding new revenues from increased fees and licenses, plus reducing administrative costs (especially in the Police Department), produced a balanced budget that even re-established limited funding for community agencies. The resulting l979-80 budget was adopted by a 6-3 vote on September 27, l979, with Bill Segesta’s unexpected support.
However, the police were extremely unhappy with the Council’s cuts. Odell Sylvester, Berkeley’s first black Police Chief, complained to the Council on October 23, l979 that the reductions would “slowly strangle” the force’s ability to deal with crime. The Council, the Police Department, and the Police Review Commission all agreed to have an outside study performed to determine whether the department was overstaffed and the Council’s cuts justified.
In any case, the BCA Councilmembers had proven themselves able to handle the budget, kept their promise to restore community agency funding, and also managed to reach wage agreements with the city unions.
Shortly after the l979-80 budget had been passed, it was on to the budgetary problems for l980-8l. The new budget appeared hopelessly out of balance at the start of l980. But BCA’s Leland Traiman, now a member of the Citizens Budget Review Committee, suggested a special tax increase just for the Berkeley Public Library, and this idea turned into the Budget Committee’s key recommendation. (Leland had been focusing on the library because many of its employees were gay. Such is the relationship between sexual orientation and fiscal innovation.)
The proposed tax became the Library Relief Act which the Council placed on the June l980 ballot by a 6-3 vote taken March 4, l980. Once again Bill Segesta crossed over and voted “Yes”.
The Library Relief Act (Measure E) was calculated to raise over two million dollars annually, if it could receive the 2/3 vote required for passage under Proposition l3. The infusion of this money would both protect the libraries and also make it possible to balance the council majority’s entire budget.
Fiscally, a great deal was riding on Measure E, as there were not five votes to extend the similar special tax for parks (Measure Y) that had been passed in l974 and was now expiring. Measure E thus became a major June l980 electoral test as to whether a BCA sponsored tax increase (even for such a motherhood item as libraries) could hope to achieve 2/3 support.
Rent Control – an Altered Script
Among the hundreds of issues dealt with by the Berkeley City Council in the l979-80 period, rent control was as always the most intense and politically polarized. This subject had been the primary BCA focus since Measure I’s November l978 triumph. Now the Council majority had to keep its campaign promises by delivering a new rent control law to replace Measure I which expired at the end of l979.
Defending Measure I
Protecting Measure I was another BCA commitment, one that the Council was able to fulfill with little difficulty. Lawsuits challenging the property tax savings rebate initiative were filed by Rue-Ell Enterprises and others. The Rue-Ell suit focused upon Measure I’s commercial rent control aspects.
On July 26, l979, the Berkeley City Council hired rent control law specialist Myron Moskovitz to defend Measure I by a 5-4 partyline vote. It had been nearly seven years since the defeat of Loni Hancock’s motion that Myron defend the l972 Measure I Rent Control Charter Amendment on behalf of the city. In l979, Moskovitz would now represent both Berkeley and Davis in seeking to preserve rent rebate measures.
The legal attacks on these mild, temporary rent control measures fizzled, in large part because the landlords had little interest in protracted litigation over short-term measures. None of these cases ever reached the California Supreme Court, whose l976 Birkenfeld decision was still the final word on rent control. Measure I and its City of Davis counterpart survived the legal assault, although individual tenants still had to struggle with the immense problems of self-enforcement, plus lack of strong, just-cause eviction controls. In Berkeley meanwhile, the main battle would be fought over Measure I’s replacement law.
The Fight for a Rent Freeze (or something similar)
When the new Council took office on May l, l979, Measure I had eight months remaining in its statutory life. The Council majority decided to rely upon an informal citizens group, the Berkeley Housing Coalition, to propose a new rent control law. The Housing Coalition included many local rent control veterans, such as Marty Schiffenbauer, a strong BCA contingent, plus attorney Jim Grow, who became a principle drafter. The Berkeley Grey Panthers joined in for the first time. Reflecting a new spirit of detente with BCA, the Berkeley Tenants Union (BTU) actively participated in the Housing Coalition.
Any effort to reach a rent control consensus between BCA and BTU people was guaranteed to be a time consuming process. Finally, in November l979, the Berkeley Housing Coalition offered a new three month rent freeze measure plus a companion just cause for eviction law, all to take effect on January l, l980, the day Measure I expired.
The proposal was a BCA/BTU compromise that contained many elements desired by the Tenants Union. BTU nevertheless kept arguing for a tougher ordinance that would last six months. The Housing Coalition’s measure dropped commercial rent control completely, since the small business community didn’t seem to care, while adding rent registration and ending the Measure I exemption for owner occupied residential buildings of four units or less. The Housing Coalition proposed that all residential rents, including those of the previously exempted small landlords, be frozen at the levels on October 3l, l979. Such freeze provisions were much tougher than 1978’s Measure I, which allowed rent increases to cover specified increases in a landlord’s costs.
At an October 30, l979 public hearing on the housing crisis, hundreds of tenants demanded Council action to freeze rents and stop evictions. The Council took tentative steps in that direction. The November l3, l979 Council meeting was then packed by irate landlords who yelled epithets at the Council and demanded a public hearing on the text of the proposed ordinance before anything was adopted.
Theatrically, the scene in the Council chambers on November 13, 1979 was identical to all previous rent control confrontations, as the Council majority confronted a bitter, hostile crowd. Except the politics had been reversed, with rent control opponents screaming at a pro-rent control Council for the first time, instead of the other way around.
With the landlords arriving very early and taking most of the available seats, the Council chambers were full. Rent control advocates found themselves locked out of City Hall by the Fire Marshall, and they chanted angrily from outside the building, demanding to be let in. Emotions were high as the tenants skirmished with police, but Mayor Newport was able to calm things down by ordering the doors opened. The Council chambers became packed with bodies.
Now the Housing Coalition proposal was slightly modified by the Council. After defeating Shirley Dean’s motion for a public hearing, the Council majority adopted the three month rent freeze and eviction protection measures as two separate ordinances on 5-2 votes. The landlords became incensed. Public hearings were promised by Councilwoman Fukson before approval of a new, permanent rent control law.
Passage of the November l3, l979 three month ordinances demonstrated that Carole Davis was a reliable pro-rent control vote.
Although the Berkeley Housing Coalition proposals had been changed a little, the Coalition’s members, including BTU, were satisfied with the Council’s action. The ordinances received their second readings (final adoption) and would take effect thirty days later as provided by the City Charter. The Council had acted in time to keep rent control from expiring at the end of l979.
However, the enraged landlords declared war on the Council’s ordinances. For the first time in the l970’s, referendum petitions were circulated. Under the Charter, the landlords had the thirty day period between the second reading and the ordinances’ effective date to collect referendum signatures equivalent to l0% of the most recent vote for Mayor, less than 3,000 names. (The tiny April l979 turnout lowered petition requirements compared to previous years.)
If sufficient referendum signatures were filed, the ordinances would be blocked from taking effect and the Council given a choice of either repealing them or placing the measures on the June l980 ballot for a vote of the people. Calling themselves the Berkeley Fair Housing Committee, the landlords enthusiastically began collecting referendum signatures. It became obvious that they would have no trouble filing the required number of names. The Council’s measures were doomed, at least in the short run, and rent control was in deep trouble again.
Trying not to panic, the Council majority decided it had to take immediate and decisive action to save rent control from expiring at the hands of the referendums. With little warning, the Council voted on November 27, l979 to repeal the temporary rent freeze ordinance it had just adopted. This preemptive repeal rendered the existing, unfiled referendum signatures useless on one of the landlord petitions. The just cause for eviction ordinance was unchanged and the landlords could continue their referendum against it.
The BCA/Carole Davis majority then passed a pair of new, weaker substitute ordinances. First the Council adopted a revised three month rent freeze measure that contained Measure I’s exemption for owner occupied buildings of four units or less. In the event that measure was blocked by another referendum, the Council enacted a still milder “back-up” ordinance that basically extended Measure I for six months while allowing rent increases of up to 5%. As with Measure I, the back-up law had no just cause for eviction provisions and contained an owner occupied, four unit exemption.
The Council majority was hoping that the landlords would confine any new referendum attacks to the freeze measure, while allowing the Measure I extension to take effect. The mild Measure I protections would then last until the June l980 election when a permanent rent control measure could be placed on the ballot and hopefully passed. This pragmatic approach had the approval of some participants in the Berkeley Housing Coalition who were involved in developing it.
But the Berkeley Tenants Union had not been consulted and did not approve of the Council’s capitulation to landlord pressure.
Detente ended as BTU members were livid over the small landlords exemption and they began denouncing the BCA Councilmembers as sellouts when the weaker ordinances appeared. The March 27, l979 Council meeting even produced joint chanting by both BTU and the landlords calling for the Council majority to be recalled. BTU leader Dan Lambert explained his group’s anger in the November 29, l979 Berkeley Barb:
“We have worked with City Council members and cooperated to pass the mild rent control measures that have been passed. We wanted stronger measures, but we were willing to compromise. But this move, the exemption for small landlords, was a decision that the BCA councilmembers made secretly, without consulting the Tenants’ Union. And they lied to us about the whole thing.
Apparently, the Council just represents the interests of landlords. They represent property rights, not tenant’s rights.
We need real tenant representation on the Council. BCA has blown it!”
BTU staged a sit-in at Mayor Newport’s office to protest the Council’s action. BTU’s vehement denunciations of the BCA Councilmembers raised BTU-BCA bitterness to the worst levels ever. Even Florence McDonald, who was the BCA Councilmember most sympathetic to BTU, lost all patience with the Tenants Union after they attacked her personally. BTU and BCA became adversaries once again. The new freeze and back-up ordinance received their second readings on November 30, l979.
The Berkeley Fair Housing Committee brought a wheelbarrow filled with referendum petitions to City Hall on December l7, l979. But the referendums were aimed only at the original just cause for eviction measure and the second three month rent freeze. The exemptions and other concessions in the back-up ordinance left the landlords divided over strategy and they decided not to conduct a referendum against the back-up Measure I extension. Some landlords were prepared to tolerate six more months of Measure I type restrictions in the hope that future rent control measures could be killed on the June l980 ballot.
But the Fair Housing Committee did file a highly creative lawsuit which attempted to block all the Council’s rent control laws on the grounds that conflict of interest standards had been violated. This particular case amounted to the single most hypocritical plaintiffs’ suit against the City of Berkeley within my memory.
The landlords sought an Alameda County Superior Court order preventing BCA Councilwoman Veronika Fukson from voting for rent control because she owned a nine unit apartment building in Berkeley. Plaintiff landlords asserted that it was an intrinsic conflict of interest for landlord Fukson to even vote on the subject of rent control.
The case was absurd on its face because Veronika was voting against whatever personal financial interests she had as a landlord. After all, Fukson had always campaigned as a rent control supporter and her landlord status was irrelevant to her Council positions. However, since there were only five votes for rent control, the bare minimum needed for Council action, a landlord victory in court that prevented Fukson from voting would have invalidated all the Council’s rent control ordinances.
The landlords relied almost exclusively upon a guideline from the California Fair Political Practices Commission which advised councilmembers not to vote on rent control matters if they owned four or more rental units.
In the rent control context, such a rigid approach to conflict of interest is fatally anti-tenant. This type of guideline erroneously assumes that all landlords with four units or more will inevitably vote their pocket book interests. Even worse, the guideline disregards the political reality that in nearly every community the status quo is an absence of rent control. Tenant advocates thus seek the affirmative passage of rent control laws from a local government. Very often, a minimum number of votes (5 in Berkeley) is necessary to adopt any law.
Therefore, a blind conflict of interest rule which automatically requires landlords to disqualify themselves from voting on rent control intrinsically works against tenant interests. Such disqualifications don’t affect the minimum number of votes needed to pass rent control laws, but they force all landlords to cast the equivalent of a mandatory “No” vote. Tenants are hurt instead of helped by a rule that is intended to protect them against landlord conflict of interest.
Many elected officials who own rental property use these guidelines as an excuse for automatically abstaining and never supporting rent control. An example is San Francisco Supervisor Richard Hongisto. The pro-rent control tenant constituents of these people are left helpless.
In the Berkeley situation no Councilmember elected on a pro-rent control platform would voluntarily disqualify herself under such guidelines, although two BDC Councilmembers did. The bottom line was that the interests of Berkeley tenants could only be protected if Veronika Fukson were allowed to vote.
The real conflict of interest in this case was on the part of the landlord plaintiffs who stood to gain financially if Veronika’s vote was disqualified and rent control defeated. However, the hypocritical litigious exercise was mis-focused upon Fukson’s alleged conflict of interest.
The case was heard before Alameda County Superior Court Judge Alan Lindsay on December 28, l979. Plaintiffs were seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the back-up ordinance extending Measure I from going into effect on New Years’s Day.
Ron Barkin, on behalf of Veronika and Acting City Attorney Ted Lakey, defended Councilwoman Fukson’s right to represent her constituency by voting to extend Measure I. Landlord attorney Dagmar Searle relied upon the Fair Political Practices Commission guidelines in claiming automatic conflict of interest.
Judge Alan Lindsay, a conservative, listened to the arguments and then stated in open court that if he were a Berkeley voter or Councilman, he would have opposed both Measure I and its extension. However, in spite of his own opposition to rent control, the Judge declined to issue a preliminary injunction against Veronika’s right to vote. (Berkeley Gazette, December 30, l979.) The landlords’ attempt to kill rent control by manipulating conflict of interest doctrines failed.
In response to the referendum petitions which had more than enough signatures, the Council repealed the second temporary rent freeze ordinance and the just cause for eviction measure. But the back-up ordinance extending Measure I through June l980 went into effect. A mild form of rent control had survived for another six months. The next round in the Berkeley rent control saga would once again be fought at the ballot box in June 1980.