News Analysis: City Politics Key to Understanding Local Races

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Republicans may be a distinct minority among Berkeley's electorate, but that doesn't mean the city is without political divisions.

In fact, two organized factions called moderates and progressives function as de facto political parties. The ideological gulf between the two is often as wide as any in Congress.

As Berkeley voters cast their votes tomorrow, understanding the two factions is the key to understanding the candidates.

To put the parties in perspective, the moderates could be described as Bill Clinton's New Democrats-liberal, but friendlier to business interests.

To their left stand the progressives, whose politics range from the pragmatically liberal Linda Maio to the ultra-environmental Dona Spring.

The city also has its own version of gridlock.

Going into tomorrow's election, the moderates hold four seats and the progressives five. That balance is nearly equalized because Mayor Shirley Dean is a moderate.

With the exception of Maio's West Berkeley district, both factions have backed a candidate in the city's council and mayoral races.

Several issues loom large this election season. Chief among those is housing.

It's no secret that the city faces a housing shortage with high rents beyond the means of most residents. The city is becoming more difficult for both students and working class people to afford.

Both progressives and moderates agree that more housing needs to be built. There even exists a consensus on where-the city's "transit corridors": Shattuck, University and San Pablo avenues. Residents of newly constructed apartments near these major bus lines and BART station would likely use public transit.

But progressives and moderates differ strongly on how new developments should be built.

While moderates embrace for-profit developers such as Patrick Kennedy and Avi Nevo, progressives tend to merely tolerate them, willing to approve projects such as Kennedy's Art Tech building on the corner of Milvia and Addison streets, but only if they meet stringent requirements supported by the progressives.

In the case of Art Tech, a wrought iron parking garage door and office space for nonprofit use would be needed.

A second issue dividing the council is parking. The city faces a chronic shortage, which for the most part both sides acknowledge.

Again, dispute arises over solutions. Dean proposed rebuilding and expanding Downtown garages. Moderate Councilmember Betty Olds recently proposed building a parking garage at the corner of Milvia Street and University Avenue.

Aligned closely with environmentalists, progressives are much more reluctant to support parking.

Council members such as Kriss Worthington, a progressive up for re-election in District 7, tend to support increased mass transit to alleviate the problem.

Worthington helped establish the Eco-pass, a pass that the city provides for its employees. Worthington, a bicycle advocate, argues against using any city funds to build new parking garages.

Moderates tend to be more friendly to private business, especially big business, than their counterparts across the aisle. With great opposition from progressives, the mayor pushed through the building of the Eddie Bauer store in Downtown.

Progressives accuse the mayor of catering too much to corporate retailers, citing the proliferation of chain stores in Downtown, such as Barnes & Noble bookstore.

The bookstore exemplifies many of the differences between the two factions.

Moderates point to the tax revenues this store generates and the service it provides residents.

Progressives say such stores rob the city of its unique character and use their corporate muscle to hurt Berkeley institutions such as the independent Cody's Books.

The moderates have also been supportive of building new office developments in West Berkeley. They argue the city needs the tax revenues office buildings generate to "pay the bills."

The progressive majority on the council passed a moratorium on such construction, arguing it is driving artists and light industry companies out of the area.

They also contend more offices will create traffic and aggravate the parking shortage.


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