Troublesome Odors Key in District 1 Race

Persia Salehi/Courtesy

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With only four days remaining until this year's Berkeley City Council elections, District 1 incumbent Linda Maio said she is confident in her record despite criticism from challengers Jasper Kingeter and Merrilie Mitchell regarding management of the Pacific Steel Casting Company's continued troublesome odors and what they call her lack of engagement with residents.

Both Kingeter, a youth recreational educator at the Berkeley Marina, and Mitchell, a self-described community activist, have focused on Pacific Steel as the crux of their campaigns. Though several assessments at the facility have found no health risks associated with the emissions, odors continue to raise concerns for community members about the health effects of breathing in toxins.

"We continue to work on odor emissions that are unpleasant to the neighbors," Maio said, adding that though there have been fewer complaints in recent years, she will continue working with the plant to reduce emissions.

Mitchell, who also ran for the council in 2006, said odors remain a concern within the district in addition to the larger problem that the city may be allowing the plant to pollute in order to lower property values to incentivize development.

While Kingeter has criticized Maio's inability to solve the facility's odor problems, he said in an e-mail that he is running to hold the city accountable and engage the community in the decision-making process.

He added that if elected, he would hold regular community meetings for District 1 residents.

"Concerned citizens could directly have their voice heard and a platform to discuss ideas for the future of our district with other residents," he said in the e-mail.

In the e-mail, Kingeter also listed several other issues he felt were important in the district - the West Berkeley economy, traffic calming, crime and "the much needed routine upkeep that District 1 is lacking" - but said he did not have time to elaborate.

Mitchell, who called herself a "caretaker" for the city, said she would also like to tackle routine upkeep issues such as streetlight outages and dirty sidewalks.

She added that those who hold power in the city - including Maio, who she said is a "key member" of "the political machine" - are focused on maintaining their power at the expense of residents' needs.

"I connect the dots and I see what's happening, and the machine is power politics," she said. "They really don't want people to know what's going on."

In this race, however, Maio said there is no bias toward incumbents or against challengers but that it is rather a question of experience. Neither Kingeter nor Mitchell have held public office in the city, though Mitchell has consistently attended City Council and commission meetings.

"It's difficult to get elected if you have no track record," Maio said. "It's difficult to get elected unless people have confidence in you ... you can't just walk in the door and say, 'Here I am, I want to run for City Council.'"

If re-elected, Maio said she would continue to focus on Pacific Steel, traffic calming measures and the economic viability of the city - especially in the face of cuts to state funding.

"My most pressing thing is to just keep the focus on Pacific Steel Casting because they have made some major improvements due to the pressure that's been on them," she said.

Candidate Anthony Di Donato could not be reached for comment.


Gianna Albaum is the lead city government reporter. Contact her at [email protected]

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