Two Factions, Two Directions

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When it comes to large construction projects and other development endeavors, candidates for City Council like to say that cool heads should prevail.

With the city's two most prominent political factions vying for a majority on the City Council, candidates on both sides are trying to portray themselves as caretakers of Berkeley's physical landscape. They all agree that elected officials should neither hand the city over to some developer with hopes for a bigger, better Manhattan, nor should they permit growth to stagnate here while other Bay Area cities boom.

Land development has always touched a nerve in the city, whether it be with renters or landlords, environmentalists or growth advocates. Add a booming housing market and an ever-rising student population to the picture and that nerve becomes even more sensitive.

The question voters may find themselves asking, then, is exactly what do these candidates - moderates or progressives - support. That is easier said than done because while many age-old features of the two factions have held, many candidates have sought to distance themselves from traditional battle lines.

Moderates have traditionally been described as sympathetic to economic growth and real estate development. That is not to say that those in the moderate camp are stalwarts of the Republican Party. They have their limits too. Most are environmentalists and supporters of responsible development. But many moderates insist that they favor development more resolutely than their opponents in the progressive camp.

One big difference between the two is that moderates are seen as more open to development without restrictions than are progressives.

Not surprisingly, many of the moderate-backed campaigns have been financed by big developers.

For example, many Fourth Street devlopers, like Mike and John Drew, Denny Abrams and Richard Millikan - and many of their family members - contributed maximal amounts of money to Betty Hicks, the moderate challenger in the District 2 race, who hopes to unseat progressive incumbent Margaret Breland. To highlight the differences, Breland helped to shoot down a proposal by Abrams and Millikan to build a parking garage with $3 million of city money.

Hicks says that most of the community resistance to large development projects comes from failure to communicate. If she were on the council, she promises, she would make a strong effort to reach out to constituents and ask them what they want.

"You need to make each community vibrant," she says. "If you went to your neighbors and found out what their interests were, if you were really conscious about their input, you'd find that people are interested in working with developers."

District 3 challenger James Peterson, also a moderate backed by the Drews' contributions, says the city can encourage both housing and businesses without conflict.

"I always say we can have density with dignity," he says. "We can mix housing and businesses. We can ensure that the character of those buildings fit in with the character of the neighborhood."

Also running with the moderates is incumbent Betty Olds, who says she is a strong supporter of responsible development, infrastructure repairs and affordable housing.

"The (progressive) majority hasn't done much about bringing businesses to town," she says. "They will only accept politically correct businesses. I think they are just too specific. They seem to be against dot-commers. Of course we don't want businesses that adversely affect the neighborhood, but there are plenty that don't."

Olds says another defining feature of moderates is that they want developments that include a reasonable amount of parking spaces while progressives want to force people to use alternative means of the trasportation by providing none.

Progressives are usually seen as more ferocious advocates of affordable housing and more demanding when it comes to developers.

Take Margaret Breland, for example. Hoping to keep her District 2 seat in tomorrow's election, she says the main difference between the two camps is that progressives hold affordable housing to be paramount, while it is of lesser importance for the moderates.

"The moderates don't seem to be so interested in affordable housing,"

Breland says. "They want it in some places and not others. We don't care where it is."

Maudelle Shirek, the senior member of the council's progressive majority, wants to see Berkeley develop further, but her office says her motive is to get more jobs and housing first.

"We are not opposed to the developers, but we are not beholden," says Mike Berkowitz, Shirek's aide. "We don't want to demonize the developers. We want smart growth."

Certainly there are trade-offs, Berkowitz admits. Right now there are plenty of sites that "beg" for housing, he adds, pointing out that Shirek favors housing projects scattered throughout the city as opposed to those located in solid, block buildings.

Despite the presence of traditional differences between the two factions, this election has presented voters with some new twists on old themes. Miriam Hawley's campaign for the available seat in District 5 is just one example. The candidate was endorsed by both sides, although she is considered to be closer to the moderates.

Picking up a line from the moderate camp, Hawley says the maintenance of the city's infrastructure is one of her top priorities. But she is also adamant about affordable housing. Her vision for Downtown Berkeley is telling in that it resembles a blend of the two platforms.

"We need to develop some housing in Downtown," she says. "People would undoubtedly like to live in the middle of the activity if they could. I'd like to see Downtown housing for all income levels. Any kind of compact growth makes the delivery of services in the city much more economical. Police, teachers and firefighters cannot afford to live in Berkeley. We need housing for people who work here. Too many people drive in. It exacerbates our parking problem."

Another one of her ideas reveals the same mixture of progressive and moderate sentiment. The looming student housing shortage is one of her targets, and she suggests that perhaps the university should underwrite low-interest bonds to help developers move forward with housing projects. Or perhaps Berkeley should coordinate with nearby cities to meet its housing needs.

After all, she says, "Berkeley isn't an island."


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