Districts 2, 3 Call for Growth

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Economic growth has emerged as a pivotal issue in races for two City Council districts where candidates say business activity has traditionally lagged behind other neighborhoods.

Most candidates in the races for the South and Southwest Berkeley districts list growth as their top priority, saying the city must do everything in its power to foster a healthy business climate. Good corporate citizens, they reason, provide local jobs, a deeper tax base and training opportunities for young and old alike.

District 3 challenger James Peterson, a business consultant, is confident that his practical know-how would be useful in improving South Berkeley, especially the budding commercial zone between Adeline Street and Shattuck Avenue. Until now, the moderate says, there has been little, if any, progress in the neighborhood's economic position.

Peterson says that if elected, he would draw on his experience as a long-time supporter of low-income housing projects to motivate community groups to support projects like the Ed Roberts campus, a proposed $30 million project in the Adeline area.

"It's sort of an incubator of different kinds of technology companies whose efforts are dedicated to issues surrounding the disabled," he says. "Seven or eight different firms will be active in that building".

Peterson touts "mixed use" developments. While many plots in the Adeline area are zoned for commercial or residential uses, some are zoned for both. That means, for example, at the street level, stores are permitted while upper floors are reserved for residents.

But Mike Berkowitz, an aide to incumbent Maudelle Shirek, dismisses Peterson as inexperienced, saying his ideas are "untested," and his track record does not match up to Shirek's seven terms on the council. Furthermore, Berkowitz says, Peterson's suggestions that Shirek has failed to pay proper attention to economic growth are unfounded.

Shirek, who is also involved in the Ed Roberts project, has been aggressive in courting businesses that will bring jobs to the city, especially locally owned businesses, Berkowitz says. Voters can look to any number of examples - the Bayer Corporation and the Berkeley Bowl, to name a couple - and see that Shirek has fought hard to maintain a thriving business climate in her district, he says.

"We don't want to have a fortress mentality," he says.

Berkowitz also warns against oversimplifying the issue, saying it is easy to lose sight of the delicate balance that city officials must try to maintain between the interests of employers and the interests of employees.

Shirek, a long-time champion for labor causes, knows that enthusiasm for business should not translate into neglect for workers, he insists.

"People are left behind, particularly in times where there is an economic boom," Berkowitz says. "The city can give people jobs and training, not like the dole, but give people a chance to break into the economic mainstream."

Candidates in the race for Southwest Berkeley's District 2 are likewise looking to define themselves as champions of economic revitalization.

Challenger Betty Hicks, a moderate, says the council has grown too distant from its constituents. She wants to see good jobs and responsible development in the district, and she says she knows how to do it - better communication between the city and residents.

"We have a lot of space," she points out. "You have a lot of stores that are closed. You need to go after businesses or help some other stores become larger and better."

In particular, she wants to make more loan programs available for struggling entrepreneurs and other local business owners. Citing the council's failure to aggressively seek out new businesses, Hicks says her district has been neglected and is sorely in need of attention.

"I hear incumbents talking about the revitalization of San Pablo," she says. "They are talking about awnings or a little paint. They need to talk to the community. There are struggling new businesses they could help."

Incumbent Margaret Breland says she also wants to see an improvement in the business climate in Southwest Berkeley, especially around San Pablo Avenue. But her main concern is that residents have good jobs. She says she will keep doing the things she has done in the past, like encouraging Bayer Corporation and green businesses to locate in Berkeley so that residents can have well-paying jobs close to home. She also supports an increase in the city's living wage.

Breland says she wants to focus her energy on retaining manufacturing jobs in particular, which often pay more and provide better benefits than service jobs, and are, in her opinion, absolutely central to the city's economic well being.


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