Both candidates have been Berkeley mayor before, so it seems fair to observe that under both administrations the concept of “affordable” housing has evolved to mean $100,000 condominiums and a pro-development atmosphere in which no one objects to Berkeley's first million dollar condominiums with views of the bay.
Both candidates, in successive administrations, offered no objection to first the slow starvation of the Police Review Commission, once a national model, by cutting its budget so far back that it couldn't function sensibly, then its assault by the courts, which has forced it to operate entirely in secret due to officers' privacy rights. Dean and Bates may abhor this development, as do supporters of police accountability nationwide, but have yet to say a public word of regret, or take any compensatory action.
Berkeley has a shameful history of attacking the poorest, most vulnerable people on its streets; its aging homeless veterans, its runaway youth, its marginalized, mentally challenged people of all ages. The efforts have come under both Dean's and Bates' administrations in the form of efforts to criminalize panhandling, efforts to curtail panhandling in commercial areas, efforts to criminalize utilizing shopping carts or having large amounts of belongings, efforts to criminalize public sleeping, sitting down, lying down, urination, defecation, and smoking – all behaviors which have no effect on the housed or the rich, but which overwhelmingly complicate the lives of the poor on the streets.
It would be unfair not to note the wholehearted participation of the Downtown Berkeley Association (DBA) in these efforts. Under both administrations, this business lobby, once publicly funded and largely governed by out-of-town downtown property owners, has been allowed to literally write the wording of anti-poor ordinances with the willing help of city staff and elected officials, who know that if they allow this undemocratic interference, their future elections will be well funded by grateful DBA members.
It would also be unfair not to add that the voters of Berkeley have proven only too willing to pass even unconstitutional measures to try to avoid their personal discomfort at confronting poverty on their streets. The DBA was usually more than willing to throw serious money at deceptive political campaigns against the rights of the poor, but a majority of Berkeley's voters has, at least in the past, been willing to lend its support to the shameful criminalization of poverty.
It is our job, the current poor, the poor-to-be, and those who care about equality, to be at least as persuasive as the DBA's well-heeled business lobby, which makes it politically tenable to target the poor. Especially in this economy, both former Mayor Dean and former Mayor Bates will have an easy time enlisting an army of resources to disparage and undermine the poor and the under-funded community groups trying to assist them, and keep the pathetically inadequate amount of shelter beds at the same number it's been for decades (240).
We know the playbooks, we know the players, and we know the game. Unless we re-write the rules, we know exactly what to expect. We're at a critical point no matter who wins the elections locally or nationally, and we need our creative communities more than ever to find new paths to a better, more equitable world.
Carol Denney is a community activist and musician.