by Carol Denney November 2018
On Sunday, November 11th, amid the swirl of sundowner-whipped ash and debris battling through the air, several dozen dedicated East Bay citizens gathered for a Veterans' Day commemoration featuring Mayor Jesse Arreguin among other luminaries on the steps of the Berkeley Historical Society. The event was arranged to begin on the eleventh month, on the eleventh day, at the eleventh hour, and at the eleventh minute to honor its 100 year-old Armistice Day origin; the "eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" of 1918.
And the Mayor was late. His aide had to stand red-faced with his phone in his ear shoulder to shoulder with annoyed observers making wry remarks about the Mayor sleeping in.
Which is the least of it. Mayor Arreguin flipped completely on more than one of his campaign promises, including the "housing first" policy he promised to dozens of advocacy groups and houseless people. Another broken promise was to sidestep the usual; ravaging People's Park to delight the new UC chancellor, as documented on the People's Park website: "In 2016 Councilmember Jesse Arreguin said in his campaign platform: "It is not necessary to convert People's Park into student housing, as there are multiple locations for student housing around the University."
In 2018 Mayor Jesse Arreguin told the SF Chronicle: "For many decades this [People's Park] was the third rail of politics in Berkeley, but today I think there is a desire to look at something different." Mayor Arreguin abandoned those promises. But it's much more than that. The Downtown Berkeley Association budget was just over a million dollars when two of its "ambassadors" were caught on video assaulting homeless people. Now their budget is just shy of two million dollars and there's still no oversight. Mayor Arreguin has shown no backbone for reigning in the business improvement districts now firmly in the driver's seat of undemocratic, civil rights-defying, profit-at-any-cost policies literally changing the color of our town while residents hang on for dear life. Mayor Arreguin has calculated that leaving these policies in place works for him. Few people seem bothered by yet another BART plaza reconfiguration at a $9.3 million public cost while others sleep under the overpass.
Any one of us running for Mayor against Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin would send a message. But let's all send that message together. We supported you. We worked on your campaign, we walked for you. Then when we saw the "Bates lite" predictions coming true we wrote to you, we called you, we salted the town with op-ed pieces and kept leaving messages with various administrative aides.
But we're not the big money Mayor Arreguin is listening to. The high-end, penthouse-heavy development continues its path through our neighborhoods leaving more and more people displaced, especially people of color. The measured, well-researched efforts at enhancing police accountability get tabled or gutted at his hand. The towering pile of anti-homeless ordinances competes with sidewalk and demonstration restrictions for the Jenga prize.
Even the easy things, like refreshing the ten-year-old smokefree commercial district signage, get swept aside in favor of cluttering the town with sidewalk-clogging evidence of the same tech giveaways most mayors find impossible to turn down or negotiate well: scooters, robots, and the usual greenwashed bike "sharing" or ride-hailing start-ups venture capital loves so much more than your local hardware store. In any fair hearing our own bikes, and real delivery jobs win. So there is no fair hearing.
Brace yourself for several dozen contract-mandated glowing "IKE" screens flashing ads all day and collecting your data whether you want them to or not, screens which you and your neighborhood have to opt out of, rather than opt in to, and which you're stuck with by contract for at least two years if you miss the crucial opt-out meeting whenever that is. Don't hold your breath that they have any incentive to tell you since they make money off of turning your neighborhood into a running big screen commercial curated by and for profit alone.
The Police Officers' Association, apparently without embarrassment, spent over $15,000 in the recent election trying to unseat the able representative in District 4 for backing police reforms based in part on the Police Department's own statistics about race-disproportionate stops and practices. That POA message rang like a bell, heard unmistakably by any other council representative inclined to support police accountability measures. The mayor apparently has no objection to the POA's effort to tilt the election. An effort to ban "spit hoods", which guarantee the police can't monitor the breathing of a detainee as required by law, died at the commission level for want of a second despite the obvious danger to public safety. If you're listening for Mayor Jesse Arreguin's outrage, bring a comfy chair and settle in. And I could go on.
Let's all run. Maybe others are caught in the eddy of hope that Mayor Arreguin will use his clout to save the shell mound, have a change of heart about upholding the landmarking of Campanile Way or at least stop jacking the process behind the scenes. But some of us are done. Mayor Arreguin's course was clear on the day he gathered hundreds together on a cold January morning shortly after his inauguration to make a human peace sign while a homeless police sweep took place only yards away. Most of Berkeley sleeps through this kind of obvious display, or doesn't want to hurt anybody's feelings by mentioning it. But if we all run against him for these and many more obvious reasons, it'll get play.
Our instant runoff voting will protect any viable candidate offering an alternative course for the city. And an "everybody run" campaign will send a much-needed message to neighboring cities and states, not to mention the similar message our nation just sent, that creating a facade of progressive policies is just not enough.
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