Thursday, September 30, 2010

Berkeley City Council Candidates for District 1 Talk about Crime, Traffic, Downtown Development

Linda Maio (Incumbent)
Jasper Kingeter
Anthony Di Donato

Merrilie Mitchell

By Doug Oakley
Bay Area News Group East Bay

Crime, traffic, downtown development and a smelly steel mill are issues candidates for the District 1 seat on the Berkeley City Council are talking about a month before the election. 
Three candidates are going up against 18-year Councilwoman Linda Maio for the seat representing much of the flatland neighborhoods north of University Avenue to the Albany border. 
Jasper Kingeter, 22, is a city employee and the youngest candidate vying for the seat. He works as a youth recreation educator at the marina in Berkeley and also works for the Albany-Berkeley YMCA. 
Kingeter said two of the biggest issues in his mind are the need for more activities and guidance for young people as a way to cut down on crime and defeating the downtown development plan before voters next month known as Measure R.
The measure includes height limits on new buildings and a streamlined permit process for builders who follow green guidelines. It also envisions more people living downtown, while simultaneously asking them to leave their cars somewhere else. 
"I oppose Measure R because I feel like it's just a plan to have a plan," Kingeter said. "It's just loaded with words like 'open space,' 'green' and 'sustainable,' but there's not a clear explanation of that. It allows a hotel, but a lot of people don't want to have a dense downtown like that." 
Kingeter said his home was recently burglarized when his little sister was home in the backyard and his stepsister has been robbed at gunpoint, so he sees crime as a very important issue in the city. 
"The main issue is we have a large group of young people around my age who don't have much to do," Kingeter said. "We need to update our community centers and have positive role models like me to show people there are other things to be doing. I want to spread a positive vibe to other young people who feel like they have no hope." Incumbent Maio, meanwhile, said her "No. 1 priority has been Pacific Steel Casting." Maio said she has helped push over the years to get reliable testing of the air around the Second Street steel mill that ultimately has proved there are no health risks, even though it still smells bad. 
"I've spent most of my time in my district wrestling this information to the ground," Maio said. 
A health risk assessment recently performed by the company, but analyzed by an independent firm and by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, showed no health risks to the air around the mill, she said. And an air monitoring station at Sixth and Camelia streets showed the same thing. 
"We have almost for now, put the health risk issue to rest in most people's minds, but we still have odors and that's what we are working on now," Maio said. 
Maio said her other big issue in the district is traffic. She said commuters on their way to UC Berkeley abuse streets not designed for such a traffic load. She's hopeful a fire department-endorsed gentle sloping speed bump that is easy on drivers with disabilities will slow drivers down in the future. 
As for downtown development, she fully supports Measure R. 
"We need a place for people to live close to UC Berkeley, because all of them are driving through my district and making everybody crazy," Maio said. "Because the downtown is becoming more culturally interesting, a lot of people who live in the suburbs and who work in Berkeley may make the choice to move here. But right now we don't have any housing offerings for the average employee." 
Maio said Measure R will help give people the opportunity to live and shop downtown "and quit driving through our neighborhoods." 
Community activist and candidate Merrilie Mitchell prides herself on following the money that flows out of City Hall. She attends just about every City Council meeting, and goes to other meetings few attend. Although she doesn't drive a car, she's concerned that the City Council under Mayor Tom Bates is trading parking for apartment buildings downtown. 
"The city is giving away parking lots to developers," Mitchell said. "People who live here come looking for the parking spaces and they're not there. We are losing our share of the downtown that we, as taxpayers, are paying for. It's filthy, we're losing good businesses and things are out of control." 
Mitchell also said she wants more openness in city government. 
"I don't take the spin from city hall because it's bull," said Mitchell. "The city is a mess and they are running a game on the citizens." 
Council hopeful Anthony Di Donato, 40, is a property manager who sees traffic, overcrowding near UC Berkeley, the pollution of Pacific Steel Casting and crime as the major problems facing Berkeley and District 1. 
He echoed Maio's sentiment that the university contributes to an unacceptable amount of traffic in the city. 
"When there's a football game, it's gridlock all the way from I-80 to campus on University Avenue," Di Donato said. "I don't know how the school gets away with it. It's insane and it needs to be corrected." He said the school is constructing too many buildings and not including parking lots in the mix. He also said UC police need to do more to protect students from crime, like armed robbery. 
As for downtown development, Di Donato said Berkeley does not have the infrastructure to support the kind of development Measure R allows. 
"People do use BART and public transportation and God bless them for that," he said. "But people are going to use their cars and they have no place to park. It creates gridlock."

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