Chapter 15 – The BCA Revival
Note: This history was written by David Mundstock and republished here with his permission. The opinions in this piece are his and do not necessarily reflect the positions of BCA members. For original link go to http://www.berkeleyinthe70s.homestead.com.
Tears were the first response of many BCA people to the dreamshattering April l977 loss. However, sadness and disappointment are not a springboard for action, as the April Coalition proved by disappearing after the l973 fiasco, in which Ying was elected. In l977 BCA suffered total electoral disaster, much worse then l973, yet the organization rebounded with tremendous new energy and enthusiasm. How could this happen?
Ed Slevin helped to turn sadness into anger. BDC’s professional campaign mastermind made a serious error by openly bragging of his victorious slander tactics in an April 26, l977 Gazette article, headlined:
Winners correct — Berkeley’s voters not more sophisticated
The Democratic moderate candidates swept the city council election here last week by not over-estimating the political instincts of the Berkeley voter.
In the final analysis, the Berkeley electorate does not appear more politically sophisticated or intellectual than any other urban voter group.
This is the assessment of political consultant Ed Slevin, 4l, a San Franciscan and a registered Republican who called most of the shots for the ad hoc Better Berkeley Campaign Committee, the campaign organization that sponsored the four successful Berkeley Democratic Club (BDC) candidates.
Slevin was brought to Berkeley only 33 days before the election ….
He then mapped out a strategy for the campaign which was not only “simplistic” in his words, but as efficient as a recipe for blueberry muffins.
The revival really started with Florence McDonald’s May 9, l977 letter to the BCA mailing list in which she reprinted the Slevin article as part of a request for renewed commitment and contributions. This proved that the BCA structure was still functioning. Unlike l973, BCA’s l977 campaign had been relatively harmonious. While hostility towards CP and BTU was widespread, BCA’s electoral activists had a positive attitude towards both BCA and each other. It was the Council majority and their vicious campaign that people hated. Now Slevin’s boasting helped create a massive backlash of outrage that replaced depression as BCA’s dominant emotion.
A great many BCA people were immediately ready to translate their anger into renewed political activity at a campaign-style pace. Instead of dying, BCA generated a spontaneous community renaissance:
* In June l977, BCA opened its own office, at 3l26 Shattuck in the Dellums Community Center. The BCA phone number, 549-08l6, had already spent 7 years in progressive politics, with Ken Meade, Loni, and then Ying.
* At the July 3l, l977 general membership meeting, BCA hired Mal Warwick as full-time coordinator with a salary of $500 per month.
* BCA publicity and community outreach helped find clients for a Federally funded city program to assist low-income people in paying their PG&E bills.
* An audience of 500 attended an October l, l977 testimonial dinner (and BCA fundraiser) to honor Ying Lee Kelley. The money raised paid off BCA’s entire l977 campaign debt which originally totalled $4,500.
* 200 people participated in a BCA Constitutional convention on October 9, l977 to make major decisions about the organization’s future.
The Constitutional Convention’s most significant action redefined BCA as a dues-paying membership organization in which voting privileges at general meetings and conventions would now be open only to BCA members of at least 30 days standing. Annual dues were initially set at $6.00 ($3.00 low-income), with a by-law provision that inability to pay shall not constitute a bar to membership.
The open convention at which anyone could come and vote, a mainstay of BCA and its predecessors for a decade, was permanently abolished. Future BCA nominations could no longer be packing free-for-alls. This was a major victory for people who believed in a tightly structured organization.
The new provisions continued a long-term trend that started with the elected steering committee and then adoption of formal by-laws. Since the membership requirement worked to the detriment of “outside forces”, it was also a response to CP’s perceived packing of the l977 convention.
This drastic change amounted to BCA copying of BDC, which already restricted voting to “members only”. BCA would now be much more insulated than ever before, and that could be harmful to some constituencies.
Students, for example, have a very high turnover rate from year to year among the people who are involved in local politics. Many students would be unable to vote at future BCA conventions because they became interested after the 30 day deadline had passed. Thus, it might be significantly harder to nominate student candidates, an unfortunate development from my point of view. The boundary between insulation and isolation is easy to cross.
For now BCA emerged from its Constitutional Convention full of unprecedented enthusiasm. Ambitious plans were made for fundraising, community organizing, and alliances with other progressive groups around local, state, national, and international issues. BCA committees were at work on an amazing number of projects, from parties to precinct work. An eruption of political energy was bursting forth, looking for channels in which to flow.
The City Council’s New Math: 7 to 2 Becomes 5 to 4
The Berkeley City Council’s l977-79 term was amazingly unpredictable. BDC began in May l977 with a reliable 7-2 majority, although it was far from monolithic. Widener and Hone remained the leaders, with Gilda Feller, Bill Segesta, and Carole Davis all starting out as dependable followers.
Shirley Dean still maintained some flashes of independence to the majority’s left, with Billy Rumford doing the same to the right and left. On various issues Davis seemed to be more conservative in the Rumford direction, while Segesta appeared a little closer to Dean.
The seven vote majority was very solid on contested issues such as reversing the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s designation of a historical district (7-l-l, May l5, l977); approving a condominium conversion (7-0-2, October ll, l977); defeating strict conflict of interest provisions (2-6-l, October 25, l977); and refusing to change a Council rule which limited public discussion and debate (7-2, October 25, l977).
Sometimes Loni and John could pick up an extra vote or two. But they still lost and there was no pattern to these occasional defections.
Rumford was willing to appeal the decision invalidating Proposition Q (3-6, May l0, l977). Dean and Hone joined the minority to oppose a savings and loan at the corner of Ashby and College that displaced a florists shop and threatened to be the forerunner of many similar displacements in the Elmwood Neighborhood (5-4, June 7, l977). Rumford and Segesta would not support a motion rejecting Auditor Florence McDonald’s proposal to reallocate a portion of her salary for municipal and community needs (5-2-2, October ll, l977). And Segesta did not vote to impose limitations on the right of community service agencies with city contracts to express positions on local issues (5-0-3, November 8, l977).
Towards the end of l977 the Council began evolving into something new, but it took time to be seen in the votes. Carole Davis was growing increasingly frustrated over her treatment at the hands of Widener and Hone. Davis had been loyal to the majority and after two and one-half years as Berkeley’s first black City Councilwoman she wanted to be taken seriously. A single parent who had to work for a living, Davis found Council service to be a burden. To justify her commitment of time and energy, Davis needed to achieve more than a record of loyalty. Carole Davis had both independent ideas and ambitions, such as becoming Vice-Mayor, but Widener and Hone disregarded her as a person.
Disturbed by what she felt was Widener/Hone arrogance towards her, Davis was beginning to feel very alienated from the majority, a position she shared with Billy Rumford.
Rumford’s dissatisfaction with Mayor Widener and Vice Mayor Hone led him to propose on October 25, l977 that the Vice Mayor position be rotated by seniority on an annual basis. This was a direct attack on Hone, who cherished the Vice Mayor role. Loni and John supported Rumford, but his motion lost 3-5 with Davis absent. Hone was then re-elected Vice Mayor on an identical 5-3 vote.
Widener and Hone continued to be unconcerned about both Carole Davis’ and Billy Rumford’s feelings. Early in the December l3, l977 meeting, the Council voted 5-2 to extend City Manager Elijah Rogers’ contract to July l98l and raise his salary. John and Loni voted “No” as Denton formally reiterated their position that a City Manager contract violated section 27 of the Berkeley City Charter. (See page l59.)
Davis and Rumford were not yet present when the vote was taken, although Davis had specifically requested Widener to postpone the City Manager votes until she arrived. Davis had some concerns about the contract revisions and Roger’s huge salary. But Widener ignored her and the vote occurred with Davis absent. Davis confided in Rumford, who shared her growing anger at Widener and Hone.
Billy Rumford was a quiet observer of Berkeley political trends. He brought a unique attitude to the Council on one particular subject: Rumford felt that Berkeley City Councilmembers wasted huge amounts of meeting time by talking too much, a point of view traditionally expressed only by members of the public. While the Council was in session, Billy Rumford spoke fewer words than any other Councilmember of his era. But in private Rumford had a lot to say.
Conservative by temperament, Rumford was a true political independent, just as his campaign literature always proclaimed. He had a great deal in common with Bordon Price. But Rumford’s independence had always been condemned by the Council majority, especially Widener and Hone. Since they also claimed to be independent, the contradictions bothered Rumford. After nearly five years on the Council, he was tired of an alliance with hypocrites who had often treated him as a political outcast. Widener, Hone and the rest of them simply did not measure up to Rumford’s political and personal standards. Then came the Widener/Hone abuse of Carole Davis, and Rumford’s patience totally ran out.
As l978 began, Billy Rumford and Carole Davis no longer considered themselves to be part of the Council majority. Instead of forming their own mini-faction, Rumford and Davis came up with a much more shocking way to declare their independence from Widener and Hone.
Both disaffected Councilmembers had a good personal relationship with Loni Hancock. Davis discovered that Loni really cared about how Councilmembers treated one another, especially the way in which women were treated. After all, Loni had been insulted and abused by other Councilmembers for years. Naturally Loni was sympathetic to Davis’ problems. Although Rumford disagreed with Loni most of the time, he respected her integrity. Loni wasn’t a hypocrite and she met Rumford’s standards. Was there a better way for Davis and Rumford to take revenge on Widener/Hone than by starting to vote with Loni Hancock?
On January 24, l978, the Council discussed the award of a contract for towing illegally parked cars. Loni and John favored one company, the Council majority another. It was a totally obscure issue, but the votes came out 5-4, with a new minority of Hancock, Denton, Davis, and Rumford appearing for the first time. In retrospect, it was a very significant trial balloon.
During the next few months, the Council majority failed to bring Rumford and Davis back into the fold. Political threats and/or olive branches, even if attempted, did not succeed. It appears that Widener and Hone concentrated on keeping Dean and Segesta in line, while accepting that the two extra votes would slip away. A majority of Widener, Hone, Feller, Dean, and Segesta was still a majority, and five votes, not seven, were needed to control the Council.
By mid l978 the pattern was entrenched. Nearly every major contested vote, regardless of the issue, was now 5-4, the new party line vote. Davis and Rumford had burnt their bridges and changed sides. There was no indication that either Davis or Rumford hoped to tangibly benefit from this switch. Obviously Rumford was through with Berkeley politics. A traitor in the eyes of BDC and the Republicans, Rumford’s long history as a conservative would preclude BCA from ever nominating him. Billy clearly intended to retire in l979 without seeking re-election. Carole Davis’ term lasted until l98l. Her political future was uncertain.
Hancock and Denton – A Relaxed Two Years
For Loni Hancock the l977-79 period was a major transition. BCA’s April l977 defeat took away most of the pressure she had known for the previous six years. Progressive people expected less from the new Council than any previous time in the decade. Berkeley city government moved out of City Hall into the Farm Credit Bureau Building, where all the Councilmembers were provided with offices for the first time. So Loni closed her community office at 2490 Channing Way. With six years of experience and Anna Rabkin as her administrative assistant, Loni no longer needed a large volunteer staff apparatus. Nor did John Denton, who was busy practicing law. Volunteers now went to BCA, not the Council offices.
Loni had been steadily reducing the time she spent on Council business. In February l978 her appointment was announced as Regional Director for ACTION, the Federal agency that combined VISTA and the Peace Corps. President Jimmy Carter had placed former Colorado State Treasurer Sam Brown in charge of ACTION. Brown had been a leader of the anti-Vietnam War movement and chief student organizer for Eugene McCarthy’s 1968 presidential campaign. Loni had gotten to know Brown through the Conference on Alternative State and Local Policies, the same group that published the Cities Wealth. Through that connection, Loni Hancock joined the Carter Administration.
Her experience with volunteer activists made Loni a natural for VISTA, the domestic Peace Corps. Under Sam Brown and Loni, VISTA volunteers became agents of reform and social change.
When community groups came to the Council, Loni and John stood with them as always. But the high energy levels and dedicated volunteer staff of past years was gone, apparently for good.
By the fall of l977, the focus of political activity in the progressive community rested with BCA as an organization. What BCA needed was a chance to demonstrate its new strength, and the Council majority provided a perfect opportunity.
BCA Wins the Zoning War
The Berkeley Planning Commission had been working on zoning changes for years as part of the overall land use review mandated by l973’s Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance. As l977 came to a close, the Planning Commission assembled a package of Zoning Ordinance amendments that satisfied its BDC-appointed majority. Every major element of this package was controversial, especially the following:
* Reducing from 5 to 3 the number of unrelated people who can live together in the same house without obtaining a use permit.
This amendment directly threatened large numbers of unrelated tenants and even homeowners who could only afford to stay in Berkeley by living together in groups of four or more.
* Placing tighter restrictions on a homeowner’s right to add a second unit to a single family house.
Berkeley was already full of illegal (bootleg) second units in areas such as the hills that did not permit them. Additional city action against such units threatened the tenants who lived in them and owners who wanted rental income.
* Eliminating the Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance’s protections against residential demolitions and the NPO’s guarantee of a use permit public hearing for new residential construction.
The Planning Commission was proposing to terminate key elements of the NPO which had saved existing housing and given people an opportunity to influence the design and size of new housing.
These proposals reflected a very rigid and conservative land use approach that was primarily intended to purify single family zoning. One portion of the BDC constituency, heavily represented on the Planning Commission, has a nearly religious attachment to the single family (R-l) zone in the Berkeley hills. It was unclear whether the BDC Councilmembers supported the Planning Commission recommendations. Certainly the Council majority was capable of adopting these changes, possibly without a public hearing, but no one could tell what their intentions were.
Will Lightborne, Mal Warwick, and BCA decided to launch a pre-emptive strike against the Council over the zoning proposals. Using tactics borrowed from radical community organizer Saul Alinsky, Will Lightborne and BCA declared a major public emergency and began mobilizing people to fight the Zoning Ordinance amendments.
BCA first demanded a that the Council hold a public hearing on the Planning Commission recommendations. In furtherance of this demand, BCA held its own community public hearing to which all the Councilmembers were formally invited. None of the majority members showed up. A large crowd came and the zoning amendments were loudly denounced. One BDC Planning Commissioner appeared to publicly defend them, and he was totally isolated.
The publicity from BCA’s hearing generated still further hostility to the Planning Commission’s recommendations and forced the Council to schedule its own public hearing for January l7, l978.
Having fought and won the first skirmish over making the Council hold a public hearing, BCA was now firmly in control of the entire battle. BCA next organized a massive turnout of Planning Commission opponents for the January l7, l978 hearing. The BCA campaign included a very scary poster which proclaimed “A New Threat to Housing” and urged people to come to the Council hearing.
The cumulative effect of these Alinsky tactics was a near panic atmosphere among large numbers of tenants who were legitimately frightened by the zoning proposals. All BCA had to do was orchestrate the protest, complete with signs and designated speakers.
On January l7, l978, the City Council chambers were filled with vehement, sign-carrying opponents of the Planning Commission’s recommendations. Nearly all of the 47 speakers called upon the Council to reject the proposals as the crowd cheered. Gus Newport, now a Steering Committee member, spoke on BCA’s behalf. The entire event was a well choreographed, theatrical/political mis-match. The Planning Commissioners who had created this backlash were hopelessly outnumbered and out-organized. The zoning changes seemed to have microscopic support.
Under these conditions, the Council majority had no choice except complete capitulation. BCA’s community organizing had negated the April l977 election results, at least for one night, as citizen pressure placed Loni Hancock and John Denton in temporary control of the Council. Loni moved that the Planning Commission proposals be rejected, and in their place, that the Council should adopt the Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance’s requirement for a use permit public hearing on all new residential construction. Loni’s motion passed without dissent as the crowd applauded and went home victorious.
The BCA leadership proved that given enough lead time, it could organize sufficient pressure on the Council majority to intimidate them and block significant threats to the BCA constituency. This demonstration of BCA power was frightening to the majority, and they learned not to allow such a spectacle to be repeated. The Zoning War had no sequels. Subtlety or suddenness would be the Council majority’s approach in the future.
BCA’s search for new worlds to conquer took it to the June l978 election. (See ).
The Ocean View Saga Continues
The surviving West Berkeley Industrial Park houses began l977 in tremendous jeopardy once again. The First District Court of Appeal ruled in January that the NPO’s demolition permit procedures were preempted by state redevelopment law and did not apply to houses within the industrial park. (Kehoe vs. City of Berkeley (l977) 67 Cal.App.3d 666, l35 Cal.Rptr. 700). The California Supreme Court, which had twice before granted my petitions and saved the houses, denied a hearing on March l7, l977, so the Appellate decision stood. After 20 months and 9 separate court orders preventing demolitions in violation of the NPO, the city was once again free to demolish at will.
Fortunately, the city/BRA wouldn’t dare send in the bulldozers until at least after the April l977 election. But even following BDC’s sweep, City Manager Elijah Rogers took no action. Rogers appeared content to let the City Council/BRA make all the decisions. Considering the adverse publicity generated by former City Manager John Taylor’s demolition efforts in l975, Elijah was too intelligent to make himself a target. Besides, there was still one more pending appellate case, BRA v. the City of Berkeley, the Ocean View Committee’s attempt to reinstate initiative ordinance Q in which the voters called for the houses and the neighborhood to be preserved.
So the houses stood, as Rogers waited for instructions from the Council. And the Council, unlike the old appointed BRA Board of Directors, was indecisive. Nothing happened.
The Ocean View Committee took this opportunity to organize a new group, the Ocean View Homebuyers Association. The Homebuyers Association was composed of scores of people who wanted to purchase a BRA-owned house, repair it, and live in it. Creation of the Homebuyers Association dramatized the need for housing in a brand new way. Individuals we had never seen before, including realtors, were willing to lobby the Council in the hope that the houses would be placed on the market.
Ocean View Committee members who were BRA tenants, such as Terry Terteling and Sue Sterba, also wanted to buy the houses they were renting. We were arguing for a sales price of $l.50 per square foot of land, the identical cost to industry for industrial park property. At that price the houses were a bargain.
At the May 24, l977 Council meeting, only Loni and John supported prompt sale of the houses. But the Homebuyers Association and the Ocean View Committee spent months negotiating with Segesta and Dean until a “compromise” was reached. Segesta and Dean were willing to formally amend the industrial park plan to preserve certain limited areas for existing houses and new residential or mixed commercial/residential uses.
It amounted to a major breakthrough, partial City Council acceptance of Measure Q. However, Segesta and Dean openly stated that the land not covered by the “compromise” was still going to be sold to industry. Thus, Ocean View supporters continued fighting the industrial park while simultaneously prodding the Council to actually pass the proposed amendments. Segesta and Dean were therefore the only ones who accepted their “compromise”.
The Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA) now stepped into the breech caused by the loss of the Kehoe case and achieved new protection for the houses. Lesley Emmington discovered that the BRA’s Environmental Impact Statement on the industrial park had failed to consider the historical significance and potential landmark status of Ocean View’s buildings, both residential and commercial.
Lesley’s correspondence elicited an official declaration from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), dated January 4, l978, that until the necessary architectural heritage survey was completed, any further demolitions or final land disposition agreements would violate the National Historic Preservation Act. Thanks to Lesley and BAHA, the WBIP was blocked again.
Ocean View supporters would now have to rely entirely upon the National Historic Preservation Act because Measure Q expired on the legal battlefield, victim of an adverse Appellate Court decision, Berkeley Redevelopment Agency v. City of Berkeley (l978) 80 Cal.App.3d. l58, l43 Cal.Rptr. 633. The Court declared that the Berkeley City Council could not sue itself. However, that didn’t matter since the Ocean View Committee’s presence in the case as an intervener created an actual controversy which validated the entire proceeding. This was the ultimate “Catch 22”, my worst nightmare come true.
After boycotting the trial, the Ocean View Committee was able to file an appeal only because it had intervener status. Absent that intervention, no direct appeal was possible and the trial court’s decision (in a collusive, sham proceeding) would have stood by default.
The Ocean View Committee’s very right to appeal was formally challenged by Berkeley City Attorney Michael Lawson on the grounds that failure to appear at trial constituted a waiver of appeal rights. That issue was a major part of oral argument before the Appellate Court. Thus, while Lawson asserted that the Ocean View Committee’s trial boycott caused us to forfeit an intervener’s rights, the Court took the diametrically opposite view that OVC’s intervention decisively legitimized an otherwise collusive trial. The Court’s position was neither briefed nor argued, appearing for the first time in the decision itself.
The Appellate Court also decided the case on its substantive merits. Relying on Kehoe v. the City of Berkeley, the Court declared Measure Q invalid in its entirety because amendment of a redevelopment plan by initiative conflicted with state redevelopment law. Berkeley voters had been preempted by the courts once again. An Ocean View Committee petition for a hearing to the California Supreme Court, written by attorneys Steve Berzon and Fred Altshuler, was denied. Proposition Q joined Berkeley’s other permanently deceased initiatives.
The Council majority now moved forward with their “final solution” to the WBIP, saving some of the land for housing while primarily trying to finish the original project. As the industrial park plan amendments crept towards adoption, OVC and its allies kept pushing Dean and Segesta to increase the areas designated for housing, but they resisted.
On May 23, l978, the Council amended the West Berkeley Industrial Park Plan to allow a few strips of housing, after rejecting by 4-5 several motions to save larger parts of Ocean View for residential use. Segesta and Dean voted with the majority, Rumford and Davis with the minority. At the January 23, l979 meeting, these limited amendments were given a second and final reading. Residential uses were no longer banned in the industrial park, and we looked forward to actual housing sales in the near future.
Meanwhile, the Council majority had new plans for the largest remaining parcel of WBIP land, nicknamed the superblock. It included Delaware Street between 5th and 6th, plus the block to the north. All motions to allow housing in the superblock had been defeated. Now the majority voted on June 27, l978 to sell this giant parcel to ARA Services for a laundry.
The sale could not be final until the city had successfully placated HUD concerns over the National Historic Preservation Act. However, Segesta, Dean, Widener, Feller, and Hone were enthusiastically attempting to implement the industrial park plan again, right in the middle of a historic area (Delaware Street) and a prime site for new housing in the superblock’s northern portion. The fight to stop a giant laundry building was on.
After wasting several months in futile arguments with HUD over whether the Federal requirements had already been satisfied, City Manager Rogers and the Council majority finally concluded that they would have to conduct an Ocean View landmark survey in order to proceed with the industrial park. On May 23, l978, BAHA lost its bid to perform this survey work at no charge to the city. The vote was 4-5 along party lines. Instead, the Council majority authorized City Manager Elijah Rogers to contract with a paid consultant for the necessary work.
Elijah Rogers chose Sally Woodbridge, an old BAHA adversary who believed that only the best buildings qualified to be landmarks. Her report in late l978 designated only two Ocean View structures as potential landmarks, neither of which stood directly in the way of the proposed ARA Laundry building. The Federal ban on demolitions and land use sales was lifted, although BAHA continued to argue over the merits of several additional buildings it felt qualified for landmark status. Still, BAHA had achieved an indispensable nearly half-year delay in the Council majority’s ARA Laundry stampede.
Ocean View resembled an old-time serial of the type Indiana Jones movies are based on. The houses and land in the industrial park always managed to get saved just when things looked hopeless.
Now, with all legal restraints lifted and the Council majority ready to turn over most of the superblock to ARA Laundry, Berkeley Barb investigative reporter Bill Wallace came to the rescue. The Barb, once a great voice of Berkeley’s counterculture, was about to expire. But it gave Bill Wallace a temporary home after Bill’s leadership in an unsuccessful strike by Bay Guardian reporters cost him that job. Before coming to the Guardian, Wallace had been with the Daily Cal. Leaving the Barb, he became a San Francisco Chronicle reporter. But, in the meantime, Bill became the only reporter ever to save Ocean View.
Bill Wallace’s January l8, l979 Berkeley Barb story revealed a stunning tale of ARA connections with the Mafia. This giant company with its many subsidiaries was under U.S. Justice Department investigation for a host of illegal or unsavory practices including bribery, kickbacks, and anti-trust violations. Wallace even revealed that a local ARA-owned nursing home had been cited for violations of California health and safety laws.
Other papers plus Councilman John Denton picked up Wallace’s story, and the Berkeley City Council majority suddenly had to explain why they were planning to bring the Mafia into Ocean View. Now the majority was being publicly ridiculed, right in the middle of an election. On March 20, l979, the Berkeley City Council unanimously rejected the purchase by ARA Laundry. An offer by Spengers Restaurant to build a parking lot in Ocean View was also turned down.
Ocean View housing had survived again, even gaining back small portions of territory from the industrial park. Berkeley’s longest political fight was far from over.