Faces of Berkeley: Tom Bates, city mayor

Bates places emphasis on a greener future

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates
Edwin Cho/Staff
Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates

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Seventy-four-year-old Mayor Tom Bates walks to work every day.

Bates, whose hair has gone entirely gray and who recently went through knee surgery, says he would rather walk than drive a car that pollutes the environment.

The mayor’s reign has been characterized by a progressively moderate council representative of a wide spectrum of political attitudes in the city of Berkeley. The way he describes it, the mayor is a “switch hitter,” meaning he does not fall into either political category but collaborates and implements initiatives that work for everyone.

As a progressive moderate and a longtime Berkeley resident, it is not surprising Bates promotes green environmental policy.

He has lived and worked in the city for more than 30 years, serving as everything from a county supervisor to a state Assembly member. Bates has been mayor for more than 10 years and credits himself with uniting a historically divisive council.

“There has been a history of bad blood between the mayor and City Council members in the past,” Bates said. “I wanted to bring civility back to meetings and am very proud of the fact that we’ve had a wide variety of (representation) — progressive, moderate and conservative.”

Bates, in his third term as Berkeley’s mayor, filed paperwork for campaign fundraising in February and will announce whether he will run for a fourth mayoral term in the upcoming November election later this month.

Born and raised in Southern California, Bates came to UC Berkeley on an athlete’s scholarship in the late 1950s. As an undergraduate at the campus, Bates drank beer, joined a fraternity and played football.

But he also quit that fraternity after encountering racism and sexism and was eventually pushed into public service by his role with the U.S. military in Germany.

“All men had to be in the ROTC for two years during college,” he said. “As a commissioned officer in Germany, I had the opportunity to develop leadership skills, make decisions and direct 15 to 20 people.”

That is not to say Bates is all military. A few years back, the mayor sold his Volvo after becoming obsessed with the environment. Since then, he says, he has devoted his life to fighting global warming with projects in the city like the 2009 Berkeley Climate Action Plan.

Councilmember Linda Maio first met Bates in the late ’70s when Bates helped her preserve a piece of land in Fremont from commercial development by writing a bill to the state Legislature so that it could be turned into a city park.

“Rarely is there divisiveness on the Council under Tom,” Maio said in an email. “He moves ahead on so many ideas at once that it can be a bit of a pace to keep up with him.”

Councilmember Laurie Capitelli said Bates unifies the entire council with strong conflict resolution and perseverance in city initiatives.

“I respect the fact that he is willing to go outside the box,” Capitelli said. “He is a great problem solver and willing to work collaboratively with people.”

But for some, that “progressively moderate” attitude has been problematic.

Councilmember Kriss Worthington said Bates needs to try harder to represent city minority groups and UC Berkeley students.

“The mayor does not do progressive things of his own inclination,” Worthington said. “A pattern over many years are that different groups get left out — you shouldn’t have to protest in order to get a seat at the table.”

Regardless of his political stance, Bates says his ultimate goal has and will continue to be improving the standard of living in Berkeley, giving residents and UC Berkeley students the ability to appreciate the place he has called home for so many years.

“When I was at Cal, I had no connection with the community — that has since radically changed,” Bates said. “There has been a substantial increase in the number of people working and living in Berkeley. We want them to come for the culture and … stay here.”

Anjuli Sastry covers city government.

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  • “come for the culture”?
    Come for the bread.  Stay for the circus.

  • Power. Yes.
    Athletics. Yes.
    Here’s a fella skilled at moving the goal posts and running out the clock.
    Gotta love the ol’ QB.

  • Victoria

    Tom Bates is about as “green” as the south side of a mule heading north.  The Climate Action Plan has cost this city more than $8 million.  This number is growing because it includes 4 new-hired city employees who still remain on the payroll despite the fact that the CAP report was completed several years ago.

    Additionally, under his and his wife’s tenures Berkeley has racked up  unfunded debt of over $1.2 billion such that bankruptcy may prove to be the only exit strategy possible.  What’s to like about that?

    Other things on his miserable record (other than stealing Daily Cal papers that endorsed an opponent years ago):
    –  He “spiked” the recently retired city manager Kamlarz’ salary by over 10% for his last year of service so that Mr. Kamlarz would receive an annual pension payout of $250,000 instead of the already exorbitant $225,000 he was otherwise entitled to. 
    –  He voted not to fund $78,000 to keep the Willard public pool operational (it has now been dozed over) while authorizing $300,000 to give city employees, himself included, free YMCA passes.  When the public pleaded for Willard, he said, “South side kid’s can walk to the other pools.  I walk everywhere.”  Note that the walk from City Hall to the Y is about 2 blocks whereas the walk from south-side to the remaining pools is over a mile. 
    –  He has crafted budgets that have siphoned off money from street and sewer maintenance, parks, the marina, city buildings and Berkeley social programs.  This long-time neglect and mismanagement has left Berkeley’s  infrastructure  in the bottom 25% quartile when compared to most neighboring cities. 

    Finally, I hope Anjuli Sastry, who covers city government for the Daily Cal, will do a little more investigative research before absolutely endorsing what is blatantly a re-election campaign article for Mr. Bates.  CAL students and the rest of the public deserve more balanced reporting.


  • Julie

    It feels like Bates was the “ghost writer” for this article. He is responsible for the end of the Warm Pool and Willard, the section 8 fiasco, spending more money on staff and contracts, and as we know he is in bed with the BUSD and UCB. Except the people of Berkley are the ones to get screwed. No one likes him, yet he continues to win elections. I’ve noticed his mind failing, and used to call them Mayor Bates Bloopers, when I wrote opinions to a local newspaper. I don’t know how he keeps winning. I do have a feeling he will win and then appoint someone after a year or so to be Mayor. I don’t know who he has in mind for his job. Let’s make sure he DOES not win. And I wouldn’t vote for Capitelli, I think he could be worse. My pick would be Kriss.

    • Guest2

      It certainly does sound like Bates wrote this puff piece.  He continues to win because he is campaigning year ’round, and he knows every trick in the book.  Berkeleyside and the Berkeley Times, one on-line and one print “newspaper” appeared in 2010, two years before the 2012 election.  As soon as I saw the slant of both, I figured he was somehow behind them, and that they’d be giving him good press come election time (just wait!).  

      And I am sure that he was part of the demise of the Daily Planet.  Code enforcement, at the time run by Christine Daniel (who Bates just selected for the next City Manager), went after the boxes for free newspapers, with the exception of the East Bay Express (which is favorable to Bates and his machine).  

      So, he wins because he’s good at corrupt campaigning, and knocking out any opposition before it can gain any strength. He’s the worst thing that every happened to Berkeley.

  • Timlhansen

    Bates was against making Iceland a National Landmark and he shares the responsibility for shutting it down.  He also shut down Willard Pool.  He wants to add thousands of new apartments and yet is responsible for the loss of significant institutions which make the city a wonderful place to live.  As far as I am concerned, Tom Bates is the worse mayor Berkeley has ever had.  It is time for him to retire.  

  • Guest

    Haven’t all of the mayor’s “green” initiatives been costly failures?

    The City spent over $300,000 a couple years back to knock on the doors of 6,000 Berkeley residents to tell them where the nearest bus stop was. What a waste of $300,000.

    The City is now over billion dollars in debt, thanks to Bates.

    The mayor’s Alzheimer’s, senility, or dementia is becoming quite alarming. He can’t be serious about running again…can he?

    If Bates does run again I hope the Daily Cal exposes the cronyism and corruption that is now so pervasive in this town. 

  • fooled again!

    A true “puff” piece.  Puffed up with no substance.  Once again he is using the students for his own personal gain.   Like he is really going to allow a “student district”  He and his cronies are pretending to support the idea….just wait.  Everyone will get hosed again!!

  • Guest

    Master Bates is a tool for LBNL, UC Regents, synthetic biology R and D and Sam Zell.  The guy may have early onset alzheimer’s and is no longer fit to be mayor.  Unfortunately his political connections run deep and he is an accomplished Green washer.  Berkeley aint what it used to be, but Master Bates is still a swindler and thief

  • Dataservices11

    50 year berkeley resident  

    Your underhanded political tricks go back at least 20 years
    when Loni  was running for Mayor against Fred Weeks and
    you were caught tearing down  Weeks’ signs on Sacramento
     Street in a rented truck.  One of your cohorts flattened four
    tires on a Weeks’ supporter with an icepick while she was
    putting up Week’s posters on College Ave.  You have made
    Council Agendas a secret process, limited speaker time at council
    meetings so as to frustrate most all speakers with your lottery 
    system and force many people to stay till eleven PM to voice their
    legitimate comments.  If you read the city charter your duties are to
    preside at council meetings and ceremonial  occasions.  Why does it
    take a staff of five or six in your office to do this.  You have turned
    the mayor’s office into a strong mayor in violation of the city charter.
    You are in bed with the developers and UC, signing secret agreements.
    You have not tried to straighten out the pension mess although you
    have been Mayor during the past two or three union negotiations.  You
    are watching the city head to Bankruptcy without lifting a finger to solve
    the problem.  Please drive Loni’s state provided Porsche and enjoy your

  • Hail to the Thief

    Tom Bates is a crook.  He stole nearly a thousand
    copies of the Daily Cal when it endorsed someone other than him for mayor.  See
    “Police Say Mayor Stole Newspapers” at http://archive.dailycal.org/article/10513/police_say_mayor_stole_newspapers .

    • Stunned

      And he lied about it for several weeks before telling the truth. 

       I think it’s hilarious that he “credits himself with uniting a historically divisive council”.  He rules the Council like a tyrant.  They are afraid to go against him so he always gets his way.  He has so much power that people are afraid to run against him, and he is likely to be running unopposed!!

    • And he covered over his smelly deed, so much  like a cat covering shit: he passed a law explicitly against snatching free papers.  Dis-gusting!

  • Guest

    You left out the part where he dumped a bunch of Daily Cals in the trash can–not even the recycling bin–when they endorsed his opponent.

  • Guest

    should have asked more people — not just other politicians — what they think of the mayor, too