Berkeley City Council drops controversial city charter amendment

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Berkeley City Council swiftly shot down a proposed charter change regarding council vacancies at its meeting Tuesday night after controversy arising around allegations that the amendment was undemocratic.

Proposed by the city manager as a cost-saving measure, the amendment would have loosened the requirement that the city must hold an election, likely an expensive special election, to fill a vacant council seat. The change would have made it easier for the council to appoint a replacement for a council member or mayor, sparking worry that the measure would take power from voters.

“It’s Orwellian to call this good government when the effect of it was to cut people out of electing their own representatives,” said Councilmember Jesse Arreguin.

Although the item was set for discussion at Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Tom Bates instead proposed that the council say no to the measure without discussion. The item was put on the consent calendar of the council agenda and was rejected unanimously.

“What the city clerk brought forth was for the council to consider to put (the amendment) on the ballot,” said city spokesperson Matthai Chakko. “The council considered it, and they didn’t put it on the ballot.”

At the meeting, Bates also dismissed a rumor that he proposed the change himself as part of a plan to resign early and give his ally Councilmember Laurie Capitelli a chance to be appointed for the remainder of his term, presumably so Capitelli would have an incumbent’s advantage if he chose to run for mayor in 2016.

Bates said at the meeting that while he was “attributed by some (council members) as being the author of this amendment,” he “of course (was) not.”

Capitelli said in an interview that he considers running for mayor a “possibility,” although he has not yet made such plans. Despite saying no to the amendment along with the rest of the council, he considers the change a good-government item.

“We’ll probably come back to it in the future when it’s not so easy to read in kind of nefarious intents,” Capitelli said.

Melissa Wen covers city news. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @melissalwen.