4 candidates run for open District 8 seat

George Beier, left, Mike Alvarez Cohen, Lori Droste, Jacquelyn McCormick
Michael Drummond/Senior Staff
George Beier, left, Mike Alvarez Cohen, Lori Droste, Jacquelyn McCormick

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Editor’s note: This is the third and final installment on this election’s contested City Council seat races. Read coverage of District 1 here and District 7 here

In Berkeley’s District 8, the retirement of incumbent Councilmember Gordon Wozniak has left the City Council race wide open to four newcomers.

The district, which covers the Clark Kerr campus, is bounded by Telegraph Avenue to the west and includes the majority of the Elmwood area. Wozniak is not running after 12 years in the seat and reflected that it is time for a younger person to take over.

George Beier, president of the Willard Neighborhood Association, ran unsuccessfully three times for District 7 but decided to run after redistricting this year placed him in District 8. Candidate Jacquelyn McCormick has also made a bid for council — she ran for District 8 in 2010, lost the 2012 mayoral race and heads the Claremont Elmwood Neighborhood Association.

The chair of the city’s Commission on the Status of Women, candidate Lori Droste, would be the first open lesbian to sit on council if elected. And Mike Alvarez Cohen, director for Innovation Ecosystem Development at the UC Berkeley Office of Technology Licensing and chair of the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board, is the only candidate with Wozniak’s endorsement.

The four candidates vary in their resemblance to Wozniak’s governing style, highlighting safety and affordable housing among their chief concerns.

Fighting for a seat at the table

Cohen said that, if elected, he would take a similar approach to Wozniak. Like the incumbent, Cohen said he approaches problems analytically.

“We share a common mindset,” Cohen said. “I’m going to stand on his shoulders and take it to the next level.”

Overall, Cohen emphasized his regard for innovation and his ability to bring concrete plans to the council. He co-founded the incubators SkyDeck and QB3 East Bay Innovation Center and the Berkeley Startup Cluster. His ideas include “moonshot” solutions that look toward out-of-the-box technologies and a five-point budget plan for which he has constructed a financial model.

But McCormick criticized this approach, noting that she would collaborate with residents more on the budget.

“You can’t just, from above, say, this is the plan, boom,” McCormick said. “So everybody’s going to suck up your plan and not be part of the solution?”

She highlighted her desire to communicate with neighborhoods, “being in people’s living rooms talking about issues,” as a major aspect of her platforms. McCormick also emphasized the lack of parking for residents, proposing that the council revisit the current way of distributing parking stickers and residential parking permits.

Like Cohen, Droste found common ground with Wozniak, calling them both “policy wonks” who approach policies “systematically and methodically.” But she put a greater emphasis on pursuing progressive policies that will allow the next generation of Berkeley residents to live and work in the city.

Droste hopes to provide housing for a wider range of income levels when addressing the lack of student housing.

“I’ve got so many students who say it’s so difficult for them to find housing or that they’re commuting into Berkeley, which increases greenhouse gas emissions,” Droste said.

Beier also sees himself as more progressive than Wozniak and would concentrate more on reviving the Telegraph Avenue area, which was not included in District 8 before redistricting.

One of his major platforms is adding housing to and revitalizing businesses on Telegraph Avenue, which runs through Districts 7 and 8. He suggested a blight tax as an alternative to the tax on vacant storefronts that has been considered this year by the council.

“We should be going after blighted properties on Telegraph,” Beier said. “There are a lot of one-story buildings. Why? We should put housing for students and housing for employees.”

Emphasizing student safety

The four candidates cited safety concerns as a top priority.

Cohen noted that one would not expect students to worry about public safety at one of the “world’s best universities.” Citing the budget constraints of Berkeley’s police department, he suggested public-private partnerships as a possible crime solution, such as having the city negotiate discounts for private security monitoring on resident homes.

“I’m the candidate with the most emphasis on improving public safety,” Cohen said. “That’s why I have the endorsement of the Berkeley Police Association.”

McCormick, too, emphasized the importance of improving safety for students, citing her ability to connect students and residents in doing so. She suggested implementing more proactive neighborhood watch systems.

“I believe that from a public safety perspective, I’m someone who can truly bring the students’ needs and those of the neighborhood together,” McCormick said. “I’ve been a bridge-builder.

In light of recent sexual assault allegations near campus, Droste placed an emphasis on prevention and response, while Beier spoke about decreasing alcohol consumption.

Last year, Droste met with the Berkeley Police Department, students and representatives from the Tang Center to discuss sexual assault problems on campus.

“It’s an ongoing process,” Droste said. “It’s definitely a challenging process to figure out ways we can collaborate with UC and how we can penetrate the monolith that is the UC.”

Beier is working with the Happy Neighbors Project to curb excessive drinking and drug use within the student population, saying that many cases of sexual assault involve alcohol.

Measuring up to the polls

Among the four candidates, McCormick has the only dissenting opinions on some of November’s most contentious ballot measures.

Her competitors oppose Measure R, a controversial ballot measure that would establish new height, sustainability and affordable housing requirements for Downtown development. While its supporters intend to make development better for residents, opponents assert that the measure requirements are so strict as to drive away developers, ultimately reducing housing affordability and availability.

“What’s going to happen is that people are going to stop building altogether,” Beier said.

According to Beier, by reducing affordable housing, Measure R would turn Berkeley into a “city of haves and have nots.” Droste agreed that it would reduce housing, and Cohen noted that although the city’s plan for Downtown development could use improvements, so many changes should not be done at once in one ballot measure.

But McCormick disputed the argument that Measure R would put a halt to development. Citing her experience in commercial real estate, she suggested that Berkeley merely needs to look toward different developers, like the Oakland-based Holliday Development.

“Some of the current (developers) may go away, but there will be others behind them,” McCormick said.

McCormick is also the only candidate to oppose Measure S, which would set in place controversial redistricting lines and concentrate students in one district but was criticized for excluding Northside student cooperatives and dorms. After council passed the map last year, opponents suspended it by a referendum in February, leading to a lawsuit in which they argued against lawyers representing the city over whether to implement the lines temporarily.

“For me (opposing Measure S is) a statement. It’s a statement against our leadership being able to sue citizens for exercising our rights,” she said.

But Beier praised the new lines, and Droste and Cohen suggested that the council should move on from the dispute over them. They noted, though, that the contentiousness of the map highlights the need for a new redistricting process.

“There are so many issues that Berkeley needs to tackle,” Droste said. “I think we need to focus on those issues.”

Additionally, Beier, Cohen and Droste all support Measure F, which would increase a tax for maintaining city parks and playgrounds. While McCormick agrees that parks need more funding, she is still feels conflicted about her stance on the measure because she does not think it does enough and wants to do a more comprehensive measure after creating a fiscal action plan.

Seeking support and cents

Whereas endorsements from current city council members for District 1 and District 7 have split the same way — with the six-member council majority supporting one side and the three-member minority endorsing the other — members of council deviated slightly from their typical lines in their District 8 choices.

Aside from Wozniak, Cohen has the support of Mayor Tom Bates, Councilmember Laurie Capitelli and Councilmember Susan Wengraf, who typically vote with the majority. Droste is backed by Councilmembers Capitelli, Linda Maio and Darryl Moore, who also belong to the majority. Beier, though, has the support of council minority member Jesse Arreguin along with Moore and Wengraf, and McCormick is endorsed by council minority members Arreguin and Max Anderson.

As of Oct. 18, Beier and McCormick had raised about the same amount of monetary contributions, $15,232 and $16,098, respectively, according to campaign finance disclosure documents. As of the same date, Cohen had raised $26,288 and Droste had raised $34,445.

District 8 is the only district in this year’s race without an incumbent running. It also has the most candidates — in District 1, two people are opposing 22-year incumbent Maio, and in District 7, one person is going against 18-year incumbent Kriss Worthington.

Contact Melissa Wen and Adrienne Shih at [email protected].