City Council, mayoral candidates respond to questionnaire about Downtown Berkeley

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Heather Feibleman/Staff

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With the upcoming November election in mind, the Downtown Berkeley Association, or DBA, released the responses to a questionnaire Monday that asked mayoral and Berkeley City Council candidates about their visions for the future of the Downtown area.

The questionnaire consisted of eight questions about the candidates’ perspectives on new business, street behavior, development, parking, historic buildings, public art and finances in the Downtown area. Out of 20 candidates, eight — including two of the eight mayoral candidates, Laurie Capitelli and Ben Gould — responded.

DBA is a nonprofit focused on making improvements to the Downtown area, such as introducing new retail and housing to the area.

“(DBA is) all about making for a more vibrant, welcoming and economically prospering Downtown,” said John Caner, DBA’s CEO. “We did this (questionnaire) … for two reasons: One was to inform the candidates of our priorities and issues and also to inform the entire Berkeley community of their positions.”

Caner said the two biggest issues that the DBA hears from community members are homeless encampment and behavior issues. He noted that the biggest disparity in candidates’ responses was regarding a question that asked about persistent street behavior challenges Downtown and the community sidewalks ordinance, which regulates sidewalk use.

Sophie Hahn, a candidate for the District 5 City Council seat, said some of the ordinance’s stipulations might bring about new problems.

“(DBA has) been pushing pretty hard for new laws to criminalize certain behaviors … engaged (in) by homeless people,” Hahn said. “I have a different approach.”

She added that the ordinance is not a permanent solution to homelessness, though she supports some parts of it. Capitelli noted, however, that minimum standards of behavior make common areas more welcoming.

Candidates also offered their ideas on helping and supporting public art and local businesses Downtown.

Stephen Murphy, who’s running for the District 5 City Council seat, and Darryl Moore, who’s re-running for his District 2 City Council seat, both suggested in the questionnaire that the city make its business licensing process more efficient to reduce barriers to entry for new businesses. Additionally, Isabelle Gaston, who’s running for the District 6 City Council seat, said in the questionnaire she would support a sales tax directed towards financing a venue for the arts.

In his consideration of future plans for the area, Gould said the best way to address these issues is to communicate with the residents of the neighborhood.

“We hear about candidates’ visions of (the) Downtown, but never about what residents in Downtown would like to see,” Gould said. “I’m thinking of starting a Downtown neighborhood’s association.”

Contact Semira Sherief at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @semshreif1.