Fact-checking the Berkeley mayoral candidates

Dapree Doyle/File

With Election Day arriving in fewer than two weeks, The Daily Californian fact-checked some of the more significant assertions made by Berkeley mayoral candidates at a forum held Oct. 18. In case you missed it, you can also watch our video of the forum.

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Jesse Arreguin

Assertion: “The hotel, like the new pool that’s going up in the Tang lot, I think is a wasted opportunity for housing for students, undergraduate students and graduate students. These were sites that were actually identified in the Long Range Development Plan for student housing.”

Verdict: Correct, but misleading. The future locations of the hotel on University Avenue and the California Aquatics Center on Bancroft Way are included in the “Housing Zone” under the campus’s 2020 Long Range Development Plan. Arreguin’s assertion, however, may imply that all land designated for the “Housing Zone” must be allocated for student housing, which is not true. The plan, published in 2005, also talks about potential Downtown plans “for a hotel and conference center, a critical and longstanding need of the campus.”

Assertion: “I’ve been a leader in creating affordable housing in the Berkeley community since I was a UC Berkeley student. I led a coalition to get the university to increase its commitment to build student housing closer to campus. The Martinez Commons is a result of that effort.”

Verdict: Not really true. Arreguin did serve as the director of the City Affairs Lobby and Housing Commission from 2003 to 2005 while he was a student at UC Berkeley, but he was not directly involved in the creation of the Maximino Martinez Commons residence hall, which began construction in 2010 and opened in 2012. He was also involved in the creation of the 2020 Long Range Development Plan, but that plan makes no mention of Martinez, although it does emphasize the need for student housing.

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Ben Gould

Assertion: “Graduate students do qualify for subsidized low-income housing. Most graduate students are considered very low-income people.”

Verdict: True. According to UC Berkeley Human Resources, the current rate for the highest paid graduate student instructor, or GSI, is just under $50,000 for 10 months — a typical academic year — full time. The highest paid graduate student researcher, or GSR, would earn about $69,000 working full time. Registered graduate students, however, cannot work as GSIs, GSRs or in similar tutor roles for more than 50 percent time. For the purposes of determining who qualifies for certain rental assistance programs, the city defines very low-income as 50 percent of the area median income, or $34,150 for one person.

Assertion: “A recent affordable housing lottery for something like three, four spots available they had three or four thousand applications.”

Verdict: Right idea, but incorrect numbers. The most recent affordable housing lottery in the city was for 22 below-market-rate units in Equity Residential’s Acton Courtyard. According to the leasing team overseeing Acton Courtyard, the company received fewer than 2,000 applications.

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Laurie Capitelli

Assertion: “Berkeley … has suppressed housing construction over the last four decades.”

Verdict: Mostly correct. From 1960 to 1974, 7,164 units of new housing were built, mostly by tearing down single-family houses and replacing them with apartment buildings, according to the city General Plan housing element adopted in 2005. The Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance, passed in 1973, caused private apartment construction in Berkeley to decline sharply. From 1975 to 1990, only 1,105 new rental units in Berkeley were built. The report, however, makes it clear that at least since the 1980s, nongovernmental factors have also played into the housing shortage, including lending risks, lack of available land and seismic concerns. The number of units is now on the rise, though. According to the housing element adopted in April 2015, the city estimates that 2,959 new units will be constructed from 2015 to 2023.

Assertion: “One of the things we need to do and one of the things that a council majority has fought a lot … is the production of housing — not only market-rate housing, but affordable housing.”

Verdict: Correct, but slightly misleading. In the past year, City Council has indeed clashed on the implementation of more affordable housing plans, but Capitelli downplayed his own role in the contention. At a February council meeting, Capitelli questioned the necessity of Worthington’s proposed Affordable Housing Action Plan, asking for clarification on how its items would be financed. Then, in March, the council voted down a $1 million loan from the city’s General Fund to its Housing Trust Fund — a proposal deferred four times since it was introduced in 2014.

Assertion: “Fried chicken is not good for you.”

Verdict: Correct. There are about 19 grams of fat, 119 milligrams of cholesterol and 385 milligrams of sodium in a single fried chicken breast.

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Guy “Mike” Lee

Assertion: “(There are) 3,000 homeless Cal students.”

Verdict: Untrue. No statistical evidence supports this number.

Assertion: “2 + 2 = 4, and not 5.”

Verdict: Correct. Five different calculators were used to confirm this.

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Zachary RunningWolf

Assertion: “For years, the Bates administration and the City Council have violated the Brown Act” with regards to the short length of public comment sessions.

Verdict: Wrong. The Brown Act establishes rules for local government meetings, such as those of Berkeley City Council. Under the act, the council must set aside time for public to comment on matters under the body’s jurisdiction. It does not dictate how long public comment must last in order to comply with the act. In fact, the act allows the council to limit “the total amount of time allocated for public testimony on particular issues and for each individual speaker.”

Assertion: “The city is $1.2 billion in debt.”

Verdict: Incorrect. City spokesperson Matthai Chakko could not immediately confirm the city’s actual amount of debt but said RunningWolf’s figure was “wildly off” in an email. As recently as 2012, however, the city did have about $1.2 billion in unfunded liabilities or future payment obligations that exceed the amount of funds presently available.

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Kriss Worthington

Assertion: “I have already convinced the City Council members, well some of them told me I didn’t, but they voted in favor of adding thousands of units of additional student housing close to campus.”

Verdict: Correct, but slightly misleading. City Council has not voted to build any specific city-developed student housing projects, but in March 2016, the city did send a letter to campus encouraging that it partner with private organizations to build more student housing projects. Additionally, the original proposal to send the letter was sponsored by Arreguin and Mayor Tom Bates, not Worthington.

Assertion: “Stop having 35 percent of Berkeley Police Department calls be run by police who are not psychologists or psychiatrists.”

Verdict: Wrong. The statistic that one-third of all BPD calls are related to mental health crises is often cited — as it was by several candidates at the forum — but has never been verified. The department does not keep track of these types of calls, according to Berkeley Police Department officer and Crisis Intervention Team coordinator Jeff Shannon. He noted that national statistics show that about 10 percent of police calls are mental health-related and speculated that 10 percent would be significantly low for Berkeley.

Assertion: “Both items (the Police Review Commission’s and my police reform item) appeared on the City Council agenda five times, and the majority of the City Council refused, they didn’t vote it down, but they refused to talk about it.”

Verdict: Mostly true. Though Worthington’s and the PRC’s recommendation appeared on the agenda in one combined item, both proposals for a city ballot measure intended to create increased police accountability were postponed by the council June 14, June 28, July 7 and July 19 before they were indefinitely tabled Sept. 13.

Contact Jessica Lynn, Andrea Platten and Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks at [email protected].