Mayoral candidate Laurie Capitelli focuses on policymaking not personality

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Editor’s note: This is one installment in a eight-part series on this year’s candidates for Berkeley mayor. Read about the other candidates here.

Laurie Capitelli was not deterred by the large sum Big Soda spent in opposition to the soda tax during the months leading up to the November 2014 elections.

Instead, Capitelli focused on forming a broad coalition in support of the tax, or Measure D, that included the faith community, the Black community, the business community and more.

Come Nov. 4, 2014, the soda tax passed with more than 76 percent of the vote.

“We kicked their ass,” Capitelli said of Big Soda.

This accomplishment won a significant amount of respect for Capitelli among Berkeley residents and resulted in a number of major endorsements for him when he decided to run for mayor in 2016. One notable endorsement was that of UC Berkeley public policy professor Robert Reich, who worked with Capitelli on the Measure D campaign.

Xavier Morales, who is co-chair of Latinos Unidos de Berkeley and executive director of the Praxis Project, also got to know Capitelli because of their work together on Measure D and has endorsed him.

According to Morales, Capitelli not only was sensitive to the needs of the Latino and Black communities but also ensured that the revenue that came from the measure passing was spent in the method promised, and it went into various local health programs.

Current mayor Tom Bates, who also endorsed Capitelli, said what distinguishes Capitelli from other mayoral candidates is his ability to make policy ideas become a reality.

“He has good ideas, and he takes those ideas and brings those into fruition,” Bates said.

Opposing candidate Ben Gould said he also respects Capitelli for his pragmatic approach to policy making.

In fact, Capitelli is Gould’s personal second choice for mayor.

“He’s interested in understanding the issues and trying to find solutions that solve them that balance the trade-offs appropriately,” Gould said.

Born in Berkeley, Capitelli has been consistently engaged with the community ever since attending UC Berkeley as an undergraduate. Before becoming involved in local politics, Capitelli worked as a high school history teacher and as a realtor.

In 1996, Capitelli was appointed to the Planning Commission, then in 2000 he was appointed to the Zoning Adjustments Board before being elected to City Council in 2004.

Capitelli said while he considers the soda tax his biggest accomplishment in local politics, his other accomplishments include leading negotiations to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2018, actively supporting new housing in Downtown and on transit corridors and raising millions of dollars for public schools as a Berkeley Public Schools Fund board member.

With these accomplishments and skills in mind, as mayor, Capitelli plans to tackle Berkeley’s most pressing issue: the housing crisis.

“From the very poor all the way up to our teachers, our librarians and social workers … can’t afford our housing,” Capitelli said.

In order to create more housing, Capitelli said he plans to make it easier to get entitlements for housing projects, identify more sources of funding for housing and encourage private development in the city.

The city of Berkeley currently requires that developers make two of every 10 units built into affordable housing or else pay $34,000 for each of the 10 units, which goes into the Housing Trust Fund.

UC Berkeley professor of city and regional planning Karen Chapple, who is an expert on housing, said she thinks Berkeley’s crisis requires a comprehensive and holistic approach to housing — a mindset she said Capitelli has.

“He knows the policy mechanism to build more market-rate housing, build more subsidized housing and preserve affordability,” said Chapple, who has endorsed Capitelli.

Capitelli said he has a track record of increasing housing in Berkeley. According to Councilmember Lori Droste, Capitelli has approved hundreds of more housing units and millions of more dollars to go into the Housing Trust Fund when compared to his opponents.

Another key issue that Capitelli said he hopes to make improvements on is public safety, which is important to both the community and students.

“I want to get officers out of their cars and into the community,” Capitelli said of increasing police presence in Berkeley. “I think that policing is a lot easier when you know your community.”

Additionally, Capitelli said he wants to help bring in professionals who are trained to deal with mental health crises instead of relying on the police force.

Regarding the current climate of the mayoral election, Capitelli said he hopes to run a campaign focused more on policy than personality.

“I’m not a professional politician,” Capitelli said of his campaign. “My commitment is to the community, not to my career.”

Alex Fang covers city government. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @alexfang_DC.