Berkeley has changed significantly in the past 28 years — the minimum wage has increased by about $10 and public health policies are more comprehensive, thanks in part to the work of former District 3 council member Max Anderson.
During his 12 years on City Council and 28 years in public service, Anderson fought to raise the city’s minimum wage as well as combat the extensive development of Berkeley neighborhoods. Anderson, along with colleagues Kriss Worthington and Jesse Arreguin, long constituted the progressive bloc of City Council.
“I spent 12 years in council in a minority position; the mayor and his faction pretty much ruled City Council,” Anderson said. “Worthington, Arreguin and myself fought the good fight to try and moderate some of the policies detrimental to the city.”
The District 3 representative retired from the City Council after Tuesday’s meeting and announced in January that he would not be seeking re-election. In addition to City Council, Anderson previously served on the city’s Planning Commission and Rent Stabilization Board. Ben Bartlett, who was endorsed by Anderson, won Anderson’s council seat with 57 percent of the vote in November.
Anderson attributed one of the main reasons for retiring to his health, adding that he recently returned from a stay in the hospital.
Worthington, who represents District 7, said he believes Anderson has been the most progressive member of City Council, citing Anderson’s support for increasing Berkeley’s minimum wage and his opposition to cutting funding for low-income programs.
“(Anderson’s) eloquence is what swayed some of the other council members who were not supporting progressive policy — some people used to say he made them feel guilty and got them to do the right thing,” Worthington said.
Arreguin, who worked with Anderson politically for 12 years, described Anderson as “a passionate and consistent advocate for progressive values.”
During his time on City Council, Anderson was involved in the passage of a number of initiatives, many of which focused on public health. Prior to entering public service, Anderson attended graduate school for city planning and public health and formerly worked as a registered nurse — experiences that ultimately influenced the issues he chose to focus on.
Among his projects on City Council, Anderson said he was most proud of creating warning labels for cell phones sold in Berkeley, implementing the sugar-sweetened beverage tax and establishing the Breathmobile, a mobile asthma clinic started to help treat children in local schools.
In addition to Anderson’s retirement, Tuesday also marked the last meetings for longtime City Council members Darryl Moore, Laurie Capitelli and mayor-elect Arreguin, who will be sworn in Dec. 1 after Tom Bate’s 14-year run. City Council will now have a progressive majority, according to Arreguin.
“(Anderson’s) leadership on council has paved the way for a new generation of leadership to come forward and build on his work and to make positive progressive change,” Arreguin said.
Mark Coplan, who ran for Anderson’s seat this year, said that at the final meeting Tuesday, many in attendance made comments about the role Anderson has played as the conscience of social justice in the community. But he expressed concern that all former City Council members — with the exception of Worthington — worked other jobs in addition to their City Council responsibilities. According to Coplan, having to split time between City Council and a full-time career makes it difficult for council members to adequately serve their communities.
“It means that at the end of the day, if (council members) are able to work on part-time responsibility, the habits have already been established to determine the level of work they’re going to do,” Coplan said, adding that he hopes this will change for the incoming City Council.
Christina Murphy, who is a member of Friends of Adeline, a community group serving the Adeline Corridor that Anderson helped to establish, and who was recently elected to the Rent Stabilization Board, said she views Anderson as a mentor and hopes to keep up his legacy with her fellow rent board commissioners.
Murphy said she was concerned over the coming transition in City Council, though she is looking forward to seeing how Bartlett does in his new role.
”There’s nobody that can be Max Anderson. Nobody can speak to community members like Anderson does,” Murphy said. “He listens — most of the time people in positions like him don’t listen. I’m glad he was strong enough to step up.”
Anderson expressed confidence in his successor, who will begin serving with the other newly elected City Council members at the council’s Dec. 8 meeting. He added that Barlett has demonstrated a “solid commitment” toward improving the lives of city residents, citing his strong legal background as beneficial experience he will bring to the council.
“(Bartlett) has a solid commitment to improve life in the district and city,” Anderson said. “With his legal background, he will be able to participate in a significant way on the council.”
In his retirement, Anderson said he would miss the interactions and give-and-take of discussion and debate that occurred in formulating policies on the council. Even as he concentrates on regaining his health, Anderson said he would stay involved with political issues by hosting political salons in his home to engage community members to shape policy and affect change in the city.
“It has been 28 years of involvement in political life in the city,” Anderson said. “It’s time.”