Dear Berkeley Voters,
Negative campaigning is an attack on the very heart of civic engagement. It turns off voters and discourages good people from seeking elected office. Recent attacks on me from my opponent are particularly dismaying because they are, to the letter, intentional misrepresentations of the truth of my record as a Councilmember. It is easy—and dishonest—to create a distorted account of a record by taking statements and actions out of context to weave a tapestry of nasty sound bites. I am dismayed that this course of action has been chosen. Berkeley is better than this. What follows is a response to these attacks.
PUBLIC SERVICE VS. POLITICAL AMBITION
ATTACK: ”Laurie is a part-time Councilmember who mainly does real estate.”
TRUTH: My first career was teaching high school, and then I spent several decades as a realtor helping people buy their homes in Berkeley. From the moment I took office in 2004, I have been devoted to being the District 5 Councilmember full time, even though the position is officially a part-time job. I also serve on numerous local and regional committees, task forces, and commissions. In my 12-year tenure as a Councilmember, I have missed less than half a dozen Council meetings, I never come late, and take my Council responsibilities very seriously. I prioritize my relationships with District 5 constituents, as I do all residents in Berkeley. Representing and responding to Berkeley citizens is the heart of my work as a Councilmember.
ATTACK: “Laurie voted to assist the Police Chief to purchase a home and then pocketed a $15,000 commission from the sale.”
TRUTH: In November 2009, my Council colleagues and I, including my opponent, unanimously approved a $500K housing assistance loan as part of an employment package for Chief Meehan (Berkeley residency was a requirement of employment.) After several months, when he and his family hadn't found a home, he asked me for help. I first confirmed with the City Attorney that to refer the chief to an agent working at Red Oak (where I worked and held the office broker's license) would not be a conflict of interest. After the chief purchased his home in 2010, I received an unsolicited $5925 consultant's fee from the sales agent for work I did helping to review creek and sewer lateral issues. In the fall of 2015 when this story reemerged in conjunction with Councilmember Arreguin's announcement of his candidacy for mayor, I made a formal announcement to the press and donated the entire amount to a variety of Berkeley charities.
I corrected these charges over a year ago. Rehashing the misinformation is just a nasty campaign tactic.
ATTACK: Laurie reneged on his promise to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour and created a ballot measure to reach $15 in 2019.
TRUTH: In 2014 the City Council unanimously passed a schedule of minimum wage increases that would result in $12.53 per hour by October 2016. We agreed to consider further increases with the understanding that everyone on the City Council had the goal of reaching $15 per hour in a timely manner. At the time, I made it very clear to my colleagues any substantive discussions needed to include all stakeholders – labor, small businesses owners, non-profits and our arts community.
In spring of 2016 labor groups, including representatives from SEIU, circulated an initiative petition to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2017 – a jump of almost $2.50 in a year and a half. Members of the City Council, myself included, then met with a broad coalition of stakeholders to develop a consensus schedule of raises and consider related issues about youth wages, sick leave and small vs. big businesses. The Council majority put an alternative measure on the 2016 ballot that would have raised the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2019 with subsequent graduated annual increases based on the consumer price index. Labor economist Michael Reich, the nation's leading expert in minimum wage research (who has also led minimum wage policy changes across the nation), favored Council's measure over SEIU's measure because Council's was grounded in research.
Facing two competing minimum wage proposals on the November ballot, labor representatives asked me, as someone who had worked on the Council majority measure, to work with them to develop a consensus proposal. I negotiated with labor groups off and on for a month before we all agreed to $15 per hour by 2018. The City Council met in a special session in late August 2016 and we adopted an ordinance to that effect.
All parties involved are asking voters to vote NO on Measures BB and CC and to honor the recent ordinance approved by the City Council.
ATTACK: Laurie is in the pocket of the developers and is not interested in affordable housing.
TRUTH: Every member of the City Council wants to address the housing affordability issue. Every member of the Council wants to build more affordable housing - the question is how to get there. My opponent and I often disagree about process, timing and the details of financing. In these cases, he is making the allegation that to disagree with his strategy or timing is to “vote against affordable housing.”
From 2010 to 2012 the City Council wrangled with the Affordable Housing Mitigation fee, a per unit fee that developers could pay to the Housing Trust Fund in lieu of including affordable units in their projects. All the Council agreed that the fee was necessary. My opponent wanted to fast track the discussion and make the fee as high as possible because he thought that would bring in the most money. I was cautious and knew that if the fee was too high, or if we didn’t take into consideration other fees the city was requiring, no one would pay it. I wanted to see the evidence before making a decision.
Please know that since 2000 (that includes my tenure on the ZAB and 12 years on the City Council) I have supported hundreds of affordable units that are now built and occupied, dozens of them – inclusionary units – that Jessie did not vote for because he did not support the larger project. In the past year alone I supported $12 million for the Housing Trust Fund through the approvals on the Harold Way and Varsity projects. Jessie voted no on both.