Gordon Wozniak is perhaps the most pro-development councilman in Berkeley. And two preservationists are teaming up to oust him from office this November. Challengers Jacquelyn McCormick and Stewart Emmington Jones have joined forces and hope to use Berkeley’s new ranked choice voting system to defeat Wozniak. The two are backing each other and both tell supporters to mark the other on the ballot as their second choice when they cast ballots on November 2.
Under ranked choice voting, which is also being used for the first time this fall in Oakland and San Leandro, Wozniak — or one of his challengers — needs 50 percent of the votes plus one to win. If no one gets a majority in the first round, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. Then the Number Two choices of those who voted for the eliminated candidate are distributed to the remaining two candidates. McCormick and Jones think the system could push one of them over the top in the District Eight race. The district encompasses the upscale Panoramic Hill and Claremont-Elmwood neighborhoods as well as a swath of student apartment dwellers.
Wozniak, however, seems unconcerned at this point about his opponents’ strategy. He said he’d looked at ranked choice voting in San Francisco and Australia and discovered that the candidate with the most votes in the first round usually wins in later rounds.
To have a shot at winning, even with the new voting system, the challengers also have a lot of catch-up work ahead. Wozniak has been campaigning since early June. He has collected more than half the $40,000 campaign cash he hopes to raise and opened a campaign office two months ago that he shares with District Seven candidate George Beier.
McCormick, on the other hand, didn’t take out election papers until mid-July and Jones took out his papers August 3. Neither has a campaign office nor permanent staff. They’ve just begun to raise funds. McCormick’s web site just went live last week.
The incumbent clearly leads when it comes to name recognition. Wozniak has lived in the district for thirty years — longer than Jones, 26, has been alive. Wozniak also is a UC Berkeley alumnus, and worked at the Lawrence Berkeley labs for three decades before retiring.
Wozniak has snagged high-profile endorsements from state Senator Loni Hancock and her spouse Mayor Tom Bates, his ally on the council. In a district where the student vote is critical, Wozniak also has the support of Associated Students’ President Noah Stern and Panhellenic Council President Katrina Ziegenhirt. Fellow councilmembers Susan Wengraf, Laurie Capitelli, and Linda Maio also endorse Wozniak.
But the challengers say their combined muscle will make up for the slow start. The team effort has attracted a number of energetic and vocal neighborhood organizers, loosely grouped into those who focus on landmark preservation and oppose what they consider inappropriate development, and those whose primary concern is university intrusion into the Panoramic Hills neighborhood. Dual endorsers reflect these groupings and include Lesley Emmington, a well-known preservationist and Jones’ mother; Patti Dacey, preservationist and active opponent of the council-approved downtown plan; and Nigel Guest and Janice Thomas, both with the Panoramic Hill Neighborhood Association. Councilmen Jesse Arreguin and Kriss Worthington, who frequently clash with Wozniak over development and other issues, also endorse both McCormick and Jones.
Jacquelyn McCormick is an interior designer who previously worked in commercial real estate in Los Angeles. Concerns about Tunnel Road traffic passing through her neighborhood and road construction noise led her to the Claremont-Elmwood Neighborhood Association a few years ago; now she’s on the association board. Through the neighborhood association, she’s become involved with downtown development issues and the impacts of the expansion of the UC Berkeley Memorial Stadium complex on its hills neighbors.
McCormick says she’s a neighborhood person, whose major focus would be District Eight. This is her first foray into city politics; she’s yet to attend a council meeting, though she’s watched council videos. “Berkeley is a city of neighborhoods, each with its own personality,” she said, adding that she believes experiences in one district can be applied to another. She pointed to the pressure from developers on West Berkeley and said the experience with pressure to develop commercial areas in District Eight could help inform people in West Berkeley.
For the moment, friends — Austene Hall, who managed the mayoral campaign of preservationist Zelda Bronstein six years ago (Bronstein also supports McCormick) and Patti Dacey — are running McCormick’s campaign. She’s planning to bring on a day-to-day operations manager.
Stewart Emmington Jones was born in Berkeley, attended Berkeley public schools and graduated from UC Santa Cruz in 2006. He has recently returned home after six months of teaching English to Sudanese refugees in Cairo. He’s a substitute teacher in Oakland and Richmond. Noting that his mother was the first president of the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association and a past staffer there, Jones said he was born into the preservationist community.
He also has lobbied the council on preservation issues. “My political career has been spent on the other side of the podium,” he said, referring to public comment at council meetings. “I find that the mayor is dismissive of the public when they come to speak and I think it’s rude,” he said. “I want to be more responsive to the needs of the community and those citizens and community members who take time out of their lives to be involved in politics.”
There are sharp differences between Wozniak and the Jones-McCormick duo on a number of issues, particularly the downtown plan, Measure R on the November ballot. Wozniak supports it. McCormick and Jones oppose it, contending the measure is a vague outline of what might be built downtown. Jones says Measure R would “gut the landmark preservation ordinance” by making it easier to demolish buildings. He also says it lacks mandates for open space and is “basically a blank check for developers to build large buildings” adjacent to neighborhoods.
Wozniak explains that the ballot measure was written only after a more detailed downtown plan was referended by opponents. The council wanted to go back to the citizens to get broad agreement on a vision for downtown, he said. “It’s a little disingenuous to say it isn’t a detailed plan, because if you don’t agree on the broad principles, it doesn’t make sense to do a detailed plan,” he added. He argued further that if tall structures are built downtown, they won’t abut single family homes. “The right place to have increased development is downtown,” he said.
For McCormick, one of her key concerns is the noise and traffic impacts from the stadium remodel project. “They’re going to be able to have unlimited events of 10,000 people or less,” she said, criticizing Wozniak for not fighting the university harder on the question.
Wozniak says he supported the city lawsuit against the stadium expansion, but thought that the city should have negotiated with the university to get a better settlement from the lawsuit. Wozniak also supported the closed-door settlement of a lawsuit about five years ago over the amount of fees the university pays the city for such things as roads and sewers. Wozniak points out that the settlement caused the university to increase its payments, but Jones says the payments are still much below what the university should be paying. Jones wants to re-open the agreement, but Wozniak says if it’s re-opened, the university could end up paying even less, given the state’s fiscal problems.