To most people, plowing through stacks of reports on lot lines, bus shelters, and garbage fees every couple of weeks isn’t exactly revolutionary. But aspiring to be a Berkeley City Council member isn’t such a great leap for Cecilia “Ces” Rosales, who stood up to the Marcos dictatorship in her native Philippines, and fled for her life to North America.
At 60, Rosales continues to fight for justice, supporting the rights of workers, immigrants, gays and lesbians, and women. She says a seat on the council will allow her to continue to support the disenfranchised, while working to better community life for all the city’s residents.
But why would a progressive like Rosales choose to challenge District Seven’s Kriss Worthington, one of Berkeley’s most progressive council members? If there’s a rally to support the Berkeley Bowl union, a march to fight student fee increases and UC Berkeley staff layoffs, a struggle for Emeryville hotel workers for a living wage, or an action to oppose the Iraq War, you’ll find Worthington in the crowd or on the podium.
On the council, he’s in the forefront fighting for humane policing, voting for detox services, demanding a voice for the public at council meetings, opposing city purchase of sweatshop-made goods, supporting struggles of people in Tibet and Haiti, defending a woman’s right to choose, and advocating for a host of LGBT issues that impact him personally, as a gay man.
Like Rosales, Worthington looks at homeless people and sees services rather than jails; both look at crime and see the answer in neighborhood organizing. In fact, Rosales supported Worthington in 2006, even hosting a backyard fundraiser for him.
But Rosales says she’s the one who can best accomplish the goals they share. “You can be progressive all you want, but at the end of the day, you have to figure out how to help the homeless, the drug addicts” and pay for services to help them, she said in an interview in the spacious kitchen her wife of 25 years had remodeled. Her home is one of several in the southside co-housing complex she helped create a decade ago. “Worthington has had 14 years,” she said. “It’s not a position for life.”
But can Rosales do the job? She’s never served on a city commission or worked on a city government issue. Take the issue of Telegraph Avenue: Rosales said the commercial strip has been deteriorating for a decade or more. “Every person I’ve talked to, when they hear ‘Telegraph Avenue,’ they say, ‘Oh, God,'” she said, adding that people would rather shop in Emeryville or El Cerrito.
But when asked about solutions, Rosales’ answers were a bit vague: “If I come in, there should be a lot of sitting down, talking to merchants: How can we make this work?” she said. “I would bring people to the table and have honest discussions of what can be done.”
The candidate was similarly imprecise on questions concerning UC Berkeley. Relations with the venerable institution must be more congenial, she said. But pushed on specifics, Rosales said since she wasn’t the councilmember, she hadn’t faced the question of how to resolve issues. “If it’s my job, I’ll look into it and make it work,” she said.
Despite her lack of experience, Rosales can’t be ruled out of the running. She’s served in a variety of leadership positions: she’s an elected member of the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee, sits on the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club executive committee, served six years on the board of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and chaired the East Bay No on Prop 8 Campaign. It’s not impossible that she’d be able to learn the essentials of city government quickly.
There also sharp differences between Worthington and Rosales, which become apparent when they talk about finding funds for city services. Rosales doesn’t want to raise taxes and fees she says hurt already overburdened homeowners, tenants, and students.
Worthington, by contrast, has supported tax measures for libraries, schools, emergency services and more. He said, however, that it is important to him to include low-income exemptions where permitted. “We should be trying to focus the taxes on the highest incomes possible,” he said in an interview at the popular Muckraker’s Cafe on Telegraph.
Both Worthington and Rosales endorsed the pools tax on the June 8 ballot. But Rosales said a better way to fund city pools would be through a nonprofit. The university and private entities that benefit from the pools may be willing to donate funds, she said.
Rosales said her efforts to improve the Berkeley business climate would result in increased sales and business license tax revenue which would fund social programs. Worthington doesn’t place the same weight as Rosales on supporting city services by growing the business community, but he says one of his priorities has been to work with Telegraph area merchants.
For example, he targeted empty commercial space on Telegraph by sponsoring an ordinance to speed up the permit process when a new business, such as a copy shop, replaces a business in a different category, such as a cafe. Another law he wrote allows some businesses along Telegraph to remain open longer hours. But Worthington said the central reason for empty commercial space on Telegraph is that property owners demand exorbitant rents from merchants.
Worthington also said he wants the city to get tough with developers, requiring them to pay fees for affordable housing, parks, public transportation, and the traffic they create. He said he helped referend the city’s downtown plan last year, because it didn’t require these kinds of fees from the developers who would profit from building downtown. “Corporations that are doing this development shouldn’t be able to externalize their economic and environmental impacts on society,” he said.
But unlike Worthington, Rosales is willing to court developers. She said allowing construction of tall buildings, as permitted in the downtown plan, would encourage development. “It would be more cost effective to build higher,” she said, adding that it is better for people to live in a dense area with services to reduce driving.
Worthington also has adopted a get-tough attitude toward the university, which he says should pay more for the city services it uses, such as streets and sewers. Rosales, by contrast, wants to build better ties with UC Berkeley. “The university, whether we like it or not, is here, a part of Berkeley,” she said.
Of course, there’s more than Rosales and Worthington in the race for District Seven, which encompasses much of the southside of the UC campus. George Beier is president of the Willard Neighborhood Association and challenging Worthington for the third time. In 2006, he spent more than $100,000 and picked up 47 percent of the vote, having been heavily backed by the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce. He’s the only candidate to open an office and hire staff.
Rosales is kicking off her campaign on her birthday, July 24. And now that the council is on break for the summer, Worthington said he’ll begin to focus on the election. Candidates can register until August 6.
As November approaches, the outcome of the race could hinge in part on Berkeley’s first instant-run-off vote. That means voters have the option of selecting a second and third-place choice on the ballot at the same time they mark their first choice.
While Rosales is unquestionably progressive, with goals similar to Worthington’s, her plan to accomplish the goals may be in some ways closer to Beier’s. So, the question is: Will Rosales pick up enough first-place ballots to beat either Worthington or Beier, and if she does, will she get enough second-place votes to win. Or, if she ends up in third place, with neither of the other two candidates winning more than 50 percent, will the people who selected her first, cast their second-place votes for Beier or Worthington.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Cecilia “Ces” Rosales’ first name on second reference and in the photo caption.