In Berkeley, a town where developers are kings and poor people are being gentrified out of existence, genteel sleaze is the order of the day, as we noted recently.
The latest example to raise a stink in the normally complacent mainsteam media comes from the Oakland Tribune, under the headline “Berkeley council member profited from police chief’s public home loan.”
Here’s the gist from the story by reporter Thomas Peele:
In a move that ethicists call fraught with conflicts and cronyism, a city council member who voted to give Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan a $500,000 housing loan from public funds later worked as his real estate agent and took a commission on the chief’s purchase of a home, records show.
Councilmember Lawrence Capitelli said he split the nearly $30,000 commission on the $1.185 million sale with another agent in his office at Red Oak Realty, where he was a partner. The firm also took a cut of the commission. Capitelli’s questionable role in the 2010 home sale came to light this week after the Bay Area News Group published a story Sunday that showed how at least 33 local governments use taxpayer funds to help top public officials pay for housing.
A Berkeley city council member since 2004, Capitelli insists he did nothing wrong by representing Meehan after the council voted in November 2009 to loan the chief $500,000 because the two hadn’t discussed representation at the time of the vote.
But the Oakland Tribune story is a bit late, given that former mayoral candidate and Berkeley gadfly had reported the same story three years ago for the Berkeley Daily Planet, a fact Peele failed to acknowledge in his story.
From her 31 October 2012 report:
On November 10, 2009, Laurie Capitelli joined the rest of the Berkeley City Council in approving the appointment of Michael Meehan as the City’s new police chief, effective December 13, 2009. The resolution of approval authorized “a housing assistance loan of up to $500,000 for the purchase of a residence within the City of Berkeley”.
In 2010 Chief Meehan moved into a home in the Thousand Oaks neighborhood in north Berkeley. I assume that he used his $500,000 loan from the City to purchase that property, which sold for $1,185,000. The seller used an agent from Northbrae Properties; the buyer used Red Oak real estate agent and Berkeley Councilmember Laurie Capitelli.
What makes the story more interesting is that Capitelli is the successor-apparent to Mayor Tom Bates, who is now in his final term of presiding over giveaways to his real estate developer pals.
Bates controls a city council majority elected in campaigns where the primary bankrollers are folks who are eager to gentrify every part of the city, and their gaze is now fixed on the city’s last remaining sanctuary for lower-income people of color.
As for the police chief, he’s the same fellow who gave his officers free rein to lay into peaceful as well as violent “Black Lives Matter” protests, and who has overseen an increasing militarization of the department, including military camouflage uniforms for his SWAT teams and landed one of those ugly Pentagon mine-resistance assault vehicles for his troops.
So forget any notion of Berkeley as a liberal bastion. The only part of Berkeley City Council politics with a liberal bent is the succession of meaningless resolutions — and even there the inevitable hot button issue is anything having to deal with Israel.
From the 15 September San Jose Mercury-News:
Cheryl Davila didn’t realize that she had waded into a minefield when she wrote a Human Welfare and Community Action Commission resolution calling for city divestment in Israel. Davila was removed from the commission by Councilman Darryl Moore just before the panel took up the issue on Sept. 16.
Davila said she wrote the resolution after reading about the 2014 military operation in Gaza, during which more than 2,000 Palestinians and some 70 Israelis lost their lives. She had also recalled that Berkeley had been among the first entities to divest from the apartheid state of South Africa decades earlier.
In part, the resolution asks the city manager to “examine the feasibility of divesting all city of Berkeley direct holdings in companies complicit in ongoing violations of human rights and international law under Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian territories.”
Which brings us back to Capitell. Back in 2010, after Israel’s bloody Operation Cast Lead invasion of Gaza, the he was scheduled to co-sponsor a city council resolution condemning the attack. That was when the same crew of ZioNutsies who organized a campaign of intimidating Berkeley Daily Planet advertisers because the paper published letters to the editors and op-ed scribes critical of Israel sprung into action.
Three comments posted to an article at JWeekly, a San Francisco Bay Area publication, report what happened next:
The Capitelli “watchdog” website was pulled.
Spizter and Gertz, along with now bankrupt PR guru Jim Sinkinson, were the key players in the war on the newspaper.
The site smearing the Daily Planet remains, a celebration of what the Israeli think tank the Reut Institute [advisers to the Israeli government] hails [PDF] as a successful “price tag” attack.