Name: Mark Coplan
Job: BUSD public information officer, retired
What office are you are running for? Berkeley City Council, District 3
What is the main reason you are running? I’m running for Berkeley City Council District 3, because I want to serve South Berkeley the way I’ve served 9,000 students and their families in Berkeley schools for the past 20 years. I was born at Alta Bates Hospital and raised my family here. I am deeply committed to my community and I want to bring the same level of passion into service for my neighbors in our diverse community that I have given to our schools. I want to make Berkeley a great place to live, work and visit.
Why are you qualified for the position? I have spent my adult life in public service and will continue to do so in this role. I’ve spent the past 14 years as the Public Information Officer (PIO) for the Berkeley Unified School District and have worked closely with the Board and administration developing policies and administrative regulations. As the PIO I have shepherded the process for community notification and participation for this and for the extensive school construction we have accomplished, as well as for community forums and town halls addressing issues and concerns in the community. I have been instrumental in the communications and relationship between BUSD and the City of Berkeley, working with elected officials and staff. I’ve done the same with our elected representatives at the county and state level. I have attended more school board meetings over the past 20 years than anyone, and have audited countless city council meetings. The fact that I have never had a political agenda, my relationships at all levels have been strong, open and honest, and I intend to continue that quality of communications once elected because I have no political aspirations past this office.
What sets you apart from other candidates? City Council is a big job, and I’m the only viable candidate who can commit to doing it full time because I retired from the Berkeley schools in June, and I’ll work tirelessly to serve the needs of my neighbors. When someone calls, they won’t get a voicemail downtown, they’ll reach my cell phone. Six thousand BUSD families have had access to this number for the past 14 years, and it hasn’t been a problem. I will be accessible and responsive. I’ll be the one who knocks on their door, not some city agency I send in my place.
While constituent service will be a major focus in my administration, this will not take away from my responsibility to participate in the big picture. I have the experience and the wisdom to work on city-wide issues collaboratively with the rest of Council, while passionately representing the needs of my constituents. I was the first to call for civil discourse at council meetings, something currently lacking, and I am pleased to see that all of the candidates for District 3 have agreed to make that a priority.
How did you end up in Berkeley? I was born at Alta Bates Hospital. My mother walked there from our house across the street, where the parking garage is today. My mother raised six children, and even then couldn’t afford to continue the cost of renting in Berkeley, so I was raised throughout the East Bay, attending public schools. After spending three years producing 32 documentaries in Nicaragua, Berkeley seemed the only likely place for me to return in 1990 to raise my family, and I have been here ever since. I intend to spend the rest of my life in the community I love.
What are the three biggest challenges Berkeley faces in the near future?
Our city is changing and this change can certainly be felt in South Berkeley. South Berkeley has a rich history of contributions from a diverse community that ultimately impacted civil rights issues throughout the state and nation. Our community was primarily African American and Asian (due to real estate red-lining), but now the impact of attrition across our city, and gentrification in the last decade, and the inflated cost of housing has all of us seeking ways to provide affordable low and moderate-income housing for people who are being displaced and people who work in our city but can’t afford to live here. We are also concerned about a living wage for those struggling to exist in our community, eliminating homelessness and dealing with mental health issues. The homeless situation throughout the region doesn’t just impact those living on our streets – it affects all of us. Increased mental health services will address some of the homelessness, and will allow Berkeley Police to focus on law enforcement. Currently 35% of police calls are for mental health crises. While these are all critical concerns, they do not take away from our immediate need to feel secure in our neighborhoods because of the current level of gun violence and to keep Alta Bates Hospital open. For the most part, city-wide issues are the same as for South Berkeley, we just feel like a poor relation when it comes to addressing them.
What are your ideas to solve them?
We need to focus on low, moderate income and work force housing. Berkeley has no shortage of market rate housing, yet secretaries, teachers, police and firefighters cannot afford to live in our community. A studio apartment at the new Parker Place on Shattuck is $2,900 a month; a one bedroom $3,400, and a three bedroom, $6,700. This is at the crisis level and should be our immediate priority. Only 17% of the workforce in Berkeley lives here and we need to address this problem now.
I support the effort to establish a $15 minimum wage, but more importantly, I support a living wage. I know there is a lot of work ahead of us to develop a plan that solves all of the issues around this, but Berkeley should be leading the nation in this effort. Packaging housing affordability with a minimum wage can do this without overburdening our small businesses.
I have been working with the homeless community to better understand what we are currently doing to address this problem, and already I see that we need to look into how we are spending our resources with minimal success.
Alta Bates Hospital is essential, and I’m committed to working with our nurses, doctors and community members to save it. This is a regional issue, so we are already partnering with the surrounding cities and our elected officials to tackle this. With more people eligible for medical insurance through the Affordable Care Act, we need to beef up our existing medical facilities, not tear them down. As a first step, I support the proposed City Council effort to create a Community Hospital Zoning Overlay to limit the use of the land that Alta Bates sits on to existing community hospital uses.
What is your most inspired/unique idea for Berkeley? I will meet with all 48 of my commissioners monthly, in small groups. I’ll cook for them, and we’ll discuss what everyone is working on to use our collective brainpower. They will do a better job, and they will be my Cabinet so that I can be better informed.
How will you be accessible to constituents? (From question #2) I can commit myself to this job full time, and I’ll work tirelessly to serve the needs of my neighbors. Other candidates have indicated that their careers will not impact their ability to serve constituents full time, but I disagree. I will be accessible and responsive. I have a three-point plan for working with District 3 businesses which includes meeting with them monthly and walking through their stores and offices regularly. I’ll do the same with neighborhood associations, and I’ll hold frequent town hall meetings in the community so I can hear directly from constituents.
How much money do you expect to spend on your campaign? I have limited my budget to $10,000.
A final thought? I strongly endorse local Measures E-1 BSEP Schools Parcel Tax; W-1 Citizens’ Redistricting Commission; T-1 Infrastructure and Facilities Bond; Y-1 Youth Voting for School Board at 16; U-1 Rental Unit Business Tax; V-1 Gann Appropriation Limit; X-1 Public Campaign Financing; Z-1 Low Income Housing Authorization. No on BB and CC, competing minimum wage measures that would knock out a new compromise minimum wage approved by the City Council, and DD, a Rental Unit Business Tax designed to mislead voters about U-1 (look at the funding).
Mine is the only zero waste campaign in Berkeley. Go to www.markcoplan.com for information.