District 5, from left: Sophie Hahn, Stephen Murphy. Photos: Courtesy
District 5, from left: Sophie Hahn, Stephen Murphy. Photos: Courtesy

With 12-year District 5 Councilman Laurie Capitelli setting his sights on the mayor’s seat, Sophie Hahn and Stephen Murphy have gone head to head this election season to convince the community who will lead North Berkeley best.

Hahn is a former attorney and small businesswoman who was appointed to the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board more than six years ago by Berkeley Councilman Kriss Worthington. She’s fiercely analytic and is known on the board for her comprehensive feedback. It will be Hahn’s third time running for the District 5 seat, having lost to Capitelli in 2012 with about 46% of the vote, short about 700 ballots.

Murphy, also an attorney, is a family justice advocate with the Alameda County Family Justice Center, which offers help to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Capitelli appointed Murphy to the Planning Commission and also the Commission on the Status of Women (of which Hahn was formerly a member, though they didn’t serve at the same time).

Hahn has a higher profile in the community due to her prior council runs, and her work on the zoning board and other community efforts. Her critics, she notes, have called her obstructionist, which she believes to be a gross mischaracterization. She says she has approved more than 2,500 units of housing during her time on the zoning board.

But she has also voted against or chosen not to support projects that did not meet her standards. In April, as one example, she abstained from a vote on a 107-unit project downtown that had no public speakers in opposition because she felt it should, under the law, have one additional affordable housing unit. (The project was still approved.)

She was also one of the authors, with Councilman Jesse Arreguín, who is running for mayor, of the failed 2014 Measure R campaign, which sought to strengthen regulations around green building and labor. Its critics said it would have halted development because it would have made building in Berkeley too expensive. (Hahn disagrees.) It was rejected by a 74% vote and failed in nearly every precinct. Murphy says he ran the ground campaign to oppose that measure.

“Somebody asked me recently, how come you’re not talking about Measure R?” Hahn said over the weekend. “It’s over.”

She described it, however, as “a flawed measure” primarily because it had too many elements in it: “It was confusing. It was very hard for people to understand it. That clearly was suboptimal.”

Hahn isn’t the only one who’s had some explaining to do. Murphy was dogged earlier on in the campaign by an attack website set up with a URL very similar to his official campaign site that posted a 2012 state appeals court decision taking Murphy to task for actions during a divorce case the prior year. (The website was set up by a relative of one of the parties in that matter.) The court ruled that Murphy pursued a frivolous appeal and “failed to carry out his professional responsibilities as an officer of the court.”

The court said he had a copy of a document that he essentially refused to turn over when he could easily have done so. In the end, he was fined $8,500.

Murphy said he hopes people will look at the totality of his record in the community, and said he takes full responsibility for the mistake.

“Is that a reflection of who I am or how I would be as a politician? I don’t think so,” he said.

Both candidates have said they have aimed to run positive campaigns, though both have also been unhappy with what they’ve seen as the other person’s mischaracterizations and factual inaccuracies. And, while they have some overlapping views, there are also significant differences about how they would approach the job of District 5 council representative.

The money and the endorsements

Hahn has raised just over $70,000 for her council run, compared to Murphy’s approximately $48,000, according to the latest financial filings. Murphy has also benefitted, however, from nearly $18,000 in mailers from police and real estate interests, along with a few other contributors to the Berkeley Police Association PAC, and about $16,000 from the National Association of Realtors Fund for mailers and online ads. They’ve both individually spent in the mid-$30,000 range on their campaigns.

See more campaign contributions in a spreadsheet.

As for endorsements, Hahn has the Sierra Club and the Green Party, and the bulk of the progressive organizations and democratic clubs, as well as Assemblymember Tony Thurmond, Landmarks Preservation Commission Chair Austene Hall, and former Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean. Hahn also got the endorsements of the East Bay Times, the East Bay Express and The Berkeley Daily Planet.

Hahn and Murphy both have labor support.

Murphy has the endorsements of Loni Hancock and Nancy Skinner, BART Board Director Rebecca Salzman, all the endorsing School Board members, and the Berkeley police and firefighter associations. He also got the nod from Mayor Tom Bates and five sitting council members: Linda Maio, Darryl Moore, Laurie Capitelli, Susan Wengraf and Lori Droste.

Those who follow council know the six tend to vote together when there is a divided issue, with Arreguín, Worthington and Max Anderson on the other side. The current majority tends to be more receptive to development, more sympathetic to business concerns and more moderate in its overall approach. Activists who attend the meetings often criticize the majority for moving too slowly on social justice issues and too quickly on development.

Homelessness, community safety

Last December, for example, the six-person majority voted in favor of regulations to curb problematic street behavior in Berkeley by limiting the amount of stuff anyone can have with them on the sidewalk, and prohibiting urination and defecation in public, as well as lying in or on tree planters. Arreguín, Worthington and Anderson did not respond when asked to vote, in an apparent act of protest, amidst disruptions from the crowd and several attempts by two officials to change the order of the meeting agenda as the night wore on.

It was a controversial vote with many activists and homeless advocates decrying the measures as ones that will only criminalize those on the streets. Supporters of the new laws say public space should be a place where everyone can feel safe and enjoy the city, and that the size of the city’s homeless population has gotten out of control.

Murphy said he is in favor of the sidewalk regulations (which haven’t gone into effect yet because council has details still to work out). He said he wants to make sure any money the city allocates through the budget process goes to organizations with a proven track record backed up by data. And he said he’ll bring the “trauma-informed” approach he uses in his work at the justice center to tackling challenges such as homelessness by pushing for “intensive case management” for people who need help.

He and Hahn both say the approach to homelessness should be regional and broad-based. Both say they support a “housing first” model. They both said they’ve heard from many North Berkeley residents who are compassionate and concerned about the city’s growing homeless population.

“There’s concern for their health,” said Murphy, regarding what he’s heard from local residents during the campaign. “But they also won’t go to certain areas of the city. They won’t go downtown, or they have a concern with having their kids go somewhere alone.”

See complete 2016 Election coverage on Berkeleyside.

Hahn says she would be in favor of tent cities in the short term, and wants to expand emergency services to help those at risk of losing their homes. She has a four-point plan that involves building supportive housing and funding “comprehensive service models” that have worked elsewhere.

“I’ve been disappointed with the slow progress on addressing the homeless crisis, which has gotten significantly worse,” she said. “I think we lost a lot of time and energy and good will pursuing criminalization.”

She said she doesn’t see homelessness as a behavior problem, and says that’s like asking someone with Alzheimer’s to remember something, then being angry at them when they can’t. She said new laws aimed at behavior are unlikely to help when existing laws aren’t being enforced: “It’s a smokescreen,” she said.

Murphy said he’s in favor of increasing the number of police officers in North Berkeley, while Hahn’s focus is on neighborhood-based solutions to increasing communication and awareness among neighbors. They both say they’re aware of concerns about increasing property crime, and the need to have a robust approach to disaster preparedness, however.

Affordable housing, development

The candidates have different approaches to affordable housing. Hahn says at least some projects could afford to include “25%, or more” below-market-rate units. The city currently requires either 20% affordable units, or for the developer to pay fees into a fund to help the city build that housing elsewhere (or a combination of both). She says it’s time for the city to turn its focus from market-rate housing and put much more attention on affordable units.

Hahn says the affordable housing mitigation fee should be assessed regularly with more frequent studies to make sure the city isn’t missing out. She says she believes the fees have been kept “artificially low” due to the whims of the council majority: “We’ve left a lot of money on the table for affordable housing.”

(The appropriate fee level has been a matter of debate.)

Hahn said, while on the campaign trail knocking on doors in the community, at least half of what she hears about from local residents relates to development.

“I do meet people who think we should not build one more unit of housing, and I meet people who feel that we can and should grow, but they’re concerned about the quality of the design, about the total lack of affordability, about the lack of improvement in transit and in other infrastructure, simultaneous with bringing so many people into the community,” she said. “I very rarely meet someone who is all in and enthusiastic.”

Murphy says he wants to see more development along transit corridors, and the use of the city’s Housing Trust Fund to build more affordable units. He notes that $10.5 million is supposed to go into that fund because of the Harold Way project, and says he wants to uphold the promise of the Downtown Area Plan to create a vibrant downtown area. He said he wants to look into subsidies for working families, and is proud of his Planning Commission work to relax the rules around “granny flats” to increase housing in Berkeley and give residents another income stream to help them age in place.

Ideas for the future

Murphy also worked, when he was on the Planning Commission, on the 1%-for-art ordinance to channel money to local artists from the developers of building projects; lifted a number of quotas in the city’s business districts; voted to rezone Bancroft and Telegraph so more units could be built for students; and worked on rules to regulate short-term rentals like Airbnb. In addition, he’s part of a local group called “From Little Acorns Grow” that wants one day to reopen the Oaks Theatre as a performance space.

Hahn says she wants to run a community process to see how people want to revive Solano Avenue, and wants to involve the whole community, but especially the neighbors, merchants and property owners along the avenue.

“I don’t want to impose my ideas,” she said. “It’s all still waiting to be done.”

Murphy said, in his door-to-door efforts, he’s enjoyed having discussions with residents who are so informed and engaged. He said he heard a lot of concerns about failing infrastructure, such as the state of Berkeley’s roads, and wanting better sidewalks.

“People in District 5 know they pay a lot of taxes, they pay a lot of fees,” he said. “They want to see tangible results as it pertains to their parks, to their roads, to their watersheds, to a nice vibrant downtown. They want the amenities that go along with all the costs and fees.”

Hahn says one of her strengths is that she will be on the job full time as an empty-nester with kids in college: “I will be available to meet with constituents evenings and weekends. As president of King PTA I responded to thousands of inquiries every year, providing support and connections, and solving problems.”

When she was PTA president, she said, she increased fundraising by more than 500%, and increased parent engagement by the same amount. She created a “welcome fair” that the district used as a model for other schools, and brought food trucks to back-to-school night to encourage people to come together.

Hahn also worked with the Berkeley Public Library Foundation to refurbish all four branch libraries with an eye toward equity. That ultimately meant that more money was spent in the south and west branch libraries because they needed more improvements.

“That’s my idea of equity,” she said, “not that the same amount of money is spent everywhere, but that you have the same outcomes, the same level of services and the same facilities throughout the community.”

Unlike Hahn, Murphy has three young children, and a job to juggle. But he says his wife’s stellar organization skills (“She knows what we’re having for dinner next week Tuesday”) and a flexible work schedule mean he’ll have ample time for council work. He also relies on Berkeley’s “incredible resources” for day care and after-school programs, and the support of relatives who live in the area, he said.

Murphy says he’ll take a focused approach to agenda items rather than casting a wide net: “I would not propose measure after measure, or council item after council item, that’s infeasible. I would be proposing things that move us in the right direction and actually can be done.”

Listen to 45 minutes of the candidate forum held by the LOCCNA neighborhood group in September. (There’s video but the creator suggested it’s best simply heard.) Watch the League of Women Voters forum. See the websites for Sophie Hahn and Stephen Murphy.

Election 2016: Who is Sophie Hahn?
Election 2016: Who is Stephen Murphy?
Compare candidate responses to key questions in a grid (PDF)
Real-estate interests spend $92K to help elect candidates (10.17.16)
Berkeley candidates outline their positions on the arts (10.03.16)
Berkeley candidates share their vision for downtown (09.26.16)
2 open Berkeley City Council races draw significant cash (08.09.16)

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...