Max Anderson is stepping down as the representative of South Berkeley’s District 3 after Tuesday’s City Council meeting. It is the end of a 27-year-long career in public service for Anderson, a retired critical-care nurse, who moved to Berkeley in 1985 after serving in the Marine Corps in California and Hawaii and attending school in Philadelphia. Anderson joined the city’s Planning Commission in 1989, was elected to the Rent Stabilization Board in 1996, and was elected to the City Council in 2004.
Anderson is well-known on the City Council for his impassioned and eloquent speeches on topics about which he cares deeply, such as racial injustice, development and homelessness. Berkeleyside caught up with Anderson as he prepares to retire.
What are you most proud of accomplishing as a Berkeley City Councilman?
Despite being in a minority position for the 12 years I served, I was able to get through important legislation regarding public-health issues. One was the cellphone warning to consumers regarding the safe use of their devices. Another was the Breathmobile, whose services I secured to treat asthmatic children in our schools – to case-manage them, reduce hospital admissions and emergency-room visits, and improve their attendance at school; all these measures showed dramatic improvement.
Another accomplishment is the sugar-sweetened beverage tax, which I fully supported to reduce childhood diabetes among our youth. I take pride in the study that we initiated and supported to review the complaints of city workers regarding discrimination in hiring and promotions, although the City Council majority eventually refused to follow through.
What do you wish you had been able to do before stepping away from the City Council?
First, I wanted to ensure that we initiated reforms regarding the revolving door for City employees – those who leave the city and then join private firms and lobby their former colleagues and the City Council. I’d certainly like to have seen a full commitment by the Berkeley Police Department to community policing and constitutional policing. I would have liked to have seen a commitment to an East Bay regional approach to ending homelessness along the East Bay corridor, as well as better minority contractor participation in city contracting. I would also have liked to see the city invest in modern City Council chambers instead of going from location to location and always ending up in the seismically unsafe Maudelle Shirek building. Every nearby municipality — as well as the Berkeley Unified School District — has better facilities for its meetings.
How has your district evolved since you first took office? Can you name some things that have improved, and at least one issue that still needs to be addressed?
When I took office, the district was deeply divided with attacks on social services and efforts to undermine services for homeless people, such as the Berkeley Drop-In Center. Over the course of my tenure, we saw crime and homicide rates drop dramatically due to better policing and community involvement. We also saw more community associations participate in issues facing South Berkeley. I was very pleased to represent the neighborhood associations in their fight to get better services and give voice to their issues including gentrification and the onslaught of mini-dorms in our neighborhoods. A major development was the creation of Friends of Adeline that has developed into a community voice that has to be listened to on issues like development. Also, the Lorin Merchants’ Association grew in stature and in numbers over the course of my tenure. Much credit should go to the families that moved into South Berkeley who are embracing a social justice agenda with significant demands for inclusion and preservation of existing communities of color. We still need to address the efforts on the part of developers to work in contradiction to the desires of the community.
Do you think Berkeley is a better place than it was when you first took office? Why? What has improved? What remains to be done?
Even though we have grown in population, we have, in some ways, moved away from the galvanizing principles that made Berkeley an icon in this country and beyond for its commitment to social justice, anti-racism, and tolerance. All of these things can be recaptured with truly progressive political leadership, which the new City Council represents. We need to back away from the criminalization of poor and homeless people and adopt some of the best practices that are available in the country for addressing these issues. We need to commit ourselves to build housing not just for those who are affluent but for those who are low and very low income, which Berkeley used to have a commitment to.
Do you have any parting words for your constituents and the residents of Berkeley?
It has been my honor to serve as a representative of the people in my district and the people in Berkeley and I feel confident that the newly elected City Council — including Ben Bartlett from District 3 — will carry on and carry forward Berkeley’s best ideals and principles.
What are your future plans?
To improve my health and to continue to engage in the civic life of Berkeley in one form or another.