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Berkeley, Changed by 'the Movement,' Still Center of Ferment

This article, "Berkeley, Changed by 'the Movement,' Is Still Center of Ferment," was published in The New York Times, August 6, 1975, in New York, New York, U.S.A.

Special to The New York Times

BERKELEY, Calif., Aug. 5 - The hair was shoulder-length on the policeman on Telegraph Avenue, where he arbitrated a dispute over merchant sales space. The jogger leaving City Hall wore gym shorts and was berefoot, but carried a receipt for a traffic fine he'd paid. The old man on University Avenue blew his nose in his hand and glared defiantly as he wiped his palm on the seat of his pants. 

The Hare Krishna religious order had erected a tent of sheets on the sidewalk at the edge of the University of California campus. Children with their heads shaved played on the shade. 

A fat, black-bearded man had set up his papier-mache, gold-painted calf alongside a tree a few feet away and was ready to begin religious services. 

This is still Berkeley, where the social ferment yet bubbles. Although significant change has come as the "movement" people came to political power and were forced to find solutions, the draft of revolt still is felt here. 

Property Taxes Soar 

Some of the problems that were inherited on electoral victory by the left are deep and longstanding. Housing is in short supply and priced out of reach of many who want to live here. 

Property taxes have climbed wildly and may yet take another jump since that may be the only way public agencies can meet rapidly increasing budgets. The school system is trying to pull itself out of various traps that a committee says came from incompetence, waste and foolish administrative practices.

The schools here initiated mandatory busing in 1968 to achieve racial integration, a program that won national acclaim from liberals. But the program also set in motion an exodus of many young families, although some demographers say this trend has reversed lately. 

The city government, which has swung from the control of conservatives into the hands of liberals and radicals in five years, appears to have become accustomed to facing up to problems instead of attempting to debate them away. The meetings of the Mayor and eight council members still last until 1 or 2 A.M., however. 

Property taxes have begun to frighten people who were accustomed to voting every liberal spending program put before them. One owner of a home in the hills against which Berkeley nestles said that his taxes were less than $400 when he bought the house in 1963, but probably will be more than $1,600 next year. The house cost him $27,000. The assessor says its present value is $53,000. 

Homeowners in Berkeley pay the highest real-estate taxes in California. Some of this is because of county government costs, over which voters here have slight control, but most of the bulge comes from unusual programs. 

For example, this city has its own health department while other California cities of this size (118,000) depend on county health services. Also, the city voted about 10 years ago to have the Bay Area Rapid Transit District tracks tunneled through town in order to avoid a wall of elevated tracks that would divide "up-the-hill" from the less expensive housing on the level where the slope falls off toward San Francisco Bay. 

The city property tax brought in about $9-million last year and almost a half million went into programs such as the Berkeley Free Clinic, black repertory group, and the group home for dependent and delinquent girls. 

These expenditures are in tune with the heritage of a city, where the three bronze plaques in City Hall commemorate a justice of the peace and a fire chief, both of whom died in the late nineteen-twenties, and a nurse who died treating those ill with influenza in the 1918 epidemic. The municipal tradition here is of personal service from government. 

Left Radical Fold 

Warren Widener is the 37-year-old Mayor of Berkeley, elected in 1971 as a member of the slate backed by the April Coalition, a grouping of radicals and liberals whose most common concern was to end the Vietnam war. 

He quickly differentiated himself from the radicals, and with his re-election last April, Mayor Widener has completed his separation from the radical minority on the council. 

Of the four Coalition candidates elected in 1971, only Mayor Widener and Ilona Hancock, a stand-fast radical, are still in office. 

"I don't talk of myself with labels like those," he said, and began to discuss the social programs that he supports for Berkeley. He is a graduate of the University of California and of Boalt Hall Law School on the campus here. He was born in Oroville, a small city in the Sierra foothills, and grew up as a black man who knew nothing of the problems of being black in the cities. 

"I act the way I think the Mayor of Berkeley ought to act," he said. 

There are eight council members. Mr. Widener has consistently allied himself with the five of those who think themselves to be liberal. He has been opposed by the three who consider themselves radical. 

Jon Taylor is the City Manager, a professional who once worked in Fresno, and was six years city manager in Kansas City, Mo., before coming here 18 months ago. 

He accepted the job, Mr. Taylor said, after watching what happened in a recall election in 1973. He said, "Friends advised me that if the voters recalled D'Army Bailey, the job would be worth having, but it wouldn't be if they didn't.

Mr. Bailey, a black lawyer and a radical, was also elected with the April Coalition slate in 1971, but alienated so many voters that he was swept out of office Aug. 18, 1973, and replaced by William Byron Rumford Jr., also a black man whose father had been a state senator and the author of a state housing equality act. 

"It was some difference coming from Kansas City, where the council was conservative, and of the 13 members, 10 were white males," Mr. Taylor said. "Here there are nine on the council, counting the mayor, and one of them is a white male.

Racial Trend Shifting 

Busing to achieve racial balance in schools here started voluntarily in 1966 and enjoyed wide acceptance in the city and considerable national praise. In 1968, when it became mandatory, the number of white students enrolled declined by 2 per cent after having shown steady gains. 

Various indexes indicated a flow out of town for several years of young white families, and the school racial mix became increasingly black, but this trend seems to be reversed, said Arthur D. Dambacher, director of research for the Berkeley school district. 

In 1970, black students were the largest racial group, but this has now changed with 44.9 per cent of the students white and 43.7 per cent black. The League of Women Voters did a recent study, projecting that by 1981, whites will make up 51 per cent; blacks, 38.6 per cent; Asians, 6.7 per cent, and Chicanos 3 per cent of the Berkeley public schools. 

The school district is in money trouble, but this has nothing to do with its integration policies. The board has been told that it must find $2.5-million somewhere, and has proposed cutting salaries for everyone by 15 per cent. Last month a group called the Citizens' Fiscal Analysis Committee reported on a study of district bookkeeping and charged that the deficit is likely to be nearer $5.6-million for next year and attributed the problems to inefficiency, incompetence and gross over-staffing. 

The board wants to solve the money crisis without any staff dismissals. Older teachers, whose seniority would protect them, oppose salary cuts, but younger ones support them as an alternative to looking for jobs in a shrunken market. 

Photo: A Hare Krishna tent near the entrance to the campus of the University of California in Berkeley. 

Reference: The New York Times, Berkeley, USA, 1975-08-06