Breland: a team player with determination

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Margaret BrelandThe following is the first of a review of new councilmembers first session in office.
Berkeley Voice, August 14, 1997 By Marc Breindel

ALSO VIEW: Canidate Breland on Public Acsess with L A Wood

If prizes were awarded  for best team players on the City Council, new  member Margaret  Breland would probably  win a ribbon.

"I  think she actually has a very healing effect on the council," said Councilmember  Linda Maio, who sits beside Breland at public meetings and shares  a West Berkeley border with her  as well. "When things go a little bit awry, she says, “Hold on a minute, let's be council members."'

Breland has distinguished her self as a rare voice of soft-spoken civility in a city where free speech is considered a contact sport. Supporters and opponents alike seem to appreciate Breland's mild-mannered approach.
 
"She's one of the quiet type of leaders," former West Berkeley Neighborhood Development Corporation colleague and current Breland Planning Commissioner
Ricardo Noguera said. "She's not loud, but she's sincere, and when she speaks  she gets through to people."

West Berkeley's District 2 has certainly gotten some attention since Breland took the local seat of power. The new city budget includes $260,000 for revitalization of San Pablo Avenue, with staff support from the Office of Economic Development. Alcatraz Avenue is also due for improvement, and the long-neglected West Campus swimming pool is about to be repaired.

Jobless residents and low-income seniors are getting noticed, as well. Since Breland joined the council, two new low-income senior housing projects have won pledges of city money, and more such developments are likely now that the Housing Trust Fund is receiving an infusion of $ I million.

Breland personally introduced a resolution to reinstate the city's no-lay-off policy in the interest of preserving local jobs, and is helping strengthen  Work Source  (formerly First Source) to generate still more employment in Berkeley, just as city construction projects begin.

"That's very good for the economy," Breland said, "because we are bringing in money as well as keeping what we have. We have a lot of talented people here. "I think she's gotten off to a good running start," Councilmember Dona Spring said.

Perhaps because Breland speaks so softly both figuratively and literally, it's sometimes hard to tell whether she's setting her  own Agenda or providing a forum for the agendas of the people around her. All the public usually sees is the final vote, not the backroom debate nor even Breland's name on legislation in many cases.

Longtime neighborhood activist Willie Harold supported former Councilmember Mary Wainwright against Breland last year, saying the Latter never presented a clear agenda. Breland missed some appearances and left Harold unimpressed at others, she said. "Someone else was  always speaking for her wherever I went," Harold said. "I never heard her say out of her mouth what her plan and her platform was. I never heard it."

Breland says she's always stood for progressive politics, with West Berkeley as her first priority. At the same time, she readily concedes it's taken some time to adjust to her new public role.

"I'm not used to getting in front of people and speaking," Breland said. "I kind of get the jitters. But I'm getting used to it." Friends and relatives watch Breland's City Council appearances on TV and give her pointers, she said. "I get complaints from my family - 'Jss did this or you did that.' Of course, Karen (Earle, her aide) says that too ... I'm working on it."

One of Breland's most savvy political and personal allies, her daughter Willa Hives, left an unexpected gap when she died in February at age 39. In the aftermath Breland took up a new cause - access to emergency treatment in hospitals, a subject she understands well as a former nurse. But she missed many public appearances and said she has yet to regain her political footing. "I'm still working on that," Breland said.

Maybe be cause she's so nice, Breland's colleagues give her plenty of room. "I think her first year has been an effort to understand the council and the system,"

Councilmember Polly Armstrong said, suggesting other freshman would do  well to follow Breland's measured example. "You can't chew off everything at one time," Breland said. "You've got to start somewhere, then you build on it and improve it."

Progressive council members say Breland fights hard for her constituents. Monday  "packet meetings" of majority representatives (always just four out of the five members, lest they violate the Brown Act) often determine how Tuesday council meetings will go. Breland ensures that her district's needs are considered at those packet meetings, her colleagues say, pounding a steady drumbeat of support for local jobs and social services Breland fights hard for her constituents. Monday  "packet meetings" of majority representatives (always just four out of the five members, lest they violate the Brown Act) often determine how Tuesday council meetings will go.

Breland ensures that her district's needs are considered at those packet meetings, her colleagues say, pounding a steady drumbeat of support for local jobs and social services.

"I think she's really concentrated on the big bread and butter issues for her district," Spring said.
One issue that sets Breland apart from predecessor Mary Wainwright in many people's minds (whether fairly or not) is Breland's consistent advocacy for the  poor. She's held a series of welfare workshops at Liberty Hill Baptist Church to help residents adapt to the changing system.
 
Welfare workshop panels have included Councilmembers Linda Maio and Maudelle Shirek and Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson, and Breland is working to bring in Assemblymember Dion Aroner. Breland is also working on a plan to secure construction jobs for unemployed people in her district from the  $50 million Civic Center Building and Main Public Library retrofits.

Working with Mayor Shirley Dean and others, Breland said she hopes to improve the quality of life in West Berkeley without fanfare.
"I'm a person that likes to do, rather than being out there talking," Breland said. "I don't like to be seen and not heard, I like to be heard and not seen. I'm that kind of person."

Maio seconded that impression: "District 2 has a real champion in Margaret Breland," Maio said. "She is a staunch advocate for affair share of the city's attention and budget for southwest Berkeley ... If you scratch Margaret's  quiet surface you discover the jewel that she really  is."

Some constituents remain skeptical. Although Breland won her bid to touch down the new pedestrian bridge over lnterstate 80 in Aquatic Park - south of University Avenue - she could not prevent Cody's Books from opening several blocks north of that crucial divide, a setback she said stung her.

 And although Breland presided over the opening of a new Farmer’s Market at University Avenue and Fourth Street, she has actually lost ground in the battle for a new full service supermarket. Once again, the West Berkeley Strategic Plan was amended or "reinterpreted" by the Council, leaving Breland "disappointed."

"I feel that we worked so long and so hard on that West Berkeley Plan, why do you  have to keep tearing it down, changing it?" Breland said.

More battles are sure to come. The progressive council majority has made a point of presenting a united  front since it took over last year, but no one expects  five very different politicians to agree on every issue. "Up until now in many respects it's been a honeymoon  for the left coalition," Breland  campaign manager Mel Martynn said, suggesting the  love fest must someday end.

How will Breland fare is she's ever outnumbered and her current allies won't show her the way? Only time will  tell.

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