Friday, January 29, 2010

458, 459: Alexander Kerr Profile for El Cerrito Journal, 1991; City Council Debate

Photo by Photographer Howard Ford is unrelated to story, but captures the tone that seemed to exist between Sandy Kerr and other members of the El Cerrito City Council in 1991.

Lurene's email in 2014:


Published news story by Lurene K. Helzer for El Cerrito Journal, August 9, 1991, “Alexander ‘Sandy’ Kerr Profile.”

EL CERRITO – Alexander “Sandy” Kerr, 45, says he is running against “the establishment” in El Cerrito and needs all the volunteer help he can get to win the race for a city council seat.

Kerr’s platform is mainly focused on budget-cutting, and he says he wants to set an example of frugality during his campaign. He intends to use volunteers only.

The current administration, he says, is hostile to him. “They don’t like the kind of questions I’m asking. I’m running against the establishment. Therefore, I’m not going to win unless I get very strong grassroots support,” said Kerr, who said he wanted to gather another 50 neighborhood organizers for his campaign. “I want my campaign to reflect how the city government should be run – frugal and low-cost.”

Kerr has pledged not to accept wages or benefits if elected to the city council. However, he said he would not ask other city council members to also forsake their salaries.

Kerr has lived in El Cerrito a total of over 30 years. He lists his occupation as a writer/consultant in ethics and is currently writing a book which he says will be titled “Aiming for Eternity: DNA, Morality and Everlasting Life.”

According to Kerr himself as well as another classmate, he never attained intellectual or social greatness in school.

Mayor Cathie Kosel, who is not up for re-election and has frequently been at odds with Kerr during public meetings as have members of the city staff, was a classmate of Kerr’s while in high school in El Cerrito and at UC Berkeley. She remembers him as a background figure. “In high school, he was invisible. Nobody knew he was there,” she said.

“As a student I would do the minimum to pass the exam,” said Kerr during the interview, cracking a smirk. “I consider myself basically self-taught.”

Talking to some city officials that have worked with Kerr, they complain that he has at times been nearly impossible to compromise with and that he has frequently misinterpreted facts.

“I think you have to characterize him as an extremist because he’s unwilling to compromise on anything nor does he know how to. It’s not a skill he has ever learned,” said Kosel.

“There’s compromise of your own principles and then there’s compromise on an issue, which doesn’t reach as deep,” said Kerr when asked if he has the ability to compromise.

Kerr’s father, Clark Kerr, is the former president of the University of California. Kerr himself was involved in a university profession while in Australia from approximately 1976 to 1986. He said he taught in the Urban Biology department at the Australian National University. He also has experience as an outback homesteader and wildfire-control officer.

Kerr and his family have been supporting themselves through funds he saved while in Australia, he said.

“The modest financial independence that we have allows me to do what I think is important,” said Kerr. “We live pretty frugally. This is my sister’s house,” he said of the elaborate and spacious Buckingham Drive home with a panoramic view of the San Francisco Bay and a plethora of plants on the first floor that gives the house a Garden of Eden look. He lives there with his wife of 21 years, April Kerr, and his three children.

Kerr began the Friends of El Cerrito Trees group to influence the formation of the city’s Public Tree Policy. He campaigned vigorously for a policy that would not allow public trees to be cut for the sake of bay views for hill residents. He also was on the Project Listen Task Force on City Services.

Kerr is running on a platform of budget reforms. He’s opposed to a recently passed tax on utilities in El Cerrito. He said he would resign before the 1993 election if he did not get the new eight percent tax on a ballot for a public vote.

“I think the vast majority of the people in El Cerrito do not realize that the council has adopted this eight percent utility tax,” said Kerr. “They’ll only be aware when they see it on their September bills.”

“I’m not afraid to say we can restructure and downsize the city government,” he said. Kerr thinks less should be spent on community services as well.

“The council isn’t asking ‘why, why not and what if.’ They’ve gotten too disengaged from the operation of the city.”


Published news story by Lurene K. Helzer, August 9, 1991, El Cerrito Journal, “City Adjusts Compensation Amounts.” This is my copy of later-published story for the El Cerrito paper. The actual publishing date would have been a few days after the date shown above.

The story is nothing big, just a generic blurb about salaries for El Cerrito City Councilmembers, as they were discussed in 1991. As they are still discussed in 2010, actually; California’s cities are almost always struggling with finances. You will never see headlines on California newspapers reporting something like, “Councilmember Joe Blow Acknowledges Massive Municipal Cash Surplus.”

Underneath the verbal fluff, though, we see another exciting 1991 episode starring El Cerrito’s Sandy Kerr, who was the son of Clark Kerr, former president of the University of California, and first UC Berkeley chancellor.

You were increasingly recognizing the verbal swipes hurled toward Sandy Kerr by other members of the city’s council. Remember, these snide remarks were not being recorded by me “off the record.” The quotes were part of the 1991 public discourse. I honestly paid close attention to Sandy Kerr’s comments, but could only walk away observing that he had social or behavioral difficulties when with political crowds in the Berkeley area:

EL CERRITO – The issue of pay increases for the El Cerrito City Council provided a lively topic of discussion during the Aug. 8 meeting as well as an early kick-off for the city council race.

City council candidate and community activist Alexander “Sandy” Kerr criticized the council for advocating a $41 pay hike in the monthly salary for council members.

“One of the marks of good leadership is accepting greater sacrifice than those that you lead,” said Kerr. “That’s not the kind of leadership that we need these days.”

The city council is barred by law from adjusting its own salary, but they have the opportunity to increase salaries for the incoming council by a little over 10 percent, or five percent per year, in election years.

Candidate Jean Bartke also opposed the pay hike. She said the raise would not be appropriate while El Cerrito is operating on a lean budget.

But city council members defended the idea, saying the pay is low while the work is voluminous.

“The small amount that comes in doesn’t suffice as compensation,” said Mayor Cathie Kosel, adding that her salary only paid her childcare bills. “If we can make it [serving on the council] easier for people who are not independently wealthy, we should.”

Kerr said that if he won a seat on the council he would not accept wages, benefits or funds for supplies even though his family’s income was “substantially below the median in El Cerrito.”

Responding to Kerr’s disclosure about his income, Kosel indicated that his income could be higher. “Get a job,” she said. She apologized minutes later.

Council member Mae Ritz said the council should set an example by raising the council salary, but by only half the amount allowed by law. Likewise, Norma Jellison said she had reservations about the pay hike while budget concerns were high.

The council voted 3-2 to prepare an ordinance, which will be on the Aug. 19 agenda for a first reading. Jellison and Ritz dissented.

The council also approved other small salary increases for part-time employees, general and management employees and approved an agreement with United Public Employees Union, Local 790 for a contract for the 1991-92 year. All increases in wages and benefits have already been included in the 1991-92 budget which passed June 17.


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