ALBANY -- Michael Barnes decided it was time to put up or shut up. Not because somebody else told him that, but because he got tired of hearing himself complain.
"I have been very frustrated by city politics," the 56-year old said. "I think the council has been dysfunctional."
So, Barnes has decided to run for City Council. A former member of the Albany Unified School District board, Barnes is gunning for one of three seats open in November's election.
Barnes said he would like to change the tone and substance of the discussions at City Hall.
"We tend to treat peripheral issues such as land as litmus tests and that's not useful," he said. "The two in particular are the waterfront and the Gill Tract, the university property along San Pablo Avenue. I am more concerned with the place that we live and where our children go to school."
Barnes first came to Albany in 1995, while in graduate school at UC Berkeley. He lived in University Village and later bought a house.
His son is an Albany High School graduate who transferred to Cal this fall. Barnes is a science writer and editor for the UC Berkeley College of Chemistry, putting out alumni magazines. He also writes unpaid pieces -- specifically online -- about issues that come up in Albany. Not sure where Barnes stands on an issue? You can probably find out online.
He definitely brings new ideas to the table. Take the waterfront and the decades of controversy over what to put there if Golden Gate Fields ever closes.
"My feeling about the waterfront is that it is landfill with no cultural or historical significance and with climate change and sea level rise, it is slowly reverting now into tidal wetlands," Barnes said. "That is the best solution. We need to stop throwing money at the waterfront and let it become a tidal wetlands."
Barnes said the debate over the University Village project is complex. The University of California and the city agreed to a development agreement in July.
Since then, however, two lawsuits were filed and a referendum was circulated to stop the project as approved. Anchor tenant Whole Foods Market then pulled out.
Barnes noted that UC owns a lot of land in Albany and that city zoning rules don't apply to state entities.
"This leads to a complex bargaining situation," he said. "We agreed to a mix-use plan. That has led to a backlash against it that is well-intentioned. One of my favorite quotes is 'The pathway to hell is paved with good intentions."
Barnes said the plan will probably need to be reexamined but worries about the referendum.
"My concern is the direct voter initiative process in the state of California has been a disaster," he said. "Witness Proposition 13, etc. I loathe to see this come to Albany."
Another hotly debated issue is what drew Barnes into citywide politics in the first place -- cell phone towers and where to locate them. Barnes was on the school board in 2005 when the city passed its cell phone ordinance, limiting where antennas could be situated.
"I was the only person in 2005 who stood up and said, 'I think you're going to regret this,'" Barnes said. "Those unintended consequences have come true."
Verizon and AT&T have filed lawsuits against the city after the City Council citied the ordinance in denying permits to construct antennas.