Ben Bartlett / Louis Goodman – Transcript

Louis Goodman 00:03
Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer, where we talk with attorneys about their lives and careers. Today, we welcome Ben Bartlett to the podcast. Ben currently serves as a member of the Berkeley City
, representing District 3, South Berkeley. He is currently running for Alameda County Supervisor for District 5, the seat recently vacated by the retiring Keith Carson.

Ben is a fifth generation Berkeley native and attorney and son of political activists. He served on the Transportation Commission, the Zero Waste Commission and the Police Review Commission. He’s committed to increasing affordable housing, expanding paid family leave and wildfire prevention.

Ben Bartlett, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.

Ben Bartlett 00:57
Oh, thank you, Louis. Nice to meet you. That was a really warm introduction. Thank you.

Louis Goodman 01:02
Thanks for being here. Where are you speaking to us from right now?

Ben Bartlett 01:06
I’m in my law office in downtown Berkeley, California.

Louis Goodman 01:09
I see. There’s a lot of files behind you.

Ben Bartlett 01:12
A lot of files. Yeah, it’s probably, it might be time to get rid of them. There’s a statutory period you have to keep them. I think these can go at this point.

Louis Goodman 01:21
Do you practice law in addition to your duties as a Berkeley City Council person?

Ben Bartlett 01:26
Yes, I do.

Louis Goodman 01:27
What kind of a law practice do you have?

Ben Bartlett 01:30
So business law with an emphasis on a few different tiers, technology, renewable energy, renewable energy, finance, and development, and some healthcare advisory as well, health care providers.

Louis Goodman 01:44
A transactional business practice?

Ben Bartlett 01:47
Yeah, transaction, deal-making, advisory, some compliance, some regulatory compliance.

Louis Goodman 01:54
Also tell me a little bit about your duties as a city council person.

Ben Bartlett 01:58
I write laws and get them passed and get them implemented. I advocate for residents to the city and sometimes advocate for the city to external entities. So a lot of advocacy and legislation.

Louis Goodman 02:14
How long have you been practicing law?

Ben Bartlett 02:16
I think I’m coming up on 10 years now. Like it’s coming by very fast. I think I’m finally kind of getting my sea legs, my 10,000 hours where I feel comfortable doing what I do.

Louis Goodman 02:28
And how long have you been on the Berkeley city council?

Ben Bartlett 02:31
Well, seven years, coming up on eight years.

Louis Goodman 02:36
Now, where are you from originally? I said that you were from Berkeley. Is that correct?

Ben Bartlett 02:40
Yep, I’m from Berkeley and my family’s been in Berkeley and Oakland for a long time, five generations. So I was born here in Berkeley, a block from my mother’s block where she was born, a quarter mile from where her mother was born and then in the same neighborhood, her mother was born. Yeah. It’s all at one part of town.

Louis Goodman 03:02
Did you go to Berkeley high school?

Ben Bartlett 03:05
No, I went to military school in Indiana, a very different experience.

Louis Goodman 03:07
What school was that?

Ben Bartlett 03:08
Culver military academy, a very different experience. So military school is, as you can imagine, pretty rigorous. Very demanding physically, so lots of marching and folding clothes and having to be straight and show up places and memorize things. And within that, they taught you leadership. So we learned leadership, how to become leaders, how to have honor, how to defend people, even how to make introductions and social graces and how to really view the world as a place to be shaped for delivery of human value.

So that was really amazing and unique. And then. It’s a lot of fun, of course, and not having your parents around and you’re teenagers living together. Well, it’s a lot of fun. You learn how to find your own voice and become your own person.

Louis Goodman 03:58
When you graduated from Culver, where did you go to college?

Ben Bartlett 04:02
After Culver, I went east to Colby College in Maine, which was itself another polar opposite experience than military school. It was one of the potted ivies and beautiful, beautiful, lush environment in Maine where everyone was really nice and very caring and very kind, very mellow, very supportive, and very smart. That’s a very different experience than Culver with its rigorous physical environment.

Louis Goodman 04:32
What did you do in college? What did you, what sort of things did you take up? What sort of things were you interested on an extracurricular basis?

Ben Bartlett 04:40
So in college, I was interested in writing. So I studied, and also government, I studied classics and creative writing and government with some economics in there as well. So I was really into ancient literature and, and so I studied abroad in Greece. Went deep into the ancient, ancient world. And I was going to go on to graduate school in classics, but I decided it was too demanding.

Believe it or not, it’s really hard. Part of the law school, I think, and then like my government work was also pretty profound. I was interning at different divisions of government during college and I was involved in politics, class president and very political, politically minded while I was doing the literature and the class, classical work.

Louis Goodman 05:30
So you got into politics fairly early.

Ben Bartlett 05:35
Yeah. So I grew up in a political family. My mother was a shining black Panther and an organizer. So we grew up organizing people around the country and around Berkeley, around Oakland, but also other cities, traveling the country with her, going to different cities and for years, for about three or four years, organized people in different cities, like Philadelphia, Baltimore, Hartford, Connecticut, Chicago, Atlanta, DC, all these cities.

And so I learned about organizing from her. And then my uncle. Here in Berkeley was a congressman, Ron Dellums, and I, so I was around him and he was very instrumental in my life. And so I grew up doing campaigns with him and being around him and understanding politics. And my father, Dale Bartlett, here in Oakland and Berkeley was an activist as well and a campaign professional.

So I just, I always, in my downtime, I was always in somebody’s campaign. Always a judge, a council person, you name it.

Louis Goodman 06:37
And you took that experience to Colby to run for student office.

Ben Bartlett 06:43
You know, I wanted to get away from it. I, you know, I had done so much of it growing up. I wanted to just relax and write poetry and be in this environment. It’s so beautiful. It’s so picturesque. You can’t even imagine. I wanted to relax and learn how to write and become a writer and a thinker. So I ran for offices because it was, you know, what I do, I do that every year, every school I go to, I run for president, class president. So I did it there as well, but I wasn’t really planning on becoming a big politician. It was more for sport and, and I didn’t get into politics for years afterwards until I came back from the Berkeley and I was kind of forced, forced back into it.

Louis Goodman 07:25
What do you mean by forced back into it?

Ben Bartlett 07:28
Well, I had gone to New York and I was working in investment banking and then working in theater, producing plays and training at Hardy hall, their theater program was living a great, fun experience. Then moved to LA to continue that and I was producing TV shows and, and having a great experience. And then I came back home to Berkeley after working on the Barack Obama campaign, which was a lot of fun. I came back home to Berkeley to spend time with him because my parents had divorced early on and we hadn’t been as close as I’d liked.

And I wanted to have a chance to just get to know my father. So I came back home to Berkeley. And he and I opened a coffee shop in downtown Berkeley called Bartlett’s Organic Coffee. And there’s a commercial on YouTube, if you want to watch it, it’s really funny. And we, we spent time together. It was wonderful. We rekindled our friendship as father and son. And in that time, as he was dying, my mother, who was also back in Berkeley, was living in a house with senior citizens. Her best friends from high school lived together. A developer has shut down their house, bought the house. Turned the heat off, turn the water off.

It was a cold winter like this time of year, like this year, and it was so brutal what happened to her that, and she’s from Berkeley, she loves Berkeley, and there was no help. There was no help at all. The wait list for senior housing was 14 years, and the county had a surplus of, I think, 600 and something million dollars that year.

So I knew that there was an issue that needed to be addressed, that people aren’t being respected by the government. And I took it personally. So I ran for office for city council back then, eight years ago. And I won, I won and it was a big race. There was at first, there was an epochal change. The young mayor won as well.

It was a whole cohort of us ran that year and won as a new generation assumed power at Berkeley.

Louis Goodman 09:27
I want to go back for a minute. So when you graduated from Colby, you ultimately went to law school. Where did you go?

Ben Bartlett 09:33
So, UC Hastings and now it’s called UCSF law, I think.

Louis Goodman 09:39
Something like that. Yeah. I went to Hastings also and keep working on trying to get the name straight.

Did you take any time off between the time you graduated from Colby and the time you went to Hastings, or did you go straight through?

Ben Bartlett 09:53
Well, I took the LSATs the year after Colby and did quite well, did extraordinarily well, and I was gonna go to Harvard Law or Columbia Law, and I had gotten the applications and, and, but then I also, that same year, had got into this program for, for theater that was so fun and so hard to get into that. I said, okay, I’ll wait, I’ll defer. Because I did, I didn’t research it, but the scores are not good forever. I thought, I thought I’ll just, I’ll go when I’m ready to go, right? I got the good scores, I’m good to go. And then years later, uh, after all the twists and turns, at least 10 years later, I decided to go to law school and the scores were no good.

So I had to redo the whole thing and take it again as an adult. And I kept delaying and delaying and then finally I got it together and I took the LSAT again and applied again. So law school for me, it was a second career. So I went many years later.

Louis Goodman 10:52
So it was 10 years between the time you graduated from college and the time you went to law school?

Ben Bartlett 10:57
Yes. And maybe 12 years, even.

Louis Goodman 11:01
When did you first start thinking about being a lawyer? And when did you first start thinking about actually applying to law school?

Ben Bartlett 11:10
The first time around I did it because I think I was supposed to go to liberal arts school, then go to law school, or business school. And I was working in finance and I didn’t really want to take the GMAT, it’s too much math. And so I took the law school, of course, law, LSAT. And then I wanted to focus on trade, trade deals and doing trade. I was interested in, in the burgeoning global economy in that era. And so I wanted to get in, be a part of that.

I was interested in systemic approaches to issues and wealth producing. Years later, having worked in all over the place. I found myself getting outclassed in negotiations and needing more training because I was, I had my own, I had my own production company, and we were doing things and negotiating people. And then I was at this media technology startup, and I had to go buy content, buy video content to put on this one mobile device and I had to negotiate with people that were making the content and then get it rolled out on behalf of another client. There was a lot of contracts at play, a lot of negotiations at play, and I, I needed the training.

And it was the first time in my life where I knew I needed more training, just more intellectual firepower and mental training. So I decided to go to law school then.

Louis Goodman 12:35
What did you think about being in law school, especially considering that you were probably older than most of the people who were there and far more experienced in the business world?

Ben Bartlett 12:47
On the one hand, it allowed me to focus on what I wanted to do. So I took like telecommunications classes and discovered a new telemedical process that could be a great industry and great business. And I could hone in on things like renewable energy, finance, and things like that. Well, on the other hand though, it made the firms not hire me because I was old.

And so that was a problem. I thought I would sure get into, you know, the big law, the big, beautiful law firms, but I was too old. So they didn’t hire me at all. So that was a problem because I wasn’t able to get the formal training. So I had to learn on my own two feet. Once I got out of law school, that was interesting.

I was just taking it as it comes. I was able to network though and meet real lawyers who taught me on the job with them. So I was able to learn, but that was the drawback. Not, not going, I didn’t get the two or three years that I would have liked to have gotten at a major law firm or as a District Attorney or something.

Louis Goodman 13:46
How much overlap is there in terms of time between the time you started practicing law and the time you ran for Berkeley City Council? I mean, you’ve been doing both of those things lately for quite a while, but how much overlap is there?

Ben Bartlett 14:03
I had just passed the bar. I was probably practicing for under a year when the council opportunity opened up.

Louis Goodman 14:11
What is it that you like about practicing law that keeps you practicing law?

Ben Bartlett 14:16
I like the intellectual pieces. I like to keep learning. I like the thought process and the law is so varied and you can do so many different things in it that it never gets boring and I like that. I like that way of living. It’s fun. There’s bond and I get to. It says to learn whatever they need me to learn, and it’s neat. I really enjoy it.

Louis Goodman 14:40
How has being a lawyer been helpful in terms of your political career, in terms of serving on the city council and in terms of representing your community?

Ben Bartlett 14:51
So I think it’s been, being a lawyer and a politician has been extraordinarily helpful.

One, I can digest information, I can have 40 meetings in a day. Each person comes in believing they have to tell, they need an hour to communicate to me what they need, but I can extract it in under two minutes. And it’s fascinating. And then the background information that we need to write laws and understand government business, I can digest it quickly and synthesize it and regurgitate it. And when I write legislation, I can write legislation with an eye towards avoiding future liability, with an eye towards having a resounding, sustainable, I guess integrity, so that a measure will withstand time, but that’s all from legal training.

Louis Goodman 15:41
You had a fair amount of business experience before you even went to law school. What about the business of practicing law? How has that gone for you? And how has that either met or differed from your expectations about it?

Ben Bartlett 15:53
The business component is huge because when you can combine two facets of yourself, you get greater effects.

I gave you an example of space law. That’s because I understood how to package a product for sale through technological interfaces. That was my job selling content, selling video content. And this person was going to sell content that happened to go through satellites. So he bought satellites.

Learning how to move, to use business and your business knowledge into different legal sectors is everything. And then getting the business itself is important because you have to be able to feed yourself or either you’re, you’re in a big firm, you’ll work for someone, which is great, but it’s, but eventually you’ll probably be asked to bring in more business because everyone’s got to eat.

It’s hard to teach people to how to network. And how to have conversations and how to bring people in. And I go through phases where I can’t get new clients for months. I’m no expert, but by and large I keep it coming in.

Louis Goodman 17:01
So would you agree that’s important for a lawyer to have his or her own book of business?

Ben Bartlett 17:07
Yes, a lawyer must have their book of business. You have to have a group of people that call on you, that need you, that you help, you service them, you advise them, and you’ve got to get that. Just being around people who you can end up advising, it will grow into an actual business.

Louis Goodman 17:26
Now, you’re currently running for the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. When did you start thinking about that as a career move? Have you always wanted to be an elected official and thought of yourself as an elected official as opposed to primarily being a lawyer or someone working for the government? I mean, I’m just trying to get a sense of how the elected official component of your life fits into your thinking and what is it about leaving the Berkeley City Council and running for Board of Supervisors? What’s your thinking about that?

Ben Bartlett 18:05
The Board of Supervisors of the County of Alameda is a five-person board that makes the decisions for the county. And they have a 3.2 billion dollar budget. They oversee the airport, port of Oakland, hospital system, the jails, all that. The person in office in the seat was there for 32 years and Keith Carson, and he just left and out of nowhere, he’s not going to run again.

So the seat opened up rapidly out of nowhere. And so we scrambled to apply to get in. And I did so because, you know, I never thought that in the county’s supervisor is not really a well-known position in Berkeley. I worked hard on delivering solutions. I created new forms of housing and senior housing, a thousand affordable units and the transit village and the social work system, civilian mental health response team, behavioral health, housing, first, first time in a generation, a new kind and more for me, it’s personal because the, the people on the streets are largely African American and Latina, Latino as well, some black and brown people. I know them, they’re a family to me and my mother was almost one of them.

So I feel like even though my track record in Berkeley has been quite successful with, and it made some national moves and been recognized repeatedly for my work, I still can’t go to bed at night knowing that the average age of a new homeless person in Alameda County in Berkeley is 62 years old and the fastest growing death pop dying population on the streets are 65 and up and the second highest group of people who are emerging on the streets now are children. These are my people, and there’s a chance to fix it, and I know how to.

Louis Goodman 19:54
How do you see working as a county member of the board of supervisors with elected officials from the city governments where there’s overlap?

Ben Bartlett 20:06
So it’s more of a, the county, I see the county as someone to help cities fulfill their goals and, and the county’s own mandates around healthcare and services and welfare and cities have theirs and when they align, the effect is maximized. So the county should see itself as a partner to cities.

Louis Goodman 20:29
How’s the campaign going?

Ben Bartlett 20:31
It’s going well, going well. We just sent our first mailer out. We have teams of people going out door knocking, talking to people every single day. Getting great feedback, raising money, getting endorsements, doing the whole shebang.

Louis Goodman 20:44
Well, let’s talk about raising money. How’s that going? And how much do you anticipate having to spend in the primary? And then if there’s a runoff in the general election, what does this cost to run for Alameda County Board of Supervisors?

Ben Bartlett 21:00
It’s not cheap, so it’s a large area, lots of voters you have to reach, and that costs money. So, we have to, I think, spend around 200,000 dollars, maybe 220 to do very well. If we could raise more money, 350 maybe, we might even win outright. So, I think to get to the top two, we figure 200,000 dollars gets us there. And then, in the general, which will be between March and November. I’m not even sure that’s a much larger number, much more time. These things all happen in a short, short time window. So you spend months raising money and then campaign furiously, making appearances, you’re door knocking the whole time, just, you know, so many hours per day, just building, building, building your apparatus, building your connectivity and building your votes.

Louis Goodman 21:52
What if anything, would you change about the way the county system works?

Ben Bartlett 21:56
Well, for one, it costs 8,000 dollars to apply to run. And in this instance, it happened so fast, you couldn’t form a committee to fundraise for it. You had to come up with the money yourself. And so that’s not fair. 8,000 rent for office is prohibitive of new talent and new blood.

Louis Goodman 22:14
Do you think that the county is meeting the needs of its citizens right now?

Ben Bartlett 22:19
No, I do not. I do not.

Louis Goodman 22:20
What would you do to change that?

Ben Bartlett 22:22
I would work very, very hard at bolstering the health system, for one. Rebuilding it and expanding it so that people are not sleeping on the streets.

Louis Goodman 22:32
What’s your take on law enforcement in the sense that I think that in the last few years, there seems to be at least a perception that there’s a lot more street crime in Alameda County, especially in Oakland, Berkeley, the areas that you’re going to be representing. What’s your take on law enforcement and what, if anything, do you think should be done as far as that’s concerned?

Ben Bartlett 22:58
Well, first off, they’re not imagining it. Crime is way up. Crime is way up, but it’s up unevenly. In Berkeley, I said, right, we’ve lowered shootings by 39%. And that’s due to aggressive policy work on our parts. So that’s policing, keeping police fully funded and operating while doing the upstream work around getting violence prevention programs and working with youth programs and employment opportunities, et cetera.

But no, it’s up and it’s up a lot there. It’s the crime is reaching a more traumatic, traumatic nature where there are pistol whipping women, pistol whipping senior women. This is a new pattern. It’s really disturbing. Shooting at people that interrupt them when they are stealing their car or, you know, breaking into their car.

And then the low-level bipping culture. It’s a cultural event, this bipping. They call it breaking the windows. It’s almost like graffiti at this point to the young people. It’s a culture. And that, you know, the broken windows are traumatizing for people. It can be seen as a low level, harmless crime. But when you’ve experienced it and you’re trying to get somewhere, you have a baby in the car or whatever, it’s pretty scary. And it’s a drag on the economy. You also have lots of break-ins where businesses are closing. We saw in and out in Oakland left through the high number robberies, robberies, so many robberies.

It needs to be addressed. Without public safety, you really don’t have a functioning society.

Louis Goodman 24:26
As you mentioned, the board of supervisors has jurisdiction over the Oakland airport. It seems there’s been a lot of crime, just as you mentioned in the area that you just discussed with respect to In N Out Burger, but also along that Hagenberger 98th corridors in terms of just getting to the airport, board of supervisors could be helpful in that respect.

Ben Bartlett 24:50
Absolutely. What I intend to do is, is follow through with the original plan that the county came with a couple of years ago to create regional crime centers. And these are sort of fusion centers where law enforcement can group together from different jurisdictions and, share information, share data, and do more target interdiction investigation. And you can have multiple of these fusion centers around also special smash and grab teams. You can, you can fund those. And of course, the, the big problem, particularly in Oakland is dispatched when people call 9 1 1 there are problems. No one’s coming or they’re coming way too long. Or the next day or 45 minutes have the people who could bring computer-assisted dispatch to Alameda County so we can really take care of this.

Louis Goodman 25:37
I’m gonna shift gears here for a moment, Ben. What’s your family life like and how has being an elected official and running for office affected that?

Ben Bartlett 25:47
Raising a baby and a toddler and now a little child, little girl while working like this is really hard. It’s challenging. I have to carve out time because I’m also working and got to do that and also be raising a family. And so finding time to be a good husband and father is tough. I have to really dedicate, schedule time. For date night and to be there on that, on that level, it’s important.

Louis Goodman 26:13
Right now you’re running for office. It’s a 24/7 job running for office. And I speak from a little bit of experience having done it, not with the level of success that you’ve had, but I do have some experience with it, but when you’re not running for office, are there any sort of recreational pursuits that you enjoy? Things that you like to do to get your mind off of the practice of law and the business of running the government?

Ben Bartlett 26:43
Yeah. I love travel. I love music. I love sports, you know, I’d say I like, I like exercise and you know. That’s the normal, normal stuff, music, recreation, travel.

Louis Goodman 26:56
Let’s say you came into some real personal wealth, let’s say 3 or 4 billion dollars. What, if anything, would you do differently in your life?

Ben Bartlett 27:04
I would engineer solutions, consumer engineering solutions. I would hire scientists. I would fund research at labs. I would get at the issues.

Louis Goodman 27:16
Let’s say you had a magic wand, there was one thing in the world, the legal world, or otherwise that you could change. What would that be?

Ben Bartlett 27:22
That I could change? Humans’ capacity for violence.

Louis Goodman 27:26
If someone wants to get in touch with you to ask you about your campaign, maybe to make a donation to your campaign, what’s the best way to do that?

Ben Bartlett 27:37
My website’s good. It’s

Louis Goodman 27:43
Ben, is there anything that you want to talk about that we haven’t discussed? Anything that we haven’t touched on that you wanted to bring up?

Ben Bartlett 27:51
Well, I think we’ve covered the gamut. I mean, this is, we’re all in this journey to leverage our resources to make a better life for ourselves and everyone else.

And the law is so integral to, it’s the manifold of our existence is the law is the underlying invisible web that holds us together. And so learning the law is important and leveraging is important and we have to keep it directed in the way that serves humanity. My, that’s my word.

Louis Goodman 28:22
Ben Bartlett, thank you so much for joining me today on the Love Thy Lawyer podcast. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you.

Ben Bartlett 28:29
Oh, me too. Thank you so much.

Louis Goodman 28:31
That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer. If you enjoyed listening, please share it with a friend and follow the podcast. If you have comments or suggestions, send me an email. Take a look at our website at, where you can find all of our episodes, transcripts, photographs and information.

Thanks to my guests, and to Joel Katz for music, Bryan Matheson for technical support, Paul Robert for social media and Tracy Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.

Ben Bartlett 29:08
Okay, let me start over. See I’m terrible at this. I’d like to resume. Let me start over, okay?

Louis Goodman 23:13

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