DAP-area-map[1]

The citizens of Berkeley have a critical choice to make concerning our Downtown Area Plan. The direction that the city takes with this plan will determine if we can confront the problems this city faces and maintain our commitment to sustainability and social equity, or if we will continue a slow retreat towards an increasingly insular and homogeneous community. We are at a crossroads.

It is looking more likely that the City Council will weaken the Downtown Area Plan that they passed in July in order to avoid further community controversy – resulting in a plan that’s less likely to revitalize the Downtown than the current 20-year old plan.

The plan the Council passed in July has a great vision for enhancing our Downtown, with substantial streetscape improvements, new public spaces and measures for traffic calming. The street-level experience for pedestrians would be vastly improved. Everyone can support this vision, but how does it become reality? Without encouraging substantial amounts of new investment in the Downtown, this vision will sit on a shelf.

How will this plan be different?

The old plan, written in 1990, did not encourage needed investment in our Downtown. The next plan needs to send a different message: More housing development in the Downtown will bring millions in revenue to pay for the public improvements in the plan and would also serve to achieve our Measure G greenhouse gas reduction goals and our housing goals. This seems like a triple win for the city.

If concerned residents of this city don’t speak up soon, this opportunity for a vibrant, safe and sustainable Downtown will disappear.

Housing opportunities for the next generation of Berkeleyites should be provided in the Downtown where it’s environmentally responsible and affordable – near transit. Restricting housing opportunities in the face of ever-growing demand – as Berkeley has been doing – is not a housing strategy, certainly not if we’re concerned about affordability and inclusivity. We need a plan that will bring us more than the 500 units of housing built in the Downtown over the last 20 years. If our minimum goal is for our children to be able to live here as adults, that doesn’t even cover one year’s graduating class from Berkeley High!

If other views are not heard, our city will continue to be shaped by the voices of a few who want to protect the past rather than plan for the future.

Activists Try to Block Green Tech in Berkeley

City of Berkeley: Downtown Area Plan

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24 Comments

  1. Charles, have you actually inspected any of the jail-style concrete-box-with-carpet apartments of Library Gardens? Its lifeless courtyards? Its corporate management style? It is an “urban renewal” relic and train wreck saved only by some vaguely graceful elements of its facade. We could do with rather less of that. It is not a family-friendly construction. They are stingy about their “affordable” units. They are a concrete matrix of boxes with cheap fixtures and interiors that will not age well. It is a fairly disgusting building. (Nice gate, though!)

  2. There has been lots of development in downtown since the previous plan was adopted. Examples are Library Gardens, ArtTech Building, Arpeggio Building, Brower Center, Berkeleyan, and more that I can’t think of off the top of my head.

    We will have a very attractive, vital, European-scale downtown if we have more of that sort of development downtown for the next 20 years – and also have a few hundred thousand square feet that the University is trying to build.

    Or we could speed development a bit by allowing highrises – and in the process permanently destroy the human scale of downtown.

    For one explanation of why highrises seem dehumanized, check out the illustration from Jan Gehl’s “Life Between Cities” at http://preservenet.blogspot.com/2006/11/why-high-rises-seem-faceless-and.html

    It is too bad that the debate in Berkeley is dominated by those support any new building, no matter how ugly and out of scale, and those who oppose all new building and want to preserve our parking lots (as they said when they were gathering signatures to stop the Brower Center).

    There are lots of people out there, like Jan Gehl, who are designing cities that are vital, pedestrian-oriented and also human scale – but that combination seems to be beyond the ken of most people debating the issue in Berkeley.

  3. I wouldn’t worry, Becca. We aren’t competing directly with the Daily Planet, certainly. As the amount of content continues to grow (I hope), it might make sense to make it easier for people to navigate to the stuff they want. But we’ll remain free form, hyperlocal and citizen-powered.

  4. Thomas: I may be wrong, but I don’t think the reference to 500 units and a high school graduating class was meant so much as, “a measure of housing goals,” as a way to make the number understandable. It’s not unlike the time I realized, with a start, that a choir I was singing in was bigger than the US Senate. I didn’t intend to replace the Senate with my choir, but it was a useful way of putting it in human scale.

    Everyone in general: Is it being too much of a wise ass to inquire why Christopher Alexander hasn’t been consulted and/or hired on this topic? He’s still on Shasta Rd and still has a listed phone number, near as I can tell.

  5. Becca, can we brainstorm / kibbitz a bit?

    My notion of some good goals for BS are (a) sure, to encourage reader contribution of content; (b) to facilitate *good* conversation in the threads. On (b), something like BS has an interesting advantage over BDP (not as a competitor, as a complement) in that conversation can be a lot closer to “real time” – no need to wait a week and less need to depend on editor approval. And on (b) (conversation), BS has a big advantage over most famous blogs because most comment posters live in or near Berkeley: we are all accountable to one another in real life. I think that helps the tone.

    Right now, BS is low-volume and small number of contributors. How can it grow to involve more Berkeley folks? For that reason, I like sectioning BUT….

    I totally agree with you about the niceness of (what Winer calls) the “river of news” format – all posts in one place, in reverse time order.

    So perhaps both?

    I would point you and the BS master planners to one example of a nice forum for a smallish community. It’s a geeky example and you aren’t expected to appreciate the technical content but have a look at this site for how it manages very long-term conversations:

    http://lambda-the-ultimate.org/

    If you look at the links on the left there is one for “recent comments”. Try it. Those are links to, well, recent comments. If you register with the site and log in, comments new since the last time you looked at them are highlighted with a red asterisk.

    A remarkable, cool thing happens on that site: people have conversations that go on *for years*. That is, someone posts an article in 2003, but then there are still lively follow-up conversations in 2009 if there’s something new to say on the topic. The “recent posts” feature helps make that happen.

    That site doesn’t exhibit much (anything, really) by way of sectioning. I just think that if the content of BS grows more rich and complex, the *option* of looking at a sectioned presentation will help make the site more useful and more easily approached by new readers.

    -t

  6. I really would not like to see Berkeleyside sectioned off. I think the running blog format exposes all readers, at least fleetingly, to all the content where a “sectioned” format does not. And my understanding is that Berkeleyside is not intended to compete with the Berkeley Daily Planet. If this becomes something other than free-form, hyperlocal citizen journalism, I’ll be very disappointed.

  7. Thomas: Thank you for your suggestions re. Berkeleyside’s future development (I can’t quite bring myself to use the BS abbreviation just yet, although no doubt it will happen). You’ll be interested to hear that we are looking at several of the ideas you bring up, including a redesign. Watch this space.

  8. I don’t see BS and BDP as competing.

    Perhaps I state the bleeding obvious here but: BS is (financially speaking) a vanity project at this stage. BDP is (financially speaking, by their own reports) a bit of a dog. Well, too wrongs can actually make a right. (At least three lefts, certainly can.)

    BDP has demonstrated both pretty darn strong public interest in the forum they’ve created AND, as a bonus, relative incompetence at running a web presence and encouraging interactivity on the web. (Sorry, Ms. O’M and staff.)

    BS is starting to show signs of some competence in the whole interweb and interactivity thing, although I think they are (if to become more than a passing blog) in need of some technical improvements to handle a greater volume of content and a more diverse range of discussion. That is to say (as an apostate of the church of Winer) I think BS, if it is to grow, needs a more huffpost-like front-page format and accommodations for multiple active threads of discussion of which each user is likely to be interested in a only a subset. BS needs “sections” and a front page format. And, unlike huffpost, BS needs to think about paying for content.

    I can imagine a future in which there is some partnership and content sharing ‘twixt BS and BDP and even a future in which, while the BDP site stands as official archive, BS or some descendant of it becomes the “go to” web interface for BDP content. In this scenario, the BDP reporter staff gets more ways to monetize their work, and the BDP press and distribution network gets content bigger than what their staff can produce. Meanwhile, BS gets a piece of the advertising action and a shot at some “freemium” business models.

    Not an easy hack socially, contractually, and otherwise and I surely speak out of turn but, there you go. Leave it to me to note the elephant in the room at just the wrong moment 🙂

  9. Thanks, Dan. It’s all part of what we love about Berkeley. In truth, we want Berkeleyside to become a prominent forum for informed, respectful debate on the issues that matter in Berkeley.

  10. Berkeleyside is a work in progress, which is only natural for a site that has existed for less than two months. We do need to do a better job of signalling posts that are comment against posts that are relatively straightforward.

    The property Becky O’Malley referred to is on Shattuck between Parker and Carleton. That is outside the proposed Downtown Area Plan. The southern border of the DAP is Dwight Way.

  11. 1)Guilt by association is not the problem–if the site you’re posting on has a policy of disclosing financial interests, just do it. Though Mrs. Rhoades shares Mr. Rhoades’ financial interest in Citycentric Investments by virtue of community property, she’s still entitled to her opinion, she just needs to disclose her financial interest in what the plan is for downtown when she writes about it.

    2) The city already has a general plan that has ample opportunity for profit-making development–the people who understand and follow the rules, like Denny Abrams of 4th Street, are doing just fine.

  12. How is ANYTHING going to be built in Berkeley without a “profit incentive”? The days of subsidized public housing, government-sponsored office buildings and for that matter any sort of significant public works at all are likely gone for at least a decade.

    What’s left is people who take on the JOB of building what the city has decided, via zoning and area plans, can and therefore should be built. It’s a living, not a plan for appropriation of instant wealth, and somebody’s gotta do it.

    Unless the goal is to freeze Berkeley in some golden moment like the one we enjoy so much today. . . .

    Guilt by association is only one of the journalistic tactics we often see in the Planet’s editorial (and often even news) pages. Didn’t work for Senator McCarthy in the 50s, shouldn’t even begin to work here in the PRB.

  13. Rhoades and his partner Ali Kashani’s company Citycentric Investments (what’s in a name?) have at least one property and project in the works on Shattuck:

    http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2009-09-03/article/33674?headline=News-Analysis-Parker-Place-Floating-Cubes-Planned-for-South-Shattuck

    Erin Banks Rhoades has been employed by David Early’s planning consulting firm (DTE? DRE? can’t remember his middle initial) which has had many contracts with the city of Berkeley, providing a more than adequate profit incentive.

  14. Theo and, then, Becca,

    Theo, you claim that development downtown will boost City revenue. First, that’s a bit unclear: Household incomes are below the median, downtown. Hotel tax revenues are declining. There is a looming crisis in the value of commercial real estate which in turn calls into question how much of even current tax obligations will be met. Large development projects may very well disrupt existing businesses, lowering sales tax and business fee revenue (while raising infrastructure costs). Second, isn’t a better question not whether development downtown can possibly increase revenue, but whether development elsewhere in Berkeley stands a better chance of producing higher and more reliable revenue increases?

    I would point out that some of Berkeley’s revenue problems have to do with the foreclosure crisis and with sharp declines in property transfer taxes. Development in the forgotten parts of the flats, if done well, can help to give a much needed boost to residential property values in those areas. Those areas are under-served by local businesses and development there can fill a genuine need, leading to more reliable business fee revenue, greater commercial real estate taxes, and shored up property transfer taxes.

    Finally, I’m not sure what you mean by saying that development downtown would “prevent development in the outer sprawls”. By “outer sprawls” are you referring to parts of Berkeley? Or do you mean in other cities? If you mean development elsewhere in Berkeley, I’m a bit flabbergasted. Why shouldn’t some of the other, under-developed land along major corridors of travel be developed? If, on the other hand, you mean Berkeley’s downtown development would prevent development in surrounding, more suburban cities, I think that you miscalculate: densification projects in Berkeley are unlikely to have any influence whatsoever on the development of related suburbs (unless perhaps to encourage more of it). Those other cities will remain as eager to develop as ever. Their land prices and taxes and fees will generally be lower. They will remain (up until people can literally no longer afford to drive) attractive to families.

    In short, I don’t think you can rationalize any urban development (in any part of Berkeley) in terms of what it would “theoretically” prevent from being developed elsewhere. Rather, you have to simply take the City as what it is and encourage developments that make it a more functional and robust city socially and economically.

    Finally, Theo, the opposite of “supporting the Downtown Plan” is not “preserve Berkeley in Amber.” One can be strongly in favor of development and economic strategizing for Berkeley and still be (or therefore be) opposed to the Downtown Plan.

    ——–

    Becca, I know it seems absurd that (a) the sides of the debate are so polarized and (b) anyone seriously suggests “going back to the drawing board” after such a lengthy and contentious process.

    To understand the polarization I think you have to look at two factors in Berkeley politics:

    First, Berkeley has a long history (more or less from the time of its founding) of polarization along lines of distinction between economic classes. See, for example, chapter 2 and subsequent of this:

    http://www.berkeleypubliclibrary.org/system/historytext.html

    The town “took off” as a land grant and water boondoggle, surrounded by farms and awkwardly merging with the bayside community of Ocean View. Over time, the farms got subdivided into lots. Rail was built connectING those neighborhoods to what is today Central Berkeley. And the (largerly former) farms eventually joined incorporated Berkeley. From nearly the beginning it has been expensive homes in the hills with a smaller number of expensive hills in the foothills, leading down to a working class flats.

    The resulting tensions came to a somewhat famous head with the passage of the rent control laws in the 1970s after prop 13 failed to slow down rent inflation. That law was later substantially weakened at the state level by legislation aimed, in part, squarely at Berkeley. Preceding the rent control laws by only a few years, and coming from “the other side of the aisle” in class terms, was the landmark preservation act which (as near as I can tell at this remove) gained support because of the contemporary exuberant development of areas such as the south campus / Telegraph vicinity.

    In the 1990s, and into the beginning of the current millennium and recent real estate boom, some saw various already commercialized parts of Berkeley as untapped gold-mines for developers. Urban densification was fashionable with both the right and left, upper and (much of the) lower economic classes at the time. Money was inexpensive. Pressure to develop was high.

    Two polarizing phenomenon shaped events. First, a small number of developers with tight ties to some of Berkeley’s most powerful politicians began winning project approval. Second, state law again usurped Berkeley’s sovereignty by expanding “density bonuses” that allowed developers to exceed City zoning restrictions by certain percentages. These factors help reinforce the polarization. There is an appearance (c.f., the Berkeley Daily Planet) of cronyism in these development activities, sacrificing quality of life for residents of the areas being developed for the sake of the political and economic agenda of a few who stand at a remove from areas being developed.

    So that is where the polarization comes from. On a personal note, I’ve travelled in both worlds, so to speak. That is to say I’ve socialized at some swanky events, passing as a person of means, and I’ve socialized “on the street”, passing as something closer to what I actually am. The mutual and often irrational distain – bigotry even – is palpable on both sides. Discourse over city issues suffers accordingly. Very strange bedfellows get made on both sides. (That is why I tried (but apparently failed) to mildly tut-tut Mr. Rhoades for her “the same people who…” characterization, and to raise what I think is the terribly relevant (if too often mis-applied) relevant topic of “Jacobian economics”.)

    What, then, about the seriousness of a proposal to “go back to the drawing board”?

    If *ever* a long and contentious process deserved to be sent back to the drawing board, history has ensured that the Downtown Plan is it:

    The heavy lifting that became the Downtown Plan took place mainly during the real estate and credit bubble. The plan is predicated on strong overall economic growth, perpetually rising real estate values, and other economic concepts that we now know will not hold. It was informed against the backdrop of Cal’s plans to make an architural landmark art museum and build a major new hotel: the museum plan is vastly scaled back and the hotel plan is, in the words of our Mayor, without prospect.

    Now, it is interesting that the Downtown Plan made at least a little bit of sense in light of those two cornerstone projects but that now each has failed and both have failed because of unrealistic planning about the economy. This is a bit like having planned a major shopping mall, after discussions with major retailer potential anchor clients, only to have them pull out just before the mortgage is signed: a time to count our blessings.

    I recognize that a lot of blood, sweat, and tears have gone into the Downtown Plan process. My understanding is that Ms. Rhoades, herself, did some of the hard work of getting it as far as it did.

    Unfortunately, its concepts rested on what history has forced us to see are fanciful basic assumptions.

    Going back to the drawing board is just about the only rational option left.

    -t

  15. I agree that more disclosure is better than less. Erin Rhoades’ husband and his business partner own no property downtown. Erin Rhoades has been involved in advocacy work on smart development for 15 years and has no profit incentive for her views.

  16. “We want you to be transparent. If you have a financial interest or a friendship or an enmity that is spurring you to write something, you should tell the readers.”
    –rom your “about Berkeleyside”. Erin Rhoades should really have told the readers that she’s married to Mark Rhoades, one of Berkeley’s most prominent developers, when she posted her opinion piece supporting more development.

  17. I definitely agree that we need to encourage substantial development in downtown Berkeley, for a number of reasons. First, as far as I understand it, Berkeley is essentially required by agreement with UCB to allow substantial development in downtown. Second, as Erin Rhoades points out, development downtown would allow greater revenue. Finally, it would prevent development in the outer sprawls.

    As to the concern about schools – Berkeley’s population has declined for years, so at least in terms of physical infrastructure, it would seem that more could be supported. But I’m certainly not an expert in this.

    Though I’m a Berkeley native, I’m increasingly frustrated with the ‘preserve it in amber’ attitude in Berkeley. It seems that anyone can prevent a change, no one can encourage it.

    My question to the original author: what could be done to support the plan?

  18. Thomas and Deirde made some good, compelling points, and I also want to see vibrant, livable commercial districts throughout Berkeley. So I’m torn, and more confused than helped by the highly slanted, polarized pitches made by both sides.

    When this went back to the City Council earlier this fall, I was dismayed by the prospect of sending the Council back to the drawing board after so much time and work. And I don’t think very highly of the 1- and 2-story commercial buildings that line much of University, south Shattuck, and San Pablo. To me, mostly they don’t represent an architectural heritage worth preserving. But I hope that blocks of tall office buildings isn’t what would replace them.

  19. It’s instructive to visit Telegraph Avenue in Oakland on the first Friday evening of the month; from the Broadway end up to about 27th, then again from 40th to 51st. Where did all those people and businesses come from? How did the city make it happen with all that hostile pavement to deal with?

  20. “The direction that the city takes with this plan will determine if we can confront the problems this city faces and maintain our commitment to sustainability and social equity, or if we will continue a slow retreat towards an increasingly insular and homogeneous community. We are at a crossroads.”
    Ditto Thomas Lord: If you want to address social equity concerns, develop along San Pablo between Dwight and the Oakland border. In general, framing our future in such a Hobbesian way gives me less faith in your plan.

    An acute problem at present is whether Berkeley schools can serve the needs of Berkeley’s current population. School capacity in the north zone is maxed out; central zone schools close to it. Since schools require substantial greenspace, we can’t solve this particular problem by increasing density in our downtown.

    I agree that we need our downtown to thrive. I’m just not sure that cramming 500 more housing units there is the answer.

  21. An opinion post on the increasingly influential Berkeleyside web site rails against opposition to a proposed redevelopment plan for downtown Berkeley and West Berkeley. I’m recording my reply here (as well as posting it there).

    ————————————-

    Well, may we discuss this? Let us look first at the ridicule and scorn you heap upon (a) fear of the “Manhattanization” of downtown; (b) opposition a “green corridor” in West Berkeley. Then we’ll discuss some of the reasons why private investment in downtown business is so sluggish. To tie up a loose end we’ll look at your claims that Berkeley has a social responsibility to add more housing stock downtown. In the course of that, we’ll consider a radically alternative plan – my plan. So:

    The fear of “Manhattanization” is entirely rational. You can see this in two ways without even consulting any of the theoretical literature about urban planning. Exhibit A is the area near the BART drum, flanked by Berkeley’s two high-rises. It is (at most times of day) one of the darkest, windiest, and least inviting commercial areas in town, largely due to the nature of the built environment. Now it is true that even the strong form of the downtown plan does not contemplate buildings of quite that scale but it does contemplate quite large buildings. Which brings us to Exhibit B: areas around the heart of downtown Oakland which have been developed much as is proposed for Berkeley. There you will find shadowed streets, under-occupied commercial space, and for retail little more than a dotting of undifferentiated cafes and convenience stores. What must be asked of the proponents of the Downtown Plan in Berkeley is: why do you expect a different outcome from what Oakland has seen? Why don’t you, in fact, expect a worse outcome since Berkeley won’t enjoy the federal government as a sprawling tenant of last resort? Finally, regarding Manhattanization: who exactly do you expect to live and work in that area and, if your hypothesis is *at all* plausible, how will it both be economically viable *and* not cause a traffic nightmare that makes the current status look like a cross-roads in Mayberry R.F.D.?

    Regarding the “green corridor” – the push to convert large parts of West Berkeley to green research and development – again, fears are well placed and on multiple levels. Let us recall that the “green corridor” notion got started roughly coinciding with BP Inc’s deal with LBL and UCB. A fine deal it seemed, indeed, what with a hefty portion of $500M coming into town over just a few years. Closer examination shows some flies in that ointment. On the one hand, now that the poker game is a little bit further along, it is increasingly clear that the resulting research centers are rather unlikely to be the epicenter of big breakthroughs. *Deinvestment* in these efforts should not surprise you within the next few years. Furthermore, you should really not be too excited that people in your neighborhood are making trial-and-error GMO forms of e. coli, yeast, and so forth. They do so with poor containment controls in an area of research whose safety protocols haven’t been significantly updated (for political reasons) for something around 3 decades. (So, for example, if you start a sourdough starter in this region, using an open-air technique for initial yeast, the question arises: would you like a little bit of insulin with your bread?)

    Furthermore, it is the nature of much of that money pouring into Berkeley that it flows right back out again without contributing much to the tax base and without recirculating much in the local economy. Much goes into construction. Much goes into capital equipment ordered from far away. Much goes into consumables (e.g., chemicals for labs) that are again, purchased from sellers far away. And this brings us to the next topic: your views of what it will take to “revitalize” Berkeley. Money that flows in, leaves behind some limited-utility buildings, and flows back out again just about as quickly while failing to recirculate and while negatively effecting Berkeley’s import / export balance is bad money. Which brings us to our next topic:

    Why is downtown in such bad shape? Why are small businesses throughout Berkeley in such bad shape? Theories vary. It is easy to pin it on the current recession but only until you see that the problems preceded the recession and were fully manifest during the boom. Personally, I buy the Jacobian Economics theory (c.f. Jane Jacobs e.g. The Life and Death of Great American Cities). Berkeley, since the 1970s (a real boom time for Berkeley small business) has become increasingly hostile to street life in neighborhoods throughout the City. It has failed, by relying on AC Transit and BART to provide adequately for public transportation. It has, through rising rents and “development” chased out many light industries that both (a) recirculated money in the local economy and (b) improved the balance of trade (import / export balance) of Berkeley. These harms were done by emphasizing development over infrastructure, by “vacancy decontrol” imposed by the state, by consolidation of ownership of commercial real estate in a too-small oligopoly, and by the large scale withdrawal of participation by our wealthier citizens from public life (beyond a general impulse to regard the commercial districts as a kind of pricey cafeteria with the occasional stage show and please can’t we have a nice bookstore).

    It is easier to see if, for goodness sake, you step *away* from downtown Berkeley and start looking at, say, the southern part of Sacramento, the southern part of Shattuck and Adeline, the southern part of Telegraph, most of West Berkeley that is more than 2 blocks from San Pablo, the area around San Pablo and Gilman and Gilman closer to the highway….

    Yes, in all of those places there are “gems” of businesses tucked in here and there. And there have been for a long time. They come and go. The “fire” never quite gets started. Meanwhile, there are miles of pedestrian and resident hostile roadway, uninviting built environments, buildings turning to blight, excessively accomodated “through traffic” in cars….. these are the forgotten regions of the flats. And they are most of the flats. And you can’t fix them even by slapping up some 3-story Joseph Kennedy style condos with neon-light cafes at the ground floor.

    If you want downtown to thrive there’s a simple way to do it: make all those other parts of Berkeley thrive and make sure that public transportation from those parts to downtown is stellar. Make sure that there is a very diverse range of light industry in West Berkeley, again well-served by public transportation, and start seriously *measuring* the import/export balance as a guide to what zoning and policy changes work and which don’t.

    In short (and just for example) if you want to “fix” downtown, a good place to start is not daylighting Strawberry Creek, nor is it putting up a garrish museam on Oxford St., nor is it 5-7-or-10 story new buildings, nor is it spreading the City’s legs to incentivize vanity labs for Cal researchers in West Berkeley…..

    If you want to start to fix downtown, a good place to start is by developing along San Pablo from the Oakland boarder to, let’s say, about Dwight. Solve all the problems involved in doing *that* and downtown will get a nice boost. Lather, rinse, and repeat.

    At the outset I mentioned there would be a loose end to tie up and that referred to your claim that it was scandalous that only 500 new units of housing had been created downtown over the last 20 years – not even enough to house a graduating class from BHS.

    One hardly knows where to begin, but I’ll try. First of all, the size of the graduating high school class is a peculiar measure of housing goals. Second, downtown is but a tiny fraction of Berkeley and the density in many other parts of Berkeley leaves much to be desired – must downtown itself accomodiate these graduating seniors? Third, the Downtown Plan itself notes that housing consumption in that area is dominated by students and low-income households. Percentage of ownership is low there: people choose to buy elsewhere. The number of families (as contrasted with singles, students) is quite low. This does not suggest an “if you build it they will come” situation. To say that “only 500 new units in 20 years” is scandalous you would need to demonstrate built-up demand and yet the only substantial demand you can point to is for low-cost, mostly transient housing.

    It is also worth noting that the Downtown Plan is predicated upon an assumption of job growth in Berkeley. Housing will remain expensive, it argues, because Berkeley has more jobs than working citizens and that ratio will only get worse without more new housing.

    One can politely forgive the planners for such hubris – all penned before the depths of the current recession were fully understood – assuming that they are now perpared to retract it and think again (and harder, this time).

    You wrote, Ms. Rhoades, “Housing opportunities for the next generation of Berkeleyites should be provided in the Downtown where it’s environmentally responsible and affordable — near transit.” In the above, I have given you a better alternative:

    Do not build new housing downtown, where there is low demand and the transit options are good only insofar as they are the least horrible of a horrible range of options.

    Rather, develop the neglected periphery, fix intra-city transit, and emphasize (in commercial regulation for economic development) diversity of industry, recirculation, and an improved balance of trade.

    Thanks for listening.
    -t

  22. I for one am interested in this topic, and don’t have a strong point of view, and this is partly because I don’t have a command of the issues and what the implications of supporting vs. rolling back the board approved plan are. It would be more interesting to me to read an article that objectively summarizes what is going on, what the pluses and minuses are, rather than reading an article by someone making a pitch and pointing me to their cause’s website.

    In the end, their cause might be the right one, but as an educated and unfortunately busy person, I’d like Berkeleyside to help me come to that conclusion on this very important issue via thoughtful evaluation of the issues.