To: John King, Architecture Critic, San Francisco Chronicle
From: Michael Goldin, Berkeley
Some time ago you were touring the West Berkeley area with [Berkeley architect] Regan Bice and you stopped by our new building – Swerve. We spoke about the district and had some differences over the question of how the district ought to change over time.
I was advocating densification and a radical re-thinking of how we plan the city. You kind of felt things were just right as they were. I feel a mixed-use densification would provide the critical mass to fund public transportation programs, pay for infrastructure repair, and allow people to walk and to work and shop where they live — a European model of the city, really.
I am hoping you have reconsidered your position on urban planning in light of your recent article, State Exploring Detailed Strategy for Growth?
Time is of the essence. If it is not enough that the accelerated pace of technology and the globalization of the economy is forcing us to reconsider fundamental aspects of zoning and planning, then in light of the rapidly decaying environment, it has become imperative we do so. Watch this talk by Arun Majumdar – who, along with Steven Chu from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, (both in the Obama Administration), are advocating for sweeping change.
Although California is among the leaders in carbon reduction policy, bills such as SB375 and AB32 — which would see vehicle trips reduced through densification and mixed use in cities — will have little impact until local governments apply these concepts to local planning and zoning laws.
Even the renowned East Bay Green Corridor is meaningless without land use policy and laws that permit its implementation. We could not house the spin-offs from LBL or UC because West Berkeley Planning is mired in land-use policy from the 1950s.
I hope the current debate around land use in West Berkeley is not wasted; that it is used to motivate a more urgent and responsive change needed to improve our cities and our environment. The absurdity of this debate is best portrayed in Robert Gammon’s recent article in the East Bay Express.
If Berkeley, its people, or its politicians can’t lead substantive environmental change, who will?
I look forward to hearing from you again.
Michael Goldin is a business owner in Berkeley, where he also lives. He is involved in city development issues, including as the chair of the sustainability committee of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce. These are his personal views.