Berkeley is a university town – well,
it's a city, although it used to be a town. But we have
neighborhoods, and although everyone is proud of and pretty much
supports Cal, as the University of California at Berkeley is known,
there are the usual town/gown pressures. It can be financial, since
all that land is untaxed. There are arrangements that Cal pays the
city some sizable fees, but the university still comes out on top.
And their missions must inevitably conflict – the University is an
organization, and organizations want to grow. But the city has to
absorb the people who are part of the growth, and it can be hard.
The University houses only 23% of its students, and the rest have to
find housing locally. If there are more and more, and more and more,
and more and more students, there has to be more and more housing. I
forget the details, but the essence of it is that the university
makes promises of producing commensurate housing as it grows, and
then breaks them. They are arrogant. They are self-important. They
really do pretty much what they want to do. What's new with
The city resists, usually. Weakly, but
it resists. It tries to get better deals, but in the end the city
generally folds, and tries to increase its budget by taxing the
residents. They say the new taxes are for something great, but the
fine print shows that the money will just go into the general fund.
They do what cities do, they use slight of hand and hope not to be
seen doing what they're doing. They are arrogant. They are
self-important. The city is composed of an elected City Council
whose members often have an agenda based on their ideology and the
views of the district they represent, and permanent city officials
are do what permanent city officials do. They come to work and they
do everything they can not to be fired. They keep their heads down.
They are not top quartile graduates.
Berkeley is full of people who know how
to be activists, so there are neighborhood organizations that
represent the neighborhoods, even while the elected city council
representatives, who are elected by district, are supposed to do the
same. The neighborhood organizations are all volunteer, with no paid
staff. Like all organizations, they have leaders who generally get
their way, but it's significant that the city permanent government,
the elected representatives on the city council, and the unelected
volunteer neighborhood organizations frequently have quite different
views on issues.
Anyway, the University wants to expand
and doesn't really care how the city handles the extra students.
Because of the growth of students and the lack of significant growth
of housing, there has been an increasing number of students who are
homeless, and who are on food stamps. It's hard to get the
University's attention to this, but it's true. The city government
has been like other city governments in being slow to approve new
housing in the city, and the neighborhoods have been reluctant to see
the character of where they live change. If you live on a pretty
tree-lined street with houses, you are understandably reluctant to
see houses turned into four-plexes, to see apartment houses appear,
to find trees on lots disappear, to find parking become more
difficult, and to find your pleasant neighborly street, where
everybody knows your name, turn into New York City.
So, deadlock. Until now. There has
been a turnover in the City Council, and they have swung to the side
that says we have a national problem of not enough housing, we all
have to learn to live with higher density, it will be patriotic to do
so, try it you'll like and even if you don't, tough nuggies, you'll
have to live with it. The University Department of City and Regional
Planning has lobbied hard that this is what the country needs, and
most importantly, it's the progressive thing to do. They have made
the argument that single family home zoning is racist, and it is
anti-student and thus anti-education.
The City Council has echoed this view.
Our local council member says in her latest newsletter: “Not
only do our academically motivated kids have to weather a pandemic,
but they now have to deal with the potential of having their
educational dreams crushed.” She
has made the argument previously that when single family home zoning
was adopted 100 years ago, it was with the intention of keep out
people of color. She also says, “I don’t say this
lightly—I fundamentally believe this is a civil rights issue. This
is about fair access to education and equity, particularly for lower
income families and communities of color who will be most impacted
the most by this ruling.” The
ruling she refers to is the freeze on enrollment increase at Cal
imposed by the California
Nobody says it, but there is a good
deal of resentment against people who can afford to live in single
family homes. Some of these residents are well-paid, and others have
simply lived there for decades, starting from before there was such
housing inflation. Berkeley has always harbored a good deal of the
politics of resentment. Abolishing zoning for single family homes
would seem to be a way to get back at those who live there. The San
Francisco Chronicle has covered it here.
I remember about 30 years ago when they
abolished our neighborhood elementary school, which was fully
integrated, because it was too good. They didn't want one school
outperforming others because it wasn't fair. In private
conversations, the school board admitted that. They turned our local
school into a magnet school. Equality tasted better than quality.
So, naturally, when our council member
made her case in the newsletter, I rebutted. Here is my over-the-top
your constituent, I would like to weigh in on the UCB expansion
issue, as well as the dropping of zoning for single family houses.
I have lived in Berkeley since 1974, am a graduate and supporter of
the Goldman School of Public Policy, and I currently sit on the Board
of Advisors for the Goldman School. My wife graduated from Cal,
and her daughter graduated from the School of Public Health. We
are a Cal family.
would like to see the Goldman School get its expansion. But
that is quite apart from the relentless expansion of Cal. I have seen
up close how they have expanded without fulfilling their
responsibilities to provide housing, and how the students have
suffered, including living in cars and relying on food stamps.
This is the direct result of irresponsible expansion. Now the
situation that they consciously created is laid at the feet of the
neighborhoods, and the agreed upon solution appears to be to change
the population density of all of Berkeley. Not to do so is
called depriving students of a decent education. It is even
called racist - you personally have made this argument - because
zoning a century ago had racial prejudice as one of its objectives.
To apply this motivation to the current situation is ludicrous,
incendiary, an unfair. To want to live in a traditional neighborhood
is not equivalent to wanting to exclude people of color. This should
even with these sins of unsupported university expansion in their
past, which the university seeks to bury, the university promises to
"limit" its expansion to "only" 1% a year.
A quick calculation tells us that this means 10% larger in 10 years.
The way to supply the housing infrastructure for this constant
expansion? Let's let the students pile into the neighborhoods -
double up, you guys! Sell your houses to developers, who will
convert your houses into condos, demolish them to increase population
density double or triply or even more, allowing developers and others
to make a mint in the process, and changing the nature of Berkeley
irrevocably. The nature of Berkeley is to be apartments,
condos, and personal congestion everywhere, because not to allow
high-density housing everywhere would be anti-education, and more
than that, "racist." What an agenda! What specious
argumentation! What attempts to intimidate!
would like to see the Goldman School get its expansion. Since
their plan includes housing, it should be rather simple to justify. I
would like to see more deserving students served. But there are
other ways to expand without turning Berkeley into a replica of the
area surrounding Columbia or NYU. When Harvard needed to
expand, they went to Allston, just across the Charles River, and did
it there. Cal could do something similar. They can and
should plan for a new campus, where room for housing is available.
There is no need to make Berkeley an example of how to fit more and
more sardines in a can.
I am appalled at the stance taken by our city government, which is
carrying Cal's water. The highly ideological and inflated
rhetoric, full of specious reasoning and implying craven motives to
those who simply want to see pleasant neighborhoods preserved,
especially the accusations or innuendos of racism, are beyond the
bounds of reason and comity, pollute the waters of fair and reasoned
discussion, and are unfair to the neighborhood citizens who better
represent the community of Berkeley than does our government.
like to see you do better.