Op-ed: We need real equity and access to a livable Berkeley

This letter, by REAL Berkeley, was sent to the Berkeley City Council ahead of its July 12 meeting. REAL Berkeley is a group of Berkeley citizens who are interested in helping to develop a comprehensive housing plan for the city that provides affordable housing for low-income, moderate and workforce housing (see list of members below).

REAL Berkeley first addressed the City Council in February, expressing our support for a comprehensive housing plan that addressed all income levels, including middle income working people, low-income residents, young people entering the workforce, seniors, people with disabilities and people experiencing homelessness. Housing at all levels is required to meet the crisis gripping our city, undermining the economic, social and multi-racial diversity of Berkeley.

As the City Council moves towards developing such a comprehensive plan, it is important to restate some realities of Berkeley.

While many think of our city as a small town of primarily residential neighborhoods, it is important to recognize that Berkeley has maintained a significant industrial base, a downtown business district and one of the country’s largest public universities. Berkeley is unmistakably a job center.


Nevertheless, Berkeley stopped building housing at the pace of job growth during the early ’70s and for more than three decades has imposed a de facto housing moratorium. By the year 2000, the city had developed a significant housing shortage.

Berkeley’s demographics have dramatically changed; over the years, more than half of our African American population had been priced out of town. Latinos, as well, have been priced out of the housing market despite representing a growing share of employment, especially in the service sector.

Although the housing problem is regional and national, Berkeley needs to implement local solutions that are within our reach.

Berkeley has successfully planned for new construction in specific areas of the city. The Downtown Area Plan and the Southside Plan both allow for significant new housing along transportation corridors. These plans reflect deep participatory processes and have earned support from local residents and businesses. Currently, the city is in the process of developing the Adeline Corridor Plan and will soon begin planning the San Pablo Corridor.

Berkeley has demonstrated a commitment to building low income affordable housing. We have required private home — builders to contribute more in subsidies to affordable housing than any other jurisdiction outside of San Francisco. The city has committed general fund dollars to affordable housing and homeless services and the Landlord Tax, which the City Council unanimously has placed on the November ballot, will add to that fund as well.

In addition to developing housing for low-income people, Berkeley needs to have an approach to the development of workforce housing, and accessible housing and for the disabled and seniors as well. Providing affordable housing for those who work in Berkeley but currently cannot afford to live here can be an additional benefit of development along transit corridors.

REAL Berkeley urges the Council to continue focusing the building of new housing along transit corridors. Development along these corridors enhances the character of the city, reducing the need for more cars, bringing people into areas that need the residential and foot traffic, leading to more shops, restaurants and businesses to serve the population growth.

Development of mitigations and transition zones that minimize negative effects of development on nearby neighborhoods must be an essential part of transit corridor housing. But the integrated design of new apartment housing and commercial activity on transit corridors also can enhance adjoining neighborhoods that consist largely of single-family homes.

The adoption of a City Density Bonus will allow Berkeley to require more workforce housing from developers. In exchange for allowing greater heights along transit corridors, new apartment buildings located on these corridors can be required to set aside a significant portion of family units at prices affordable to teachers, health care workers and the like, who work in Berkeley.

None of this is easy or simple. Every inch of progress we make in planning for more housing, even in the downtown, has been challenged and delayed.

The character of our city is at stake. We need plans and programs that can be realized and that benefit all Berkeley’s residents.

Members of REAL Berkeley:

Stephanie Allan, Co-Chair, BUSD Construction Bond Oversight Committee
Fred Block, Berkeley Resident
John Brauer, Workforce Director, California Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO
Malcolm Burnstein, Co-Chair, Rules Committee, California Democratic Party
Timothy Carter, Vice Chair, BUSD Personnel Commission
Josh Daniels, Member, Berkeley School Board
Barry Fike, BUSD Teacher & Former President, Berkeley Federation of Teachers
Tim Frank, Director, Center for Sustainable Neighborhoods
Angela Gallegos-Castillo, Berkeley Resident
Nicky Gonzalez Yuen, Peralta Community College Trustee
Judy Grether, Berkeley Resident
Carole Joffe, Berkeley Resident
Kim Kruckel, Early Childhood Advocate
Jack Kurzweil, Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club
Joe Lee, Program Manager of Volunteer Services, Lifelong Medical Care
Beatriz Leyva-Cutler, President, Berkeley School Board
Linda Lustig, Berkeley Resident
Steve Lustig, Berkeley Resident
Marty Lynch, Executive Director, Lifelong Medical Care
Melissa Male, Chair, Center for Independent Living Board of Directors
Alan Miller, BUSD Teacher & Former Vice-President, Berkeley Federation of Teachers
Mary Murtagh, Non-Profiit Affordable Housing Administrator
Bonnie Nelson, Berkeley Resident
Jim Novosel, Berkeley Resident
Fred Ross, Labor Organizer
Jane Scantlebury, Berkeley Resident
Margo Scheuler, Berkeley Resident
Julie Sinai, Berkeley Commissioner, Children, Youth & Recreation Commission, Sugar
Sweetened Beverage Product Panel of Experts
Kad Smith, Lead Advisor, Berkeley Youth & Government Program
Iris Starr, Union member, Berkeley homeowner & tax payer
Catherine Trimbur, Attorney/Mediator
Jeff Vincent, Deputy Director, Center for Cities & Schools, University of California, Berkeley
Eric Weaver, Food Policy Activist
Carol Wilkins, Public Policy Consultant

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