Op-ed: Why the Pacific School of Religion/Mather Holy Hill project is bad for Berkeley

The Mather LifeWays project proposed for the Pacific School of Religion campus and its surroundings has the potential to do great harm to the Northside neighborhood and to Berkeley as a whole.

The over-scaled senior housing development would do away with the beloved historic PSR campus, an oasis on the hill. Gone will be the beautiful open space, the western vista, and all but one of the campus’s architecturally significant buildings.

The Mather development would tear the fabric of a residential neighborhood, demolishing an unprecedented number of buildings, constructed mostly in the 1920s, along Virginia Street, Le Conte Avenue, and Arch Street.

The project purports to follow the LEED Gold standard yet would be extremely ungreen, razing 16 perfectly functional buildings. As we all know, the greenest building is the one already built.


Demolition and construction would last for years, disrupting the life of untold residents in this quiet neighborhood.

Building senior housing on top of a steep hill is ill-advised. As a Northside resident intimately familiar with the topography, I can easily imagine the Mather residents huffing and puffing their way uphill or stumbling and falling while descending the precipitous slope of Le Conte Avenue. The Mather residents’ cars (potentially hundreds of them) and the facility’s regular shuttle buses would turn peaceful Holy Hill into a traffic hub.

No affordable housing would be available in this project — only the well-heeled need apply, buying in with an initial payment to the tune of $500,000, plus thousands in monthly “care services” fees.

There’s more than one way for PSR to overcome its financial deficit. PSR could sell its buildings individually, or it could rent a limited portion to its shrinking enrollment of seminary students and lease the rest to the general public at market rates. Yet PSR and Mather have devised no fallback plan in case their mammoth building scheme should fail.

In short, the PSR/Mather project favors the few over the many, demonstrating a sense of entitlement so brazen, the likes of which we have not seen for decades, if ever.

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Daniella Thompson is a writer and historian. She has lived on the Northside since 1988.