Op-ed: It’s about more than Honda

Is the plan to put a Honda dealership in the Le Conte neighborhood really moving us towards the city we all want to be a part of now and in the future?

By Gabe Fredman

Gabe Fredman is a lifelong Berkeley resident, a parent of three and a teacher.

I am proud of being born in Berkeley. I am proud that I walked the stage at the Greek Theatre in 1997 as a BHS Yellowjacket. I have decided to give back to the city that has been so instrumental in my development as a critical thinker and conscientious citizen by living, working — I am a teacher at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School — and raising my family here.

While I have grown and developed, my city has as well. So many of the changes have been positive (Cesar Chavez Park, bicycle boulevards, farmers markets, updated libraries, and more), well thought-out and well-intentioned.

In the last few years, however, it seems as though development has taken a shifting focus towards high-end development that is clearly changing the culture and vibe of the city I love so much.

Cities, like people, can experience growing pains, and I fear that is what we are going through right now. In a moment like this sometimes the best thing to do is stop, reflect and really examine the impact and direction of your decision.

I currently live on the 2300 block of Derby Street, in the heart of the Le Conte neighborhood. The developments blocks from my house along Shattuck (at Carleton, Parker and Dwight) have caused minor inconveniences through the years of construction, and the ramifications from those buildings once capacity is reached is still to be determined. Similar developments are in progress along University as well. And there are some advanced proposals in the works for Oxford and downtown as well.

The Berkeley Honda dealership has been displaced in all this development. The City Council made a ruling a few years back to change the zoning laws, allowing it to move from its current location. This decision undermined numerous vision and action plans developed by the city and community over the last decade. All this to accommodate the dealership a few blocks down the street at 2777 Shattuck.

As a long-time resident, parent of a student at Le Conte elementary and an avid walker, I ask: who is this for? Why is there a need for a dealership and repair shop in such a congested area? Is it for Berkeley residents — the neighbors are overwhelmingly opposed — or to maintain the tax revenue? Most important: is this moving us towards the city we all want to be a part of now and in the future?

In my mind, the issue boils down to that: is it more important to accommodate a high tax-revenue business or the local citizenry? I have nothing against Berkeley Honda. I respect that they hire union workers and pay living wages (I am a member of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers). This isn’t actually about them. This issue is about our elected officials representing us and denying the zoning change due to the negative impact that this type of business will have on our neighborhood forever.

This is about legacy too. I grew up in a city that seemed to pride itself on not bending to corporate will. Fast-food restaurants and big chains were scarce, and speed bumps and street barriers common. Berzerkeley was The People’s Republic. If we hope to keep that moniker — or more importantly that spirit — it’s time to stop making every decision based on the bottom line, and think about the city tradition that attracts positive fresh blood, and the legacy we hope to carry on.