Changes in the local political landscape have prompted two groups to nix a project to build 265 apartments for seniors on Holy Hill.
I’ve had many a conversation lately with white liberals in Berkeley who lament the rise of Donald Trump. They always seem to be bewildered about how this could be happening in our country, how someone like that could be so close to grabbing power. When our conversations turn to local politics, however, there seems to be a disconnect about how the dehumanizing policies that Trump is proposing for the country have much in common with ones that are in play in Berkeley this election.
Strolling out of the North Berkeley BART station one might be forgiven for thinking they had taken the wrong train. Despite standing well within city limits, there are no buildings taller than three stories, and no commercial buildings within a two-block radius of the station, only a giant parking lot. Homes that would happily sit in Glen Rock or Orinda watch over a vast expanse of asphalt waste.
A host of regulations around off-street and on-street parking surround the development of new housing and the associated public discourse in Berkeley.
In Berkeley, it’s sometimes easy to feel like our local politics are immune to the kind of cronyism and monied influence that afflicts most localities. After all, we like to think of ourselves as a well-informed, progressive city. We opposed Citizen’s United. We want money out of politics . . . Bernie Sanders did very well here in the primary…so we would never vote for people or ballot measures that have been bought by corporate, big monied special interests.
After so much media coverage of the bizarre presidential race, I find it refreshing to finally start to hear more about local races, where an eclectic cast of characters contending for many local offices are discussing hugely important issues that impact our daily lives, including one of the Bay Area’s favorite hot button issues: housing.
Real-estate groups have spent more than $786,000 in the last few months to defeat a measure that would almost double the business tax landlords pay in Berkeley (Measure U1) and to support an alternative measure with a lower tax (Measure DD). The funds were spent on campaign literature, signature collection, campaign consultants and for professional services from lawyers and others.
William Faulkner famously wrote “The past is not dead. Actually, it’s not even past.” That’s especially true in Berkeley, where civic issues can persist for years after they have apparently been resolved.
Berkeley has two proposals for development at a location in a Priority Development Area (PDA), which the city has designated for new housing near transit.
Update: Berkeley City Council on Tuesday night approved the occupancy tax rebate, with eight votes in favor and one abstention (Councilman Max Anderson). There was heated public comment that the rebate was an unnecessary giveaway to the developer, but city staff and councilmembers said their independent analysis had concluded the rebate was essential for the project. “In the end, the economic benefit to the city is significant,” said Councilman Jesse Arreguín. “We cannot lose this opportunity.”
The development climate in Berkeley has improved so much in the past six years that there are now approximately 2,500 apartment units in the pipeline — a dramatic change from the two decades between 1970 and 1990 when only 600 units were built, according to experts who spoke at a forum on multi-family development held in Berkeley on Jan. 21.
To the Landmark Preservation Commissioners:
I am a 23-year-old music data analyst making a $42,000 yearly salary before taxes; 46% of my income goes to rent. Nobody at my income level can afford median rent in Berkeley.
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