Op-ed: Economic walls hurt families too

Berkeley Honda provides living wages and union jobs to 50+ employees. By voting not to allow it to move into new premises, Berkeley’s mayor is failing middle-class workers.

The centerpiece of Jesse Arreguín’s 2016 campaign was his endorsement by Senator Bernie Sanders. Today the Senator is a tireless advocate for action to address income and wealth inequality, and the central problem statement in Sander’s campaign is the “40-year decline of our middle class.” Sanders makes a compelling case for why social and economic justice are dependent on a vibrant middle class. Thus, it is bewildering that Berkeley’s self-identified “progressives” are abandoning middle-class workers now they have taken office.

Case in point is councilwoman Hahn’s effort on Feb. 7, supported by a “yes” vote by Jesse Arreguín, to strike down Berkeley Honda’s use-permit for the now vacant Any Mountain (old Berkeley Bowl) building.

Berkeley Honda is a 40-year-old family business that provides living wages and union jobs to 50+ employees who live in Berkeley and the surrounding area. These are exactly the type of opportunities Bernie Sanders is fighting for to address income, wealth and power inequality. Economic pressure has created a mass exodus of blue-collar jobs from Berkeley and the greater Bay Area. This proposal is an opportunity to buck this trend.

In addition to jobs, Berkeley Honda has committed over $2 million to improve this historic structure. This revitalization will make the site more resilient and environmentally sound. It is next to impossible to get this level of private investment for such a large commercial site. Therefore, in addition to providing needed business tax revenue, Berkeley Honda is protecting our architectural heritage while making our city safer.

Even the opponents of the Berkeley Honda relocation have tacitly acknowledged, including in an op-ed published on Berkeleyside, that “loss of union jobs and tax revenue is a real concern.”

Once gone, these blue-collar jobs will never return. We will end up erecting an economic wall that narrows opportunity and reduces social diversity. Arreguín’s self-declared mission is to make Berkeley “work for everyone.” By supporting Sophie Hahn’s motion to strike down Berkeley Honda’s use-permit, there are 50+ families who may not be working at all.

Geoffrey Lomax is a Berkeley resident and public-health, environmental and labor advocate. He campaigned on behalf of Stephen Murphy in 2016.