Donald Trump wasn’t the only political earthquake last November. When the dust settled and the votes were counted, local Berkeley politics had been dramatically reshaped. A strong, pro-housing candidate for Berkeley Mayor was defeated by a notorious NIMBY, Jesse Arreguín, whose claim to fame was voting against or abstaining from nearly 1,500 units of housing. Under his reign, a regressive, anti-housing faction has taken control of the City Council, intent on stopping development of any future housing.
We’ve certainly seen that mindset in action the last several weeks, with the City Council illegally blocking demolition of a single-family home on Haskell to build three housing units. (The code allows four.) Led by Arreguín, the council ignored the firm warnings from the city attorney — and the clear language of the law — in pursuit of its anti-growth, anti-housing policy.
Prospects for another project on Adeline Street, near Berkeley Bowl and a short walk from Ashby BART, also appear dim. Replacing a blighted single-family home and decrepit pottery store with 54 new housing units should be a no-brainer, but instead are being held up by the same people trying to shrink-wrap Berkeley, protecting it from change and progress.
That policy works great for existing homeowners, driving up the cost of severely restricted housing stock. It’s not great for those who do not own property, at the mercy of market forces, nor for those wishing to move to our amazing, wonderful city. If Arreguín and his faction have their way, that’s 54 families who won’t get to live here, 54 more sources of community and diversity who are being shut out of Berkeley due to the self-interest of a few.
The case is clear: either the city allows housing to be built, or homebuyers and renters will pay top dollar for existing housing stock, radically reshaping existing neighborhoods and stripping out the socioeconomic diversity that helps make Berkeley “Berkeley”. People with the means to afford Berkeley today will live in Berkeley if they so choose. The only question is who gets displaced by that inflow, and whether people without those lofty means can ever call Berkeley home.
That’s why the upcoming District 4 special election is so important, giving residents of that district the ability to reinstate some semblance of balance on the City Council.
Ben Gould is the right candidate for the district, and for the city. He supports a housing policy that would increase the availability of housing at all levels of income. As he writes on his campaign website, “our major commercial and transit corridors offer ample opportunities for new housing without disrupting Berkeley’s community fabric.” Build on those arteries, and neighborhoods can be protected while encouraging transit-focused density, helping achieve the city’s sustainability goals, reducing the need for cars — and ensuring Berkeley stays true to its commitment to address climate change.
The bottom line is that Mayor Arreguín is no progressive; he’s the leader of a regressive faction that’s currently working to preserve Berkeley in amber, fighting change, and making it unaffordable to all but the wealthiest. In fact, that’s exactly what conservatism is all about!
I’m supporting Ben Gould because he’s a true progressive who understands that our city will change; the key is to manage that growth smartly, working to ensure that the future of Berkeley is inclusive to everyone, regardless of wealth.