Open letter to Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín: Where are people going to live?

Our home looks out at a four-story apartment building. This is not a problem. What is a problem is that our children, who were raised here, cannot afford to live here.

Dear Mayor Arreguín,

I have been intending to write to you since I read your comments about SB 827 (Wiener-Skinner) on Berkeleyside. After awaking Thursday morning to the sound of news helicopters and learning about the eviction of the homeless encampment at Old City Hall, I have realized I cannot wait any longer to express my concerns.

Where are people going to live?

SB 827 would give a badly needed boost to transit-accessible housing construction in Berkeley, the Bay Area, and California as a whole. Prioritizing parking over people and current homeowners over young people who are priced out of the Bay Area housing market, as your comments indicate you do, is not progressive. You have reportedly described SB 827 as “a declaration of war against our neighborhoods.” I beg to differ.

My husband, Bill Newton, and I have been Berkeley residents and voters for almost 35 years. We live four blocks east of Sacramento Street and the North Berkeley BART, which means we live within one of the few areas of Berkeley likely to be impacted by SB 827. I believe the impacts would be good for us and for the city as a whole.

Our block, and the blocks east of us, are already zoned multi-family. We look out our back window at a four-story apartment building. This is not a problem. What is a problem is that our children, who were raised here, cannot afford to live here. They and other members of their generation will not be able to raise their children here. Much though I love my fellow baby-boomers, I experience it as a loss that very few younger adults or families with children can afford to live here.

I live on a block which houses a large number of writers, teachers and artists, reflecting the fact that this neighborhood was relatively affordable when we moved into it. Now our community is out of reach to people without very high incomes. Unless they are sleeping in the bushes or on the sidewalk. Which many are. I walk by human beings living on the street every day. It is unconscionable that more and more people in this supposedly “progressive,” and in many respects very affluent community, have no homes. The increase in homelessness really does threaten my neighborhood. An increase in affordable housing would not.

My community, like all of our planet, is also threatened by climate change. I know you know this and consider reducing greenhouse gases to be an essential priority. So it makes no sense to oppose SB 827, which by encouraging denser housing near transit hubs, reduces carbon emissions.

I voted for you, Mayor Arreguín, because I believed you would build a progressive alliance for a more livable Berkeley cutting across the usual hyper-partisan divide between pro- and anti-development forces. I believed you would work to create good development in the interests of all Berkeley residents, including the housing-secure and the housing insecure, and in the interests of the environment and slowing climate change. With this in mind, I urge you to reconsider your position on SB 827 and embrace a truly progressive vision for the future of Berkeley.


Carol Lashof

Carol S. Lashof is a playwright, an educator, and the Managing Director of Those Women Productions, a theater company based in Berkeley.