Housing shortages and the creation of a “virtual Berkeley” were two of the issues raised in a meeting Friday of East Bay business and civic leaders.
A report on the East Bay economy by Tapan Munroe, prepared for the Oakland-based Economic Development Alliance for Business, presented statistics that compared the increase of population with the shrinking supply of housing.
“Housing is not keeping up with population. It’s a fundamental issue we don’t always talk about,” said Munroe, a well-known economist who has advised California governors and federal and state legislators.
“We need houses near jobs. It’s one of the key issues that affects the quality of life and potential viability.”
In his report, “East Bay Indicators 2000, Focus on the New Economy,” Munroe said housing also is not keeping pace with job creation. In the East Bay, he said, there were more than five times the number of jobs created as there were homes built in 1999. The result is “dramatic increases in home prices and apartment rents.”
He said the entire Bay Area suffers from inadequate housing supply and transportation, but parts of the region offer more affordable housing and less traffic congestion than San Jose or San Francisco.
He said the traffic congestion from drivers commuting long distances because they can’t afford housing near their jobs, has outpaced the growth in population.
The combination of those factors makes it more difficult for employers to recruit and retain employees, he said.
The focus of his report is not only on economic issues but also on social equity, noted Bruce Kern, executive director of EDAB. The Alliance promotes business interests in the east bay and its membership include all 18 cities in the region, more than 200 corporations, UC Berkeley and CSU Hayward, and local school districts as well.
Kern said the Alliance manages CalWorks, the welfare-to-work program that helps find jobs for potential employees, and it operates a “green business program.”
In his report for EDAB, Munroe said about 46,000 additional housing units would have to be built in the East Bay to reach the same population-to-housing ratio that existed in 1990.
He examined building permits and found that Oakland received near $2 million for permits, and he considers the city to be a leader in building activity.
“When people say there’s nowhere to build,” he said he sees 60,000 to 70,000 acre campuses with two-story buildings. “Can software engineers not see a third floor?” he asked rhetorically.
Another speaker on the panel - panelists also included KTVU Consumer Editor Tom Vacar and New United Motors Vice President Mark Matthews – was Arturo Perez-Reyes, a lecturer at Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley.
Perez-Reyes advocated strengthening education. The way to bridge the so-called “digital divide,” he said, is to create better schools and more schooling.
In Munroe’s opinion the “lowest productivity gain is in education.”
“It’s an industry you ought to support,” he told EDAB members.
The Haas School lecturer, introduced as an e-commerce guru, said one-half of the e-commerce world is in the Bay Area. “We sit here poised at the epicenter of e-commerce,” he said.
The challenges facing Berkeley bookstores like Cody’s Books and other businesses on Telegraph Avenue and elsewhere in town from e-commerce giants provided a case in point for him.
Cody’s and other bookstores have been blindsided by Amazon.com with its sales tax-free Nevada warehouse, he said. But closer to home, he said the university is planning to increase online business by not only having students register electronically but by ordering their class texts online simultaneously.
The books won’t come from Cody’s but from Follett. Perez-Reyes said the university will try to bring in Cody’s on its own portal.
“We want a thriving community around us,” said the Cal lecturer. Expanding the concept, he said, “If the students buy their food online, Andronico’s will go away.”
After the meeting he suggested that local merchants may not realize how the “Wal-Martizing” of business through the Internet can kill them.
“We would like to provide links to form a relationship with Telegraph Avenue (and other districts), a virtual Berkeley.”
He said the university is creating an e-commerce portal, and one of the benefits is that the university will receive a small percentage of the purchase price from companies it patronizes online. Others can do the same.
If the small merchants in town joined forces in a virtual community, a virtual mall, he said the university could point to them so customers could click there. The business districts need to be cohesive, not individualistic, he said.
“United they survive, divided they die.”
Sanchez-Reyes, Munroe and Vacar stressed the importance of place not just the online world. Multipurpose businesses where customers may go in the store for one thing but find themselves drinking coffee or meeting people or listening to a speaker.