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Be progressive!

Richard Register
Monday December 03, 2001



The Ecocity Amendment makes it possible to create housing in the quantity identified by the city1s Draft General Plan while bringing creeks back into the city and creating bicycle/pedestrian paths. These future paths, such as the one currently being proposed to link Downtown and UC Campus with the Bay and Bayshore Trail, constitute a healthy, pleasurable and very effective form of alternative transportation that saves energy andgenerates enjoyment like none other. These paths also reduce automobile dependence, fuel addiction, air pollution, vehicle accidents.... Very, very good! 

Opponents to the Ecocity Amendment, however, including my own council representative Dona Spring, who claims to be green and does support creek restoration in some ways, are now arguing for down-zoning in the transit corridors of the city. To placate a few very aggressive neighborhood conservatives who want to keep people from moving into town, some City Council members, including Spring, are compromising their espoused values and objectives. When Norine Smith stands up and states to the Council that she wants to keep Berkeley almost exactly as it is now so that people who move here can enjoy this wonderful place, she could hardly be less sincere: she and the others who are opposed to practically all new housing in Berkeley are not offering to move out to make room for anyone. No way! 

What the Norine Smiths support – reducing density and height limits on transit corridors – makes it impossible for these new people who need housing to be here at all – unless they commute in daily, stuffing our streets with cars.  

It’s time to be honest in Berkeley about housing and the environmental crisis. We need to support transit and housing in significant quantity including low income housing. People like Spring and Smith who are promoting less density on transit corridors are no friend to those needing housing, nor to the environment. To say that the tiny amount of housing that we do allow to be built must have a fair percentage for low income people is not good enough. A percentage of a tiny amount is a very tiny amount. That’s why we need more rather than less. 

It’s time for progressives to get real about strategies to actually deliver housing and environmental policy instead of simply claiming that they are progressives and environmentalists. Their actions in supporting or opposing the truly progressive and environmentally responsible Ecocity Amendment which does make room for people and nature by encouraging buildings three or four stories taller than the present limits in downtown, and if built on green guidelines, defines who they really are. Among the offerings to the General Plan, this policy and only this policy provides the room for people and financing mechanisms to build the housing they need. And we, in the sense of all of us concerned with the future for our children and the health of their world, need to face the realities of a planet in rapid ecological decline. That decline starts with us in our own cities. 

We can build cities to shelter and serve people and nature at the same time. 

That’s what the so-called progressives and environmentalists should embrace. 

If they don’t, know them by their deeds and not their words. 

Let’s get beyond “government by the badgerers,” as my friend Ernest Callenbach, author of Ecotopia calls the form we have in Berkeley. Appeasing the badgerers is a hell of a form of government. Let’s pay attention to the more than 100 organizations and businesses that have deliberated thoughtfully on the Ecocity Amendment and decided to support it. Let’s move on to real cooperation between factions, between human beings and the natural world we are part of. We can build our city as if we understood what that means.  

Get with it, so-called progressives and environmentalists. Be progressives and environmentalists; support the Ecocity Amendment. 


Richard Register