I’m writing to encourage you to endorse Ecocity Builders’ Ecocity Amendment to the General Plan.
There are some basic facts I believe we can all agree on: the environment is in danger – in large part due to our reliance on cars. Open space in the region is being consumed largely for suburban development. Housing is scarce and the population is growing. Lower income people are unable to find housing in Berkeley and our town is becoming more economically and racially homogenous. More jobs have been created in Berkeley in the past 15 years than housing for the people in those jobs.
The Ecocity Amendment addresses the above issues in a way recognized by most urban planners as beneficial to both the community’s economic vitality and the environment. The “radical” element of the amendment is its attempt to create, rather than merely preserve, open space while at the same time increasing housing. The only way this can be achieved is to increase density in key “hub areas” such as downtown, San Pablo Avenue and University Avenue and the Ashby Avenue BART area.
Replacing existing single-family homes with open space and daylighting creeks is a relatively novel idea in Berkeley (although it has been successfully done elsewhere). The key point is that it will be entirely voluntary, and people will sell their homes at market value to a “land bank” to be funded by developers of higher density developments at the hubs. The neighbors of the homes to be replaced by open space and creeks should be delighted because their property values will increase as “natural parks” replace the single-family homes next door.
Equally important, new housing will be created in commercial areas that will provide additional customers for local businesses. Yes, Berkeley’s population will increase somewhat, but if designed in the manner suggested by Ecocity Builders it will create a more vibrant city, not one overrun by cars. Berkeley cannot continue to claim to be “a green city” and fail to address the genuine social need for additional housing - that’s isolationism, not preservation.
Many Ecocity Amendment opponents claim they want to keep Berkeley as it always has been. They fail to acknowledge that Berkeley has changed greatly and that they have remained silent as African Americans and other lower income people have been forced out of south and west Berkeley. Worse, many of the current detractors of the Ecocity Amendment have been extremely vocal in their opposition to new housing that would serve these displaced communities.
The Ecocity Amendment to the General Plan provides an opportunity to present a clear vision for the future of Berkeley that addresses housing and environmental needs. For that reason, I strongly encourage you to become articulate advocates for the Ecocity Amendment.