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Middle class needs housing too

Michael O’Leary, Chair Berkeley Design Advoca
Wednesday December 12, 2001


The Berkeley Daily Planet received a copy of this letter addressed to the mayor and Berkeley City Council: 

Berkeley Design Advocates recently sent you copies of a report with recommendations for the proposed new General Plan and the Housing Element. BDA is a public service organization of design and planning professionals, affordable housing, environmental and neighborhood advocates, architectural historians, construction and development business persons and others interested in good design and the future environmental quality of life in Berkeley. Our report is based upon our study of the Draft General Plan. It recognizes the critical need for effective housing policies in Berkeley. As you make your decisions on changes and additions to the Plan, we urge you to strengthen the final document to achieve a Plan that reflects Berkeley’s commitment to progressive change. This letter summarizes the key points in our report and emphasizes the areas where the plan needs further improvement. 

The Draft Plan is a conservative document, focused on maintaining the status quo. It needs a larger vision of Berkeley’s role in meeting the needs of local and regional population growth, including policies and actions that will add housing and enable more people to enjoy living and working in Berkeley.  

1. Add policies supporting more housing for all income groups. Clear policies are required to support, permit and encourage higher levels of housing development for all income groups in Berkeley to preserve regional agriculture and open space and to reduce commuting distances, traffic congestion and pollution. 

2. Identify the need for new moderate and middle income housing and add policies and action programs to achieve this. 

Berkeley is a job-rich city with an increasing imbalance of housing to jobs. Berkeley must address this problem within Berkeley. The plan needs new policies, specific goals and action steps that support new construction to meet the housing needs of moderate and middle income people, such as teachers, firepersons, librarians, city and university staff. 

Actions to encourage the private sector to build middle income housing should include: higher density zoning and specific zoning standards, through-block zones along commercial corridors, minimum height requirements and required mixed uses with housing downtown and on major thoroughfares, use of public land for high density projects.  

3. Emphasize acquisition of existing housing to achieve low income housing goals 

The goal for 6,400 units of housing for low and very low income people is a major improvement over the earlier drafts. The plan and implementation strategies should support non-profit acquisition and management of existing housing as the most effective way to achieve this goal.  

4. Support new development in selected areas Plan policies should support significant change and higher densities in areas of the city that will be improved by new development. The action program should direct the Planning Commission to identify and rezone specific areas where the scale and context are ready for change; where existing heights and densities are inadequate to attract development, or remain untapped; where the population density is too low to support desirable improvements to public transit systems, where active street life and desirable local serving businesses, successful ground level office and retailing spaces are lacking. 


Michael O’Leary, Chair 

Berkeley Design Advocates