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Ecocity plan unworkable

Michael Katz and Becky O’Malley
Friday December 14, 2001


In a Dec. 3 letter attacking his long enemies’ list, Richard Register saved an especially vicious attack for City Councilmember Dona Spring. Such name-calling, regardless of its target, abuses these pages and degrades public discourse. 

Let’s call Richard’s bluff when he claims, “It’s time for progressives to get real about strategies to actually deliver housing and environmental policy....” In fact, this is what hundreds of Berkeley residents (of all political persuasions) accomplished in open public meetings over the last 2-1/2 years. The resulting draft General Plan is one of the “greenest” city plans ever written, with unusually strong affordable-housing policies. The City Council should pass it – essentially intact. 

The “Ecocity Amendment” that Richard mentions has been considered and rejected – again and again – by the city’s environmentally aware, and pro-housing, Planning Commission and staff. They refused his unworkable pet project for very good reasons: beneath some nice-sounding rhetoric, Richard’s “Ecocity” proposals are as bizarre and inappropriate as his attack-dog style. Richard’s notions would reduce – not increase – Berkeley’s supply of affordable housing, by undercutting current affordable-housing incentives. They would worsen – not improve – the city’s real environmental impacts. They would diminish the city’s “livability,” by toppling the current protections for views and solar access that make high density bearable. And they have no real voter support. 

Richard’s whining that anyone “wants to keep people out of town” is absurd, false, and comes from the city’s least appropriate source. Richard’s past writings indicate that he favors throwing about 70 percent of Berkeley residents out of their homes, to make way for “a return to agriculture and nature.” 

Does any sane person think demolishing 70 percent of our housing stock would promote affordability? Consider the costs of building replacement housing at current prices. 

Does any sane person think massive demolition would be good for the local environment? Consider the former World Trade Center’s continuing “fallout” of airborne asbestos and other contaminants. 

To our knowledge, Richard’s favorite developer, Patrick Kennedy, has never built a single affordable housing unit beyond the bare minimum required to win his height bonuses. He has reportedly even disputed the city law that requires new buildings to include room for moderate-income people. Although Richard crows about the Bay view he enjoys from his subsidized nest up near the 11th floor of “The World’s Tallest Seven-Story Building,” he would pull up the ladder and deny the benefits of affordability and views to others. 

By contrast, the publicly written General Plan appropriately makes affordable (not premium-priced) housing its first housing priority. 

We think even Richard would acknowledge this if he’d bothered to read the plan. He’s evidently been too busy collecting his trumpeted “endorsements.” These typically come from one- or two-person “letterhead organizations” (much like Richard’s own “Ecocity Builders”), with a handful from small endorsement committees of larger groups. 

Endorsers large and small are now distancing themselves from Richard – praising his “spirit” but disavowing his “specifics” – as they learn his valid points were in the General Plan all along. 

To again call Richard’s bluff: Let’s “get beyond government by...appeasing the badgerers.” The General Plan vote will be a test not for any one councilmember, but for the whole City Council. Rejecting Richard’s silliest suggestions would decisively repudiate the city’s old “Berzerkeley” stereotype, and demonstrate that Berkeley does not cave in to the most strident badgerer. 

Passing the publicly written General Plan – unencumbered – would honor the staff and community members who did their homework, produced rational and productive results, and respectfully accommodated their neighbors’ concerns.  


Michael Katz  

and Becky O’Malley