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Getting beyond fear of change to a thriving community

Nancy Bickel
Saturday March 30, 2002



Fear of change stands like a great boulder in the path of open discussion about the development of our community. Whether we like it or not, all the statistics point to a population growth of 400,000 in Alameda and Contra Costa counties over the next 20 years. Many of these new residents are our children. Many are those who work in Berkeley schools, in health care, in shops, restaurants, theaters and in ll the other services that make our city livable. 

Where are they to find the housing they need? Will they have to commute to the Central Valley? Will they join others who are forced to the outside of the amoeba-like growth of the Bay Area, who must then jam our roads and pollute our air in order to get tow work each day? 

Over the past 30 years, Berkeley’s population had declined substantially, so the added auto congestion doesn’t result from more people living here. To a large extent, it results from people who work and go to school here but who can not find affordable housing that suits their needs. 

The League of Women Voters recently completed an intensive study of housing in Berkeley, Albany and Emeryville. On the basis of that effort, we recommend that “...the city should expand its housing stock to meet its share of the region’s growth projections, using such measures as the following: ...Identify and limit constraints on new housing construction,... review the zoning code and consider revisions that would promote production of needed housing, while maintaining health and safety standards and environmental protection.” 

After many years of study and public input, the City Council approved new Housing an Land Use Elements for its updated General Plan. It endorsed increased apartment development along transportation corridors. This is essential for adding residents while minimizing auto congestion. Additional low and moderate income housing will also increase the number of people using public transit and thus improve public transport. Yet, recently, the City Council down-zoned a group of parcels very near two transit corridors — University and San Pablo avenues — moved by objections to a proposed apartment building. Surely, the concept of increasing apartment development along transportation corridors also includes encouraging or at least permitting such development in appropriately zoned areas very close to transit corridors. 

We must ask: what did the City Council think it was adopting in the new Land Use and Housing Elements if not a set of policies to guide future land use and housing decisions throughout the city? If the Planning Commission and the City Council hear only the nay-sayers, they are undermining their own adopted policies. Those policies an those documents are meaningless, and all those years of study and public input are wasted, if they can be set aside so soon after their adoption. We urge the City Council to enforce both the letter and the spirit of the new Land Use and Housing Elements and to do so with the good of the City as a whole in mind. 

We must move beyond fear of change, capture a vision of a sensibly changing city, one in which more residents add up to a better life for all of us. A moderate expansion of housing along and near transportation corridors, and particularly of housing for people with low and moderate incomes, will also permit the city to continue to embrace residents with a wide range of economic circumstances, ages and racial and ethnic backgrounds. 

We invite fellow citizens who wish to welcome newcomers and maintain diversity to tell your own council member and the City Council as a whole that you support thoughtful growth of housing and of population in Berkeley. Don’t slam the door in the faces of our own children and all the people we rely on in our schools, homes, shops and offices. If you feel as the League of Women Voters does, you can reach us at 834-8824, by e-mail at or through our Web site: 




Nancy Bickel, President 

Lois Brubeck,  

Action Vice President 

Jean Safir, Housing Action Chair