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Save Berkeley’s neighborhoods

Carrie Olson Berkeley
Wednesday April 10, 2002

To the Editor: 


Re: The League of Women Voters letter. 


I am disappointed to read that the stewards of our sacred nonpartisan voting resources have taken a stand on a 13-parcel land-use determination by our City Council. Could this be the same group that we turn to before an election for fair and impartial guidance on the issues? My personal confidence in the League of Women Voters will never be the same. 

Berkeley is a "city of neighborhoods" - so it says on a sign downtown. When someone buys or rents a home or apartment, they not only judge the individual property, but the neighborhood. Within this context, they can decide what their reasonable expectation is for that neighborhood, and what it will mean to their quality of life. Neighborhoods like yours, Ms Nickel, in the highest hills, have different concerns than those in the flats, but we all must consider what makes our neighborhoods livable. 

I have lived in the same central Berkeley neighborhood for almost 50 years. I have seen a lot of change – but not all change is for the better. Berkeley has gone from a suburban college town to a bustling city. We no longer let our kids walk to school – we crisscross town with them in tow to school and activities. We no longer shop at the small corner grocery stores or take the bus downtown to Hink’s Department Store. The university (which we all do appreciate) has become the 800-pound gorilla, with more students, staff, faculty, and more research than education, bringing tens of thousands of bodies into our midst, impacting every corner of the city with expansion and traffic.  

The new General Plan’s Land Use and Housing Elements that Mayor Shirley Dean and the council minority OPPOSED, foresees a diligent planning process to encourage the housing that few dispute we need. We need more opportunities for people to purchase homes, more group-living situations, more senior housing, and more affordable housing for students. Let me say that one again because it is VERY important – we need more AFFORDABLE housing for students – they don’t qualify for most affordable units. We need the university to live up to its responsibility to provide housing. 

As a member of the city’s Design Review Committee, I know over 1,000 new apartment units are in the pipeline now, meeting our "fair share" as set by the Association of Bay Area Governments in one year instead of five! At 2.2 people per unit, those will accommodate an additional 2,200 people. With the undercount of the 2000 census short 4,500 in one part of town alone, we are well on our way to a density even the League should consider adequate.  

Berkeley is a fully built-out city – it has been for decades. In the 1950s and ‘60s when Victorians and brown shingle homes were out of fashion, hundreds were destroyed to build the ticky-tacky apartments all over town. The resulting backlash brought the Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance, which now prevents the removal of housing in neighborhoods, and the Landmarks Preservation Ordinance, which protects the city’s historic resources. The city learned that neighborhoods cared about their character and quality of life. While we accommodate the needs of our community, we must be thoughtful and considerate of the reasonable expectations of all neighborhoods. 


Carrie Olson