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League of Women Voters responds to letters

Nancy Bickel, President Lois Brubeck, Action Vice President Jean Safir, Housing Action Cha
Friday April 19, 2002

To the Editor: 


The League of Women Voters notes with interest the flurry of letters responding to our letter on the need for low income housing in Berkeley. All the writers agree with us that we should uphold the general plan and its housing element and provide affordable housing while preserving Berkeley's special character. The question then is how do we get there. 

In our letter (published March 30-31), we criticized the down zoning of 10 parcels in the 1100 block of Hearst Ave. as an example of reducing opportunities for creating more low and moderate income housing. The letters published by the Planet supported that downzoning, as did the Planning Commission and, ultimately, seven of nine City Council members. 

The staff report to the City Council, dated Feb. 19, 2002, recommended that the City Council reverse the Planning Commission's decision to downzone on the 1100 block of Hearst Street. We agree with the staff analysis and think the following points are particularly strong: 

- "If the City supports downzoning requests on the basis that the zoning should reflect the existing development density, then the City will effectively eliminate any future housing development opportunities." 

The downzoned area is "within a three-minute walk of two of the City's largest public transportation corridors: San Pablo Avenue and University Avenue....the City should be encouraging the higher densities that are necessary to support efficient public transportation systems." 

- "The character of the Hearst Street neighborhood can be developed and maintained without reducing housing development opportunities...Efforts by the City to ensure quality, well-designed buildings through design guidelines and careful development review will do more to maintain community character than efforts to limit future housing development by downzoning." 

(The full staff report is available at the reference desk of the Central Library.) 

Although the letter writers disagreed with us about the application of General Plan principles in this particular case, we look forward to future discussions in which we may agree on other applications. 

Some of the writers questioned the propriety of the League taking a stand on public policy issues. The writers are mistaken in thinking the League confines itself to pro-con presentations. We often advocate on public policy issues, but we do so only after serious study and discussion of the relevant public policy issues. We invite you to read our recent report "Housing Policy and Progress in Albany, Berkeley and Emeryville." (On our website:, click on "The League at work" and then on "Housing Action Study." The Main Library has printed copies.) 

We stand by the main point of our earlier letter: we want Berkeley and its neighborhoods to continue to be welcoming to people of all ages, abilities, economic status and ethnic and racial backgrounds. 

Berkeley's diversity is its special character. 


Nancy Bickel, President 

Lois Brubeck, Action Vice President 

Jean Safir, Housing Action Chair