To the Editor,
The Planet’s article on height limits (April 14) states that Berkeley is the third most congested city in Northern California, but supports the claim by referring to its ranking in population density. They are not the same.
Congestion refers to the impediment of flow, especially vehicular flow. Interestingly, the Council of Neighborhood Associations Newsletter notes that "Berkeley is 25 percent denser than the traffic congestion capital, Los Angeles..." Berkeley has less traffic than L.A. because vehicular flow depends upon the pattern of density in a whole region, not just the particular city within a region.
In the Bay Area, as well as several other areas for which I have examined the data, vehicular ownership and use on a per-household basis is sharply lower in the denser zones. Population growth in the hills or Contra Costa will result in far more vehicles, and more vehicular use, than growth in San Francisco, Daly City or Berkeley. It may sound paradoxical, but population growth in Berkeley should result in less congestion than growth in open areas.
Neighborhoods are legitimately concerned about the local impacts of growth, but it is disturbing to see so little discussion of the impacts of displacing the growth elsewhere. Kudos to the League of Women Voters for raising the issue. Black marks to the Sierra Club for failing to speak up for its supposed constituency, the flora and fauna that would be displaced by growth outside of already densely built-up areas. This is not a developer versus neighborhood issue; the developers will make money wherever they build.
The real height limit issue is about office buildings, not housing. The financial district in S.F. has 40- to 50- story buildings on 60- to 70-foot wide streets. The equivalent on Shattuck Avenue would be 80 to 150 stories tall at its widest. Nobody is suggesting such nonsense here. The current height limits are, if anything, conservative in terms of our capabilities to make livable, functional, and even desirable living space.
- Robert Clear