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“Smart growth” is code for “redevelopment”

- Martha Nicoloff
Saturday May 18, 2002

To the Editor: 

In her letter about urban development (May 8), Kirstin Miller shows she does not know what she is talking about because, clearly, she has not taken the time to read the Berkeley height initiative. 

Contrary to her flat assertions, the initiative most certainly does allow for high-rises in the downtown core district. In fact, the Eco-City Builders to which she belongs is in the business of promoting high-rise buildings and would rather not have people expressing any concern over the growing congestion that has been impacting the whole community. 

Petition gatherers out on the streets last week found that a growing number of Berkeley voters are becoming very concerned about congestion deteriorating the quality of life in the city. This is especially true in areas where 50-foot, five-story projects are in the process of gaining approval. It is important to note that these changes are being done with the conspicuous support of city planning staff. 

As an example of such actions against the interests of the community, no sooner had the new city planning director arrived on the job several months ago, than she was invited to speak at an Eco-City forum. The event was sponsored by Richard Register, head of Eco-City Builders, and held at Patrick Kennedy’s oversized Gaia building. Not only did she speak, but she gave advice to the attendees on how to gain approval for their Eco-City amendments for increasing high-rise projects. This was done while the City Council was having public hearings revising the city’s General Plan at that time, raising a question of her propriety, if not ethics. However, to their credit, the Council rejected such a drastic change. They appear to have recognized the poor judgment of such plans given the seismic potential of the Hayward Fault as well as the city’s antiquated sewer system, already in a state of millions of dollars in disrepair. 

“Smart” growth is really old style REDEVELOPMENT with a new label. It can more accurately be described as putting massive, high-density projects in low-income neighborhoods on the flatlands of Berkeley. Toward that end, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) has published a map designating these neighborhoods as “impoverished”, claming that redevelopment will help revitalize them. What it may do, in fact, is revitalize the investment opportunities for developers. 

The height initiative will be an election issue this November that will help people formulate informed opinions about height and density issues. It will give citizens an opportunity to size up their candidates on the issues of preserving neighborhoods and sensible community development. For people in the flatlands as well as the hills, the “smarter” way to go is to downsize over-scale developments with the height initiative. 


- Martha Nicoloff