To the Editor:
I was very pleased that the City Council last week voted to approve an affordable housing project at 2517 Sacramento Street (reported in "Embattled Housing Project Approved," 5/29/02). This project will provide 40 units of much-needed low-cost housing for seniors -- along a major transit route where the demand for parking will be limited. Affordable housing is desperately needed in Berkeley, and this project integrates all the important aspects of reasonable city planning.
For a City Council that is chronically divided along party lines, the votes to approve this project transcended ideology. Progressives like Kriss Worthington and Linda Maio joined conservatives like Polly Armstrong and Mim Hawley to approve the project -- because it was common-sense. As Councilmember Maudelle Shirek said at the meeting, "I do not understand how people can oppose a much-needed, well-designed project."
Sadly, Mayor Shirley Dean voted against it. By siding with a small but vocal minority of neighborhood residents who had already dragged the process for months, delaying the much-needed construction of the project and driving up its costs, Mayor Dean demonstrated her complete disregard for affordable housing in Berkeley.
Unfortunately, this was no surprise. Throughout her career, Shirley Dean has always opposed good projects that create low-cost housing for those who need it the most. In 1995, she opposed a housing project on Rose Street for people with AIDS. Later that same year, she successfully blocked a project to build low-income housing at Haste and Telegraph -- on a lot that has been vacant since 1986. Seven years later, this lot still stands as an eyesore for the Southside community, and a monument to Mayor Dean's abysmal record on housing.
Furthermore, Shirley Dean has also been a consistent opponent of tenants' rights. She opposed the original Measure in 1980 that created rent control -- and has allowed literally thousands of low-income people to stay in Berkeley. Two years ago, she opposed Measure Y -- that has strengthened eviction protections for our most vulnerable tenants. And in 1995, she lobbied the state legislature to pass the Costa-Hawkins Act, which has gutted our rent control system and has shot rental prices up into the outer stratosphere.
As housing continues to be the most important issue facing Berkeley, Mayor Dean is dangerously out of step.
We need a mayor who will support good development projects that create low-cost housing -- not one who will side with NIMBY's to block them. We need a mayor who believes in rent control and will fight to strengthen our ordinance -- not one who is in the pocket of landlords. Finally, we need a Mayor who is committed enough to affordable housing that they are willing to take political risks to do the right thing.
I look forward to voting for a new mayor on November 5th.
Rent Board Commissioner