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Concerns about big housing amid small homes

-Honor Thompson
Monday June 10, 2002

To the Editor 

The May 7 Berkeley City Council hearing on the proposed four-story building on Sacramento, near Dwight Way (formerly Outback clothing store), revealed inclinations which I find somewhat disturbing. The constant conflict between the need for additional housing in Berkeley, especially for low-income seniors, and the rights of current Berkeley residents to maintain a reasonable living environment is not new. My neighbors and I are especially aware of this because a five-story building has been approved for the corner of University Avenue and Acton, in the midst of primarily one-story houses one very short block away on Addison Street and Berkeley Way. The tendency to demonize as callous and uncaring residents who don't want their homes to be in shadow or to be unable to find a nearby parking place when they return home late in the evening is also not new, but appears to be increasingly mean. 

At last month’s hearing, David Stoloff, President of the Board of Affordable Housing Associates, stated, "While it is true there are no other buildings of this scale in the immediate vicinity, precedents like these are needed to encourage other appropriately scaled development along Berkeley’s avenues." This statement reveals two of my concerns: 1.) Apparently Mr. Stoloff considers a four-story building in a neighborhood of primarily one-story homes "appropriately scaled," and 2.) His "foot-in-the-door" strategy interferes with the City Council's intent to minimize the impact of new development on neighborhoods. Those of us near the Acton Courtyard are greatly concerned that it may be only the first of many tall buildings with inadequate parking on the University corridor, despite the residential neighborhoods on both sides of University. Additional tall buildings in our neighborhood will be no more appropriately scaled to our homes than the first one. 

The other concern came with the statement of Claude Harvey, who protested "undermining the over-extensive ZAB (Zoning Adjustments Board) and neighborhood-involved process, the General Plan, the zoning and the professional staff's assessment..." by having a public hearing. Was he really objecting to the opportunity for neighbors of the proposed four-story building to express their concerns to the elected governing body of their city? Does he really believe that the council and affected citizens should just accept without question the decisions of ZAB and the city staff? If having council members hear concerns of their constituency is causing some developers to "flee" Berkeley, as he says, then perhaps they shouldn't be developing projects in Berkeley. 

I was encouraged by the granting of a public hearing on the project, especially broadcast on Channel 78. A well-informed citizenry is crucial to the maintenance of the quality of life in Berkeley. We need to be constantly vigilant in the effort and I appreciate the existence of the Daily Planet and its contribution. 


-Honor Thompson