While regional planners move forward with a strategy to accommodate 1 million new residents expected in the Bay Area 20 years from now, skeptics, including a handful of Berkeley residents, are saying to slow down instead.
“They just assume you want to grow,” said Zelda Bronstein, a Berkeley planning commissioner.
The Association of Bay Area Governments, which operates under state mandate, expects that population density will increase in Berkeley through the construction of more apartments along transit corridors. Planners say this will help accommodate an estimated 7,000 new residents by 2020.
But anti-growth advocates say housing construction and job growth should be slowed to prevent an unsustainable increase in population.
“The most effective way to limit population growth is to limit job creation,” said Stuart Flashman, an attorney representing a neighborhood group that recently stopped a proposed housing development on Hearst Street.
“We should first decide how many people we can hold and then cap commercial development,” he said.
Adding more people to population centers near public transportation puts undue pressure on cities like Berkeley, which are already too dense, said Flashman.
“A six-story building in Berkeley might be better than a three-story one in Dublin, but it will still have an impact,” he noted.
Flashman added that unfettered job growth could require Berkeley taxpayers to spend more on expanded transportation, sewage treatment plants and drinking water supplies.
“Given the fact that we are right on an earthquake fault, this is going to be very expensive,” he said.
Other cities have already tried limiting job growth to keep population stable. In 2000, Portland, Ore., gave tax breaks to Intel Corporation to slow job growth at its local facility.
A similar move in Berkeley would probably not be as effective, many say. The city’s biggest employer, UC Berkeley, is run by the state, while many residents work in other cities, said Berkeley resident John McBride.
“It’s a really interesting debate,” said Victoria Eisen, a principle planner for ABAG. “Either provide more housing or provide fewer jobs.”
Eisen said that the anti-growth advocates were a minority and that most planners, politicians, neighborhood groups and environmentalists favor housing.
“People don’t want to risk economic growth,” she said.
The entire Bay Area, she said, would be harmed if Berkeley and other cities convenient to public transportation do not expand their housing stock.