To the Editor:
I am dismayed by the increasingly familiar claim that Berkeley is “already too dense.” The fact is that while the rest of the Bay Area was exploding with growth over the past decades Berkeley actually lost population. The U.S. Census clearly shows a drop of 8,000 people since 1970.
There are many, many people who work here and would like to live here (teachers, store clerks, office workers, librarians) but cannot afford to. Would-be residents are forced to be commuters, driving through our streets and our neighborhoods in high volumes, looking for parking spaces, increasing noise and air pollution, compromising our safety. We have lost population but gained cars and traffic.
Berkeley used to be a place where artists, musicians, and writers could find a place to live. No longer. Children born and raised here cannot afford to live as adults in their hometown.
It should be possible for people to live near their work, for Berkeley’s artists to continue to be residents, for our seniors and the next generation to live in their hometown. If indeed as a city we want all of that, and I believe we do, we need to be purposeful about creating safe, attractive, affordable housing. While we are too dense in traffic, we are not too dense in affordable housing. If anything, we are under-dense in the kind of housing that will keep Berkeley the city we want it to be.
Several measures on the November ballot will determine whether Berkeley will circle the wagons around itself or welcome as residents those who have been forced to become commuters. Measure P, the so-called “height initiative,” would cripple our ability to create new affordable housing on our major streets (San Pablo, University, Telegraph), the only places where affordable housing is a realistic possibility. In the electoral debate over Measure P you will hear over and over that Berkeley is “already too dense” as if it were a fact. The U.S. Census clearly shows that Berkeley has lost thousands in population over the last few decades. The “too dense” argument was created to alarm us and distract us from the main point, which is Berkeley’s profound imbalance between jobs and housing that is affordable to the people who hold those jobs. The kind of city we will be in the future depends upon our ability not to resist change but to imagine and create those changes that will mean a better city for all of us.
Berkeley City Council, 1st District