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The upper limit of development

Michael Goldberg Berkeley
Wednesday September 11, 2002

To the Editor: 

Linda Maio's recent letter (Forum, Sept. 7-8) attempts to make a case that Berkeley needs to develop high density housing. But her emotional plea is poorly thought out. She laments that many people who work in Berkeley cannot afford to live here and that much of the traffic and parking problems result from people commuting here to work. She asks that Berkeley develop affordable housing for everyone who works here or grew up here. But she doesn't bother to consider the flip side of her argument: A very high number of Berkeley residents commute to work in San Francisco, Marin, Silicon Valley and other parts of the East Bay. She also doesn't consider that traffic congestion is caused by the many residents of other local cities who commute to Berkeley for the cultural events, stores and restaurants. 

Linda Maio maintains that the imbalance between jobs and housing in Berkeley necessitates developing more housing. But she fails to consider our many neighboring communities, most of which provide more housing than jobs. More importantly, I suspect that examining the statistics will show that as many as 50 percent of Berkeley residents work elsewhere. This too creates traffic and congestion. And many people who work in Berkeley also choose to live elsewhere, in more suburban settings like Lafayette, Moraga, Albany and El Cerrito. 

Fundamentally it is a mistake for Berkeley to look at itself in isolation. We need to look at the entire Bay Area as a region which should provide sufficient housing for the people who work here. But people live one place and work in another for a great variety of reasons. And Berkeley is already quite dense compared to other neighboring cities, and does provide more residential housing for its size than any other city in the Bay Area (with the exception of San Francisco). There is a genuine need for appropriate development in Berkeley but it is preposterous to demand that our city provide housing for everyone who works here or grew up here, unless we are also willing to demand that those Berkeley residents who work in other cities leave and move elsewhere. 

Clearly that is a ridiculous proposition. While reasonable people may differ on the desirable degree of density, I think we all agree that there is an upper limit to development in Berkeley beyond which it will cease to be an attractive place to live.  


Michael Goldberg