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Perspective needed on zoning decisions Perspective needed on zoning decisions

Darcy Morrison
Monday October 07, 2002

To the Editor: 


Regarding recent letters to the editor concerning “smart growth” and zoning restrictions... There is too often an assumption that our zoning decisions in Berkeley will have an impact on the housing market regionwide, which frankly doesn't make sense. The sun doesn’t orbit the earth, and Berkeley doesn't control the regional housing market. The Bay Area has a population of roughly 6.7 million; Berkeley’s population is roughly 100,000, which works out to about 1.5 percent of the regional total. In this context, the various assertions regarding the virtues of “infill” development take on a certain delusion of grandeur, as if that extra story or two will really make all the difference. I doubt it. I think we should hesitate to base our city's future on what amounts to a bunch of half-baked notions out of Planning 101. In reality, we don't know whether there'll be fewer tract homes built in Tracy if we relax our zoning regulations here, and we don't know whether any newly arrived residents will cooperate when it comes to commuting habits and there is no one who can prove otherwise. 

Housing prices skyrocketed in the last few years due to the influx of people and money during the dot-com era – a regionwide economic event – and they remain high largely because investors are now turning to real estate in lieu of the stock market – a nationwide economic event. It may be possible in theory to build enough housing to offset these trends, but in reality it would take an enormous investment in affordable housing throughout the entire Bay Area to make any real difference, and that doesn't seem likely. 

In sum, we're being asked to sacrifice for the supposedly greater good of smart growth, at the risk of overwhelming growth here in Berkeley, but with no actual assurance of any substantial gains in return. 


Darcy Morrison