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Myths about development

Miriam Hawley
Monday October 21, 2002

To the Editor: 


One of the enduring attractions of our city is our passionate devotion to an endlessly evolving set of issues. It’s fertile ground for the many Berkeley myths that spring up to explain why and how things happen in town, and often to reinforce a particular political view. These stories can be helpful, they can be amusing, and at times they are harmful. One that’s particularly damaging is the myth that Berkeley is run by and for developers who are somehow able to manipulate the zoning rules, the professional planning staff, the hard-working citizens on boards and commissions, and council members. This anti-government myth is in part responsible for Measure P, the height initiative, on the November ballot. 

The rhetoric of this myth has damaged staff morale and cast a shadow on the work of volunteers on boards and commissions. It calls into question the integrity of council members, who are accused of being “in the pockets” of developers when they support controversial projects. It’s insidious, difficult to counter, and creates unwarranted cynicism. It is not the truth.  

Consider the way things really work: Developers who want to build even a moderate-size project in Berkeley go through a long process that includes multiple assessments by city staff and two or more boards and commissions, public hearings, and not infrequently, a hearing and decision by the council. The process can take several years. One can be sure that if developers really ran the city, the process would be much simpler, with less public input and far speedier.  

Berkeley will be best served by encouraging moderate to high-density developments on streets that are or can be well served by transit. We need to ensure that there are places in Berkeley where the creative energy of the 21st century can be expressed in our architecture. Our downtown needs graceful, moderately tall buildings to give it a sense of place and importance and to ensure a lively atmosphere. Measure P would lower height limits on our major corridors and prevent the development of a lively downtown that meets the needs of today. For all of these reasons, it’s important to recognize the false myths about development in our town and to vote no on Measure P. 


Miriam Hawley 

City Council member, 5th District