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League of Women Voters on the record

Nancy Bickel President, League of Women Voters of Berkeley, Albany and Emeryville
Tuesday October 22, 2002

To the Editor: 


We write to correct recent statements about the League of Women Voters’ views on building heights in Berkeley. In a recent debate on the local cable channel, Norine Smith incorrectly stated that the league had supported skyscrapers and excessively tall buildings proposed in a draft 1999 General Plan. We must correct the record before the program airs again. 

The league strongly objected in 1999 to very high densities and heights in downtown. The 1999 General Plan update, was a draft presented for discussion only. We therefore commented to the planning department in a July 1999 letter, as follows: “The downtown FAR development intensities, which are the same as Oakland’s, are inconsistent with the downtown plan. If the staff believes this density is appropriate for Berkeley, the case needs to be made and discussed publicly rather than hidden in obscure measurements. …The update simply allows the greater intensity as if by right. Formerly, urban design visions for Berkeley saw building heights stepping up to the hills, not challenging them or the Campanile for prominence.” 

Measure P, the height initiative, supporters also claim Berkeley, as a whole, is too dense. Yet our population has dropped from 114,091 in 1970 to 102,743 in 2000. Adjusting for errors by the census, we’ve lost between 8,000 and 11,000 residents. How can we be too dense when we’ve lost population in the last 30 years? Berkeley is largely residential, with relatively little land devoted to other uses. So if you divide the population by the area [10.5 sq. miles], you’ll come up with a relatively high density compared with cities with more land devoted to industrial or other uses. 

Measure P claims to be a solution to traffic and density. It will actually increase traffic, by forcing more and more people to commute – as the university and local jobs grow, and as the people who fill those jobs become commuters. Measure P is a no-growth measure that would stop construction of affordable housing. 


Nancy Bickel 


League of Women Voters of 

Berkeley, Albany and Emeryville