ALL THE FACTS
Editors, Daily Planet:
Berkeley Property Owners Association President Michael Wilson’s May 2 letter (“Rent Board”), while critical of the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board’s 2003-2004 registration fee proposal, conveniently omitted the context and facts surrounding the board’s modest fee increase.
It is important to bear in mind that the Rent Board’s registration fee has remained frozen for the past five consecutive years. In fact, the board’s fee has remained stable for the past 10 years: Since 1991-1992, the fee has stayed at the same level as — or below — the 2002-2003 fee level.
Meanwhile, over the past five years alone, the Bay Area’s inflation rate has increased by 17 percent. Like other city services and public agencies that have increased fees to cover costs during the past five years — e.g. city fire inspection service, city refuse collection, city sewer service, water service, etc. — the Rent Board’s basic expenses have also increased.
The Rent Board’s new budget is a “status quo” budget in that only the same or prior level of services and operations will be maintained.
In his letter, Mr. Wilson claims that the Rent Board has “processed fewer” inquiries or complaints. In fact, the Rent Board’s activity level has remained very steady: In 2002 alone, over 12,000 individuals received consultations in person or by telephone, 1,400 e-mail inquiries were responded to, over 260 examiner cases or hearings were conducted and materials were distributed to over 20,000 tenant and property owner households.
It is worth noting that since 1996 — when passage of the state Costa-Hawkins rent decontrol law allowed for market rate rent levels on newly vacant units — the average rent level for all one-bedroom units citywide has increased by 53 percent.
Meanwhile, since 1996, the average rent level for newly decontrolled (or vacant) one-bedroom units only has increased by 97 percent, nearly double the rent level six years ago.
Under the voter-approved 1980 Rent Stabilization Ordinance, the elected Rent Board’s purpose and mission, according to Section 120 of the City of Berkeley Charter, is to “provide for the proper administration of programs to regulate residential rents ... maintain community diversity ... and ensure compliance with legal obligations relating to the rental of housing.”
Commissioner, Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board
A GOOD INVESTMENT
Editors, Daily Planet:
It would be easy to agree with Tom Brown’s letter opposing ferry subsidies — if his numbers were accurate.
Mr. Brown states that ferry costs per rider are “vastly higher” than BART. This may have
been true for some of the early proposals involving high-speed ferries on long routes. But not for Berkeley to San Francisco. Cost per passenger, including subsidy and capitalization, is estimated by the Water Transit Authority (and independently confirmed) to be about $6.50 per
one-way trip. Compare to BART: The fare from downtown Berkeley to the Embarcadero is $2.75, and after adding the $1.60 operating subsidy and the $3-and-change capitalization subsidy, we’re well over $7 per ride. No wonder we have to finance BART with sales tax.
Brown also states that ferries cause more air pollution than competing modes. Again, he is using old data. The 1999 Bay Area Council study proposed a network of long high-speed ferry routes with no regard for emission controls, and was rightfully attacked by the environmental community for that omission. But this has little relation to the short routes and relatively low-speed vessels that would serve Berkeley. Our ferry would go less than half as fast and use less than one-quarter as much fuel per passenger mile. Let’s compare apples to apples: Apply the same emission controls as for land-based vehicles, use the correct speed and distance, and we find that ferries are cleaner and more fuel efficient than buses or cars.
Whether the Berkeley ferry is a “core transit service” is not the issue. Certainly there are more cost-effective ways to move people across the bay, but to date we have not shown the political will to apply them.
Ferries do more than take cars off the bridge. Ferries enhance mobility for a very diverse group of people who are currently not being served by any form of public transit. This includes anyone who travels by bicycle during commute hours, anyone who travels with a dog, and anyone unable to walk or bike to a station who wants to get to San Francisco after the BART parking lots fill up early in the morning. And ferries can serve all of these users at a subsidy level that compares favorably with other modes. This is not waste, this is a good investment in the quality of life in Berkeley.
There are plenty of examples of wasteful transportation systems, and there are ferry routes, both proposed and existing, that would qualify. Let’s not confuse these with what is being proposed for Berkeley, where the service will be clean, efficient and economical.
Editors, Daily Planet:
The May 2 article “Bates Touts City’s New Congeniality” states that the city manager instituted a hiring freeze several months ago. Why then is the Housing Department striving to expand? The rental inspection program they attempted to implement failed completely. Nonetheless they propose to institute a $25 per year landlord fee to pay for increased staff.
In addition, the Rent Board is planning to increase their annual landlord fee by 10 percent. One of the most bloated bureaucracies, they wish to bloat further, despite cutbacks and reductions for other departments. I’m baffled. Is a city department exempt from fiscal constraint if (and only if) they can get more revenue from landlords?
Can anyone explain why Berkeley landlords are treated so unfairly?
SCHOOL PLAY SHINES
Editors, Daily Planet:
The current Berkeley High School production of “Guys and Dolls” knocked my socks off. It is spectacular, as well done as any theater production I’ve seen. This was my first time at a high school play, and I was amazed. The acting, the singing, the dancing, the live orchestra, the sets, the costumes, the energy, took my breath away. How could this come out of a school where so many teachers have received pink slips? How could this come out of a school where the classrooms are often short of chairs?
A parent reminded me: The high school is terrific. The students are terrific, the teachers are terrific. It’s the district administration that’s the problem.
For example, while the district poor mouths it and constantly requests parents to badger our legislators about policy changes the district is advocating (like enlarging class sizes), the district still can’t tell us the numbers for the high school budget, or for the budget of any other school. Also, two years ago, the district spent $4 million to buy the Urban Ore land on 6th and Gilman (ostensibly for the transportation department). Yet, two years later, the district is still paying half a million dollars a year rent for its bus yard and the Urban Ore lot is still empty. Is BUSD poor, or just fiscally a dingbat?
So, go see this great production. There’s two more shows Friday and Saturday, May 9 and 10, at 8 p.m.
Editors, Daily Planet:
It is impossible for me to believe the stated intentions of UC Berkeley when it claims:
“During a bi-annual walk-through of the park last fall ... three acacia trees were identified as potential safety hazards to children playing in the play area and to the people who sleep under the trees in that area,” (from UC leaflet);
“It [the acacia tree, on the east end of the park, that UC Berkeley took a chainsaw to in April] appeared to be in danger of falling over,” (Daily Planet, April 29 edition);
“A large acacia tree near the lawn, closer to the Dwight Way side of the park, suddenly fell on a Saturday morning several months ago,” (from UC leaflet), and
“The acacia tree ... was removed for safety reasons,” (from UC leaflet).
If UC is really concerned about the safety of children playing and of people who sleep under the trees — rather than, as the Berkeley Lorax claims, “There has always been a university faction that wants to clear-cut People’s Park. For over 20 years they’ve wanted to clear out the trees from the east end” — would UC be kind enough to explain why they didn’t post the “unsafe” areas at any time since last fall? Why didn’t they post areas away from the trees “in danger of falling over” as safer for people to sleep or children to play?
Also, was the tree that fell one of those identified as a potential safety hazard? I suspect not, from the above descriptions of the trees’ locations. All this leads me to suspect that the real reason for cutting down trees is so the police can see if there are homeless in the east end at night, so they can chase them out of the park.
When I look at UC’s history of park intervention, I remember, for example, plans in the 1990s to build sports courts in front of the stage and to replace the stage with bathrooms, and attempts to remove the Free Box and the bulletin board. These memories make it difficult to imagine straightforward good intentions on the part of the university in regards to People’s Park.