Editors, Daily Planet:
On a recent foray into the shattered buildings and decaying manufacturing plants of Sutphin Boulevard in Jamaica Queens, New York in February, I saw what could be University Avenue 20 years from now: a stretch of land stretching to the water devoid of human feeling and quality. Sitting smack in the middle of Queens and leading from the center of the borough to the East River, Jamaica has been victimized by a stunning failure to modernize zoning laws to meet the needs of the local, immigrant-oriented community.
Berkeley is facing that same fate.
On University Avenue, Berkeley and its citizens have an opportunity to build a centralized mass transit oriented zone that welcomes residential and commercial denizens alike. The shortcomings are more traffic and higher density. But if we are to reduce sprawl and keep the economy moving forward, it is necessary to allow both. The City Council is in the bad position of being historically over-zealous on the issue of high-density housing; passing projects that raise questionable issues about the use of state matching dollars for low-income housing construction while failing badly to preserve the sentimental qualities of the city’s historic structures. This means that any opportunity to raise population and meet the growing demand of residents and the University of California for space for its students, faculty, and visitors while enticing commercial investment will only be met with doubt by community interest groups. The real community interest, the same one I encountered in Queens, is that Berkeley meet the large demand to force developers to provide commercial services and space to businesses along with any housing being considered. The City Council must force developers to reserve space for commercial tenants and bring state legislators into the act to bring an exemption to the “bonus system” of giving extra space to builders willing to house low-income residents. Needless to say, creating an incentive for a community-wide, fee-based parking lot on the site of the former Smart and Final would be an excellent way to allow for growth along the vital University-San Pablo corridor.
Everyone in Berkeley should understand that it is in the state’s best interest to allow the exemption: the state would earn far more from the taxes of small businesses than they would simply off building owners alone, who are likely to gain a large tax concession from any deal.
The real cost will come later, years from now when Berkeley will be faced with problems stemming from its terrible administration of its public schools, which will probably be stressed to their limits by the inflow of children whose parents will live in these proposed University Avenue developments. But that’s for another column.
Berkeley and New York
Editors, Daily Planet:
Developers have begun building large, overbearing housing blocks throughout Berkeley. These buildings steal light, privacy and parking from adjacent neighborhoods. They are replacing viable businesses, with poor retail spaces, increased traffic, noise and pollution.
Housing advocates, developers and self-appointed urban reformists say they will avoid these problems by reducing parking in their projects. City officials agree. Berkeley City Planners Mark Rhoades and Dan Marks recently told the Planning Commission that they believe Berkeley’s parking requirements are the lowest required by any U.S. city. They added that it is Berkeley’s official goal to reduce traffic by eliminating parking.
Rhoades and Marks argue that people will give up their cars and use public transit if they can’t find parking. Several Planning Commissioners questioned this argument. When asked, Marks and Rhoades were unable to cite statistical support for the city’s parking policy. They explained that they know of no study that supports the city’s policy.
When similarly challenged others are less candid. Livable Berkeley members readily cite the quality of life found in European cities as support for Berkeley’s parking policy. They argue that the high population density, job proximity, public transit found in European cities reduces traffic by eliminating the need for cars. This in turn provides a better city.
Unfortunately, such references are vague and lack supporting detail. European cities simply fail to support such conclusions. I have been visiting Bilbao Spain, my wife’s hometown, regularly for the past 10 years. It is about the same size as San Francisco. It has excellent transportation with well integrated subway, rail and bus networks. These networks are well explained in readily available brochures and signs. Public transit is thoroughly used. One is lucky to find seats day or night.
Bilbao also has unrelenting traffic. The traffic is so intense that sensors are used to monitor traffic. Their readings are shown on electronic flow maps located throughout the city so that drivers can respond to real time information while selecting how to get around.
Bilbao’s parking is quite difficult and getting harder every year. People often park their cars as much as a 15 minute walk from their apartments. The problem is so pressing that many old buildings have had multi-level basements excavated for parking. Vertical access is provided by auto elevators operated from within the car!
Despite all this and $5 a gallon gas prices Bilbao’s cars continue to proliferate. Great public transportation doesn’t mean that people will stop using cars. People want to leave the city on weekends and holidays; they travel evermore often to the city’s periphery to shop in growing shopping centers. Cars make this possible.
In conclusion one can not equate removing parking with traffic mitigation. Doing so is simplistic, without precedent and contrary to actual experience. Removing parking, judging from European examples, will increase congestion, reduce commercial viability and encourage road rage. Failure to provide sufficient parking for future development will harm our neighborhoods for decades to come.
I urge all who agree to engage the city in a broad debate on parking, traffic, and development. Failure to do so will lead to added congestion and flood our neighborhoods with overflow parking.
SECTION 8 HOUSING
It has been three months but Berkeley Housing Authority Supervisor Sharon Jackson has been keeping my request for “reasonable accommodation” hanging—a request for a permission that will enable me undergo needed medical treatment. And until she does so, I cannot start my treatment.
Can our elected representatives help me here? I’m a tenant living in an apartment under the Section 8 program. Berkeley Department of Housing oversees that program. I have to leave my apartment for a needed medical treatment and that may take more than a month. I talked with the Section 8 department and they said that usually they don’t allow tenants to leave for more than 30 days.
A staff attorney of East Bay Community Law Center, who is their expert on the Section 8 program, researched the statutes for me and she gave the opinion that there is nothing in the law that prevents them from granting my specific request and so they are legally required to accommodate my request. A second attorney of EBCLC concurred. I also sought the help of Housing Rights Inc, a nonprofit contracted by the City of Berkeley to advise the Section 8 department and they also concurred. In fact, they wrote the letter to the Housing Department requesting the “reasonable accommodation” on my behalf citing the relevant laws that requires them to grant my request. My physician also wrote a letter explaining the medical necessity of getting that treatment. These letters were submitted to Ms Sharon Jackson at the end of December.
When Ms. Jackson didn’t respond in a month, I sought the help of Councilmember Kriss Worthington. His office called Mr. Steven Barton—the director of Berkeley Housing Department and Ms. Jackson’s supervisor. I also went and talked to him. However, I haven’t received the permission yet. I’ve been calling his secretary every week or two but her answer has been “We are working on it.” I asked her, “What is there to work on except for writing out the approval letter?” She has no answer. Even the people of Housing Rights Inc. are horrified at this conduct of Ms Jackson. They suggested me to complain to HUD about this discrimination. There is the possibility that because I had complained about her to her superior in the past, she is retaliating against me.
A few days ago I talked with Mr. Barton’s office again. His secretary called Ms Sharon Jackson and she communicated to me that “Sharon Jackson said that she has nothing against granting my request” but she has referred my matter to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. And she will answer only when they respond.
Would our elected officials investigate this matter? This has been three months since my letter was submitted and what did Ms Jackson do within these three months? When did she refer my request to HUD? How long did she hang on my letter before sending it to HUD? My guess is that she has done it only recently when she ran out of all objection to granting my legitimate request. Does she refer all requests for “reasonable accommodation” to HUD or have I been singled out? And why did she not approve the letter in the first place especially when she has “nothing against granting it” If she has nothing against granting a request, does she refer that request to HUD for approval in other cases as well? Or does it not seem that she is trying her best to harass me?
What has she done to deserve her outrageous salary of $90,000 a year, outrageous when you compare it with her mediocre job performance, coming out of the pocketbooks of Berkeley taxpayers? Why can’t the city hire a competent person to do her job instead?
Sooner or later, the city will be sued if this pattern of harassment continues. Why can’t the city prevent that in time by giving her a pink slip?
PS: After I told Mr. Barton, the director of housing for Berkeley, that I intended to publish this letter in the Daily Planet, things started moving. I got my approval. But all my questions still remain. Why was I harassed for three months for this? Will our elected officials answer me?
Editors, Daily Planet:
In the March 19-22 Daily Planet there was an article called “A Teenager Looks At Oakland’s Murderous Row.” I feel really bad for the girl whose father was shot in Oakland, but some of the comments made were very prejudiced. I am African American and I have lived in East Oakland all my life. I am now 17. One of the girls commented that “black people are crazier that any other race.” That is a very ignorant comment because people are individuals and you cannot blame a whole race of people for the actions of a select few. Believe me I do understand where those girls are coming from because up until I was five my whole family used to live in East Oakland.
However, they all moved to the Sacramento area when my 16-year-old cousin was shot and paralyzed from the waist down. My family got scared and, just like the young girl who wrote the article, thought that Oakland was a violent city and if they just went somewhere else things would get better.
But contrary to popular belief they did not. Eight years later my 19-year-old cousin was shot and killed in Suisun Valley by a group of Mexican boys. Now I could be prejudiced and say, “I’m not surprised because you know, Mexicans are crazier than any other race.” I do not do this because I know that killings happen no matter what skin color you are or what city you are in. People do not come to Oakland and then get the sudden urge to kill. It is not fair to single out a specific group of people in a specific area. The blame lies solely on the person who pulls the trigger—no more, no less.