Letters to the Editor

Friday May 21, 2004


Editors, Daily Planet: 

I read with interest that the Berkeley Housing Authority is paying over $400 per unit to manage its 75 units of public housing in the city of Berkeley. I would respectfully submit that there is a source of expertise in the city to manage property for little or nothing, and perform repairs and maintenance at a fraction of their market prices. The Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board knows how to accomplish this feat, and only charges $136 per unit per year to encourage the housing providers of Berkeley to do it.  

Perhaps the Housing Authority could contract with the Rent Board to manage their properties, and the board could subcontract out the work to some of the many hundreds of housing providers who would be happy to get even $200 or $300 a month to manage an apartment unit. These people could even ensure that the units in question pass the requirements of the Berkeley Rental Housing Safety Program, and complete all the paperwork involved in that, and perhaps even arrange for timely maintenance to be done so that major reconstruction is not necessary after 20 or so years. 

With the Rent Stabilization Board in charge, we can be sure that costs will not escalate, the process will be completely fair, and the amount of bureaucracy will be kept to a bare minimum, if we extrapolate from their past record. 

Mike Mitschang 




Editors, Daily Planet:  

Berkeley residents may benefit from the intellectual and cultural resources of the university, but we also are affected by its planning decisions. I hope Daily Planet readers will take the time to check out the university’s new 15-year Long Range Plan (http://lrdp.berkeley.edu) and express their concerns before the comment period ends on June 14. 

Instead of facilitating a reduction of automobile use by faculty and staff, the Long Range Plan provides for a 30 percent increase in parking places on campus, which will ensure a significant increase in traffic and pollution in Berkeley. This is totally unacceptable. Instead of adding parking spaces, the Long Range Development Plan should raise campus parking rates to more than the cost of public transportation to discourage driving to campus. The very substantial amount of money saved by not building and maintaining more parking garages can help subsidize staff and faculty transit passes and support public transit to ensure convenient transportation for faculty, staff, and students and a reduction in traffic jams, accidents, and air pollution. 

For planners at one of the world’s great universities to ignore global warming is simply unacceptable. The UCB Long Range Plan must act upon the clear evidence that global warming is exacerbated by the burning of fossil fuels. Failure to do so, especially in light of efforts already made by the city of Berkeley, UCLA, and Stanford to reduce auto use, would shame the university and represent a tragic loss of the opportunity to reduce air pollution and educate Californians to that necessity. 

Charlene M. Woodcock 




Editors, Daily Planet:  

Rob Wrenn and Andy Katz argue in the May 4-6 Daily Planet that free or discounted transit passes for UC employees would significantly reduce the number of people commuting to campus alone in their cars.  

However, while free bus passes seem politically, emotionally, and environmentally appealing, there doesn’t seem to be much, if any, objective local evidence that would back up the assertion that they get people out of cars in appreciable numbers. In fact, some evidence indicates the opposite. 

The most relevant example is the much-cited Class Pass for UC students, who taxed themselves through a small fee to enable every student to ride AC Transit “for free”. 

What were the results among student commuters? Some students who were previously walking to campus got on the bus instead, using their free bus pass. Some students who were already riding BART to campus stopped buying expensive BART tickets and shifted to the free bus in measurable numbers. Some students who were previously bicycling to campus left the bike at home and got on the bus. These changes all showed up in campus surveys of student commute habits. 

The only group that didn’t seem affected in appreciable numbers were students who drove to campus. Most continued to drive, despite the free 

bus passes. This indicates to me that for those already commuting by some means other than private automobile, a free bus pass was enticing. For those already driving their own cars, it wasn’t enough. Another way to look at this is that one unintended effect of the Class Pass was to further crowd buses with commuters who would otherwise be commuting pollution-free, on foot or by bicycle. 

The same logic might well apply to offering faculty and staff commuters free transit passes. Those bicycling, taking BART, or (like me) walking 

to their UC jobs would be glad to have the option of a free bus pass. Those driving would, most likely, continue to drive because they tend to be driving for reasons other than cost. 

(When considering cost, it is worth noting that a UC staff member currently pays more than $900 per year for what is essentially a “hunting permit” in off-campus UC parking lots. A faculty member pays about $1,300 per year for a similar permit to compete each day for one of the few spaces on the campus proper. These are not insignificant amounts of money, particularly for the lower-echelon staff.) 

Another question worth asking about transit passes is whether there is any reliable statistical evidence to show that the City of Berkeley’s recently instituted “Eco-Pass” for City employees has actually decreased the number or percentage of city staff commuting to work by car, or whether, like the Class Pass, it has mainly subsidized those already riding the bus or walking, bicycling, or using BART? 

If the latter is the case—as I suspect it is—then transit passes should be primarily regarded as rewards for those who already commute “alternatively” rather than a meaningful way to get committed drivers out of their cars. 

Steven Finacom 




Editors, Daily Planet:  

Kevin Powell in his recent opinion piece suggested that Berkeley should learn from Santa Monica. That’s a good idea, because Santa Monica is an interesting and creative urban place. Having recently attended a discussion in Southern California on this topic, I’m particularly interested in it. But we need to learn the real lessons, which are quite the opposite of what Powell stated. 

Powell stated that Santa Monica reopened its pedestrian street—the Third St. Promenade—to cars. Not so. Santa Monica did something much more valuable—they improved it as a pedestrian street. They added public art, provided performance spaces, formed a Business Improvement District to provide revenue for maintenance and publicity. Santa Monica reinvested in its pedestrian realm. Businesses loved it—they flocked to the street. Now the only space left in downtown Santa Monica is on streets long deadened (and still physically menaced!) by the old garages Powell refers to. Reinvesting and improving the pedestrian realm is a good lesson for Berkeley. 

Santa Monica also improved conditions dramatically for bus passengers. On several blocks of downtown streets, it dedicated travel lanes to buses, widened sidewalks, improved waiting areas and installed upgraded informational kiosks. The bus stop signs not only tell you where the bus goes, they give you a map of the system. Businesses were fearful at first, but now support the project. The bus stops are used by both the “Big Blue Bus” (Santa Monica’s award-winning municipal bus service) and regional MTA buses. Santa Monica is also the western end of the famed Wilshire Rapid bus—which provides a ride to Westwood, Beverly Hills and downtown Los Angeles at almost the speed of light rail. Improve transit services and facilities--another good lesson for Berkeley. 

Santa Monica has also brought people within walking distance of 3rd St. and downtown businesses. It has brought permanent residents by welcoming the construction of new housing—both affordable and market rate. Indeed Santa Monica’s largest private developer said that the proximity of restaurants and stores was a big draw—“Walking is sexy.” By supporting the construction of hotels, it has brought thousands of free-spending tourists within walking distance. Make it possible and attractive for people to walk to and in the downtown—another good lesson for Berkeley. 

When Santa Monica’s garages were built—decades ago during the Cheap Oil Age—cars seemed to be the only important mode of transport. Now an increasingly popular and urbane Santa Monica realizes that it must support other modes. That’s a good lesson for Berkeley too. 

Nathan Landauˇ