She’s Not Intimidated By Mad Yelling: By MARCIA LAU

Friday November 19, 2004

P. Levitt’s Nov. 16 letter lists gripes aplenty. Mr. Levitt “want[s] to own property in Berkeley,” but complains that “new buildings may have filled the need for the rental market but not for the ownership market.” P. blames the city’s Planning Director and “NIMBYs” (presumably, people Not Intimidated By Mad Yelling). 

This reads like the standard form letter we keep getting from underemployed Berkeley architects. They’re unable to build their qualifications or overall client lists, and can’t get any more of their immediate family members onto the city’s Planning Department staff. So they seek a little juice by cheerleading for local developers’ self-proclaimed right to Build Absolutely Anything Anywhere (BAAA). 

Am I the only one who’s tired of this? Berkeley real estate is an inherently finite resource. There’s no entitlement to own a piece—just like there’s no entitlement to a (212) area code or a particular “.com” domain name. Also, there is no Tooth Fairy. 

Would-be buyers have no open-ended “right” to plop and own another condo tower wherever they wish, whatever the neighbors’ desires. Especially not at the cost of degrading the very things that make Berkeley attractive to current and potential residents alike: livable neighborhoods, breathing room, daylight access, views, and (most importantly) a reasonable population size that preserves our face-to-face public sphere and our responsive city government. 

As a university town, our blessing and curse is to attract lots of intellectuals. Some are free-floating fanatics of Development in Berkeley, who can no longer even see beyond the city limits. If they could, they’d notice that one neighboring city—Emeryville—is building plenty of the high-density housing that these folks advocate. (Along with the forbidden big-box retail and parking.) 

Other neighboring cities are doing much less than Berkeley does to meet their fair share of regional housing production: El Cerrito! Richmond! Piedmont! 

These cities deserve a lot more attention from the local fanatics who insist on exclusively nagging Berkeley. They’re also perfectly reasonable places to invest in property.  

To quote the famous marquee on the venerable Harvard Square travel agency: Please go away. 


Marcia Lau is a Berkeley resident.f