Commentary: An Urban Myth By GORDON WOZNIAK

Friday September 02, 2005

First, I would like to commend Daily Planet Executive Editor O’Malley for her two editorials welcoming UC Berkeley students back to Berkeley and presenting them with information on the myriad of opportunities to shop and participate in community life. I would also like to take this opportunity to correct a pervasive urban myth that the University of California and non-profits “dominate the majority of square acreage in Berkeley”. 

A March 15 report to the City Council and City Auditor Ann-Marie Hogan presents an analysis of the 28,293 Berkeley parcels on Alameda County’s 2003 Secured Tax Roll which lists the major Berkeley landowners. Excluding underwater land at the marina, Berkeley’s total lot square footage is 241 million square feet. The major landowners are: City of Berkeley, 5.6 percent: other public agencies, 23.1 percent (includes the Regents of California and East Bay Regional Park District): public utilities, 0.7 percent, and nonprofits, 2.5 percent. Thus, public and non-profit entities own 31.9 percent of Berkeley’s above-water land, whereas taxpaying residential, commercial, industrial and institutional own 68.1 percent. 

The biggest landowner is the East Bay Regional Park District (28.3 million square feet), with the Regents of California second with 21.4 million square feet (includes both the UC Berkeley campus, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and other parcels owned by UC), followed by the City of Berkeley with 13.5 million square feet and the Berkeley Unified School District with 3.8 million square feet.  

To summarize, the Regents own about 8.9 percent of the property in Berkeley. Adding the nonprofits (2.5 percent) increases the total for the “university and nonprofits” to 11.4 percent. Thus, the university and nonprofits own less than one-eighth of the above-water land in Berkeley. This can easily be verified by the casual observer by simply looking carefully at a map of the City of Berkeley and observing the relative size of UC to the city as a whole. 

Thus, the Alameda County tax rolls indicate that Becky O’Malley’s claim that UC and nonprofits “dominate the majority of square acreage in Berkeley” is clearly erroneous. Since one of the purpose of journalism is to provide a critical review of the facts and eliminate errors from the public debate, I would ask that the Daily Planet cease making this clearly erroneous claim in its future editions. 

  Finally, although I do not have space in this letter to address the complex issue of whether public entities and nonprofits are paying their “fair share” for services rendered by the City of Berkeley, I would note that the consultant report that O’Malley quotes for her claim that the university owes the city millions of dollars was never peer-reviewed and suffers from a seriously flawed methodology. Basically, the consultant was hired to generate the largest possible number to be used as an opening gambit in the negotiations between the city and the university and not to make an objective assessment. Thus, it is misleading to the public to quote this report as the definitive word on the subject. 


City Councilmember Gordon Wozniak City represents Berkeley’s District 8.