Commentary: West Berkeley Ideologues Are Running the Show By STEVEN DONALDSON

Friday October 07, 2005

If you read the headline in the Daily Planet (“West Berkeley Forum Challenges the Rezoning of Major Thoroughfares,” by Richard Brenneman), you’d think there was nothing but unanimous support for this completely orchestrated meeting against the rezoning of Ashby Avenue and Gilman Streets. That’s far from the truth. My comments were the first ones made after the presentation of the “so-called panel of experts” and Mr. Brenneman conveniently ignored them in the highly biased tradition of this glorious free speech publication. 

The “panel” as it was called, was a complete set up by the WeBAIC group—Allance of West Berkeley Artisans and industrial Companies. This self-appointed group of West Berkeley protectors DOES NOT represent all or even a majority of those residing, working and shopping in West Berkeley. It represents a very narrow group of ideologues many of which do not live in West Berkeley or don’t work there. These folks claim that “the working class and artists” are united against the gentrification of West Berkeley—and changing the zoning. 

Come on folks! This is 2005, not 1965. The world has changed. The economics of industry and manufacturing have changed and most major industries do not want to be located in highly urbanized areas like Berkeley. The “thriving” industrial sector of Berkeley claimed by Neil Mayor used completely bogus statistics. He ignored the closing of MacCauly Foundry, the closing of Andros Analyzers, Flint Ink shutting down and Peerless Lighting which will move it’s manufacturing to Mexico in 2006. That represents over 1 million square feet of industrial and warehouse uses in West Berkeley and more than 100 jobs lost leaving the area. This clearly reflects a declining and changing industrial sector similar to that of every major city in the United States. And in reality, many of these uses are leaving behind toxic clean up issues that will not be taken on by other new industrial users given the enormous clean up costs.  

As for the implied traffic congestion that will take place, why does no one mention the 197,000 square-foot Target store in Albany that is along a two-lane street that has no traffic problems as indicated by the planners in Albany? The proposed Berkeley Bowl is half the size of this store with much better street access to major thoroughfares. 

No one in West Berkeley is favoring a Target Store or a Wallmart or throwing out artists or manufacturers. But the residents here and those working here favor a vibrant, intelligent and creative mix of residential, commercial and manufacturing uses that represents change and reality. Rezoning Ashby and Gilman does not mean allowing in big box stores. It means looking at what kinds of businesses, commercial, residential and manufacturing can coexist and support the revenue needs of the City and service and shopping needs of those in West Berkeley alike. 

Forty-thousand square-foot warehouse uses, old heavy industrial sites and large vacant parcels such as the one ones proposed for the West Berkeley Bowl are all out of step with the realities of current economics and the needs of Berkeley citizens. The real problem is the handful of folks who claim to represent the “working man” or artisans are preaching to themselves and don’t see what a creative and vibrant area for more than their own little “view” of the world. 

The real irony is that Berkeley with all it’s supposed brains and creative juices is stifled by these narrow interest groups. A handful of ideologues and trust-fund folks want no change and so organize “forums” to preach their religion. 

Let’s use some brains, creativity and innovative new zoning and get on with it folks! 


Steven Donaldson lives and works in Berkeley.›