Election Section

Commentary: Data Supports West Berkeley Discussion By NEIL MAYER

Friday October 14, 2005

Steven Donaldson writes on your commentary page Oct. 7 that I used “completely bogus statistics” in describing the industrial sector in West Berkeley as vibrant in my presentation at a meeting of the West Berkeley Alliance of Artisans and Industrial Companies. Actually, I reported well-documented facts that Mr. Donaldson apparently doesn’t like. I said: 

• Manufacturing employment in Berkeley, which had declined precipitously from 1981 to 1991, remained very stable from 1991 to 2001—the decade immediately following the city’s establishment of zoning protections for industrial companies and creation of an industrial retention program. The data come directly from the State Employment Development Department (EDD).  

• The latest available data, for 2002, (again EDD) show some renewed decline in a period of U.S.-wide manufacturing loss , suggesting additional (non-zoning) action may be needed to restabilize the sector in Berkeley. A significant part of the loss involved a single dotcom firm, however. 

• Berkeley, of all East Bay cities, consistently has the lowest industrial vacancy rate for rentable spaces and the highest rent levels for such property. The data come from CB Richard Ellis, Inc. (brokerage company) in their publication East Bay Industrial MarketView, including the latest second quarter 2005 information showing vacancies at 1.2 percent, about one-fifth the level of the next lowest rate city. While the absolute level may be understated in Berkeley and elsewhere because of non-reporting, the fact that Berkeley’s vacancy rate is consistently by far the lowest is indicative of continued market strength. 

When Mr. Donaldson made the “bogus” charge at the meeting, I responded with the same information about my sources. Apparently he didn’t listen to the answers. 

Mr. Donaldson also seems to have missed, in his haste to brand the diverse 100-plus person gathering as “ideologues,” the major policy points raised by members of the panel and audience at the meeting. I at least heard people saying that: 

• Manufacturing is still important because of the good jobs it supplies, the balance it gives to our economy, and its fit with our strong arts and artisans sectors. 

• Sensitivity here to such issues as land cost, traffic, and space for growth means we have to be careful about any changes we make in West Berkeley land use policy. 

• We may want to adjust our industrial zoning to match the needs of the changing nature of the industrial economy (no one is arguing Donaldson’s straw man that heavy industry is going to grow here). 

• Proposals for other land uses should be given close scrutiny. We have the recent history of a dotcom office bubble bursting in other cities. It might have burst here as well had the West Berkeley office proponents of 1990 had their way. Does Berkeley today have a shortage of retail space, or might new retail in West Berkeley weaken our downtown and strong neighborhood shopping areas? 

We have an important discussion about West Berkeley to undertake, to which Mr. Donaldson’s name-calling does not contribute, and open public meetings like WeBAIC’s do. 


Neil Mayer is a the former director of the Berkeley Office of Economic Development.