FAST FOOD TAX
Editors, Daily Planet:
I want to express my views about taxing fast food restaurants for the enormous litter of aluminum foil and plastic wraps generated by their customers. I understand that the city faces the financial burden of emptying garbage cans and keeping the streets clean but I feel responsibility should be learned by customers of fast food places. We should devote our energy to developing civic responsibility. Why shouldn’t individual customers have the sense to keep streets clean for their neighbors? We need to be a civic-minded society not just because of taxes and laws but because we have a strong feeling about the welfare of our neighbors.
Editors, Daily Planet:
Your March 7 article on bus “rapid” transit beside the Berkeley-to-San Leandro BART tracks got a few things wrong. But the region’s clueless Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) got one big thing wrong in proposing to fund this AC Transit boondoggle by killing a really worthwhile rapid-bus route on MacArthur, Foothill, and Hesperian Boulevards—where BART doesn’t run.
First, your March 10 correction helpfully acknowledged that the MTC-favored Telegraph/East 14th St. bus route will not “speed commuters through Berkeley, Oakland and San Leandro in 12 minutes or less,” as the original article mistakenly said. (Those 12 minutes are the proposed intervals between buses.)
Worse, though, AC Transit’s own figures show that if you rode its whole proposed 30-mile route, you’d save just 10 minutes over current bus service. That’s minimal time savings on an hour-long ride that no one’s going to take. BART will always be much faster—and BART lies just one to six blocks west of AC Transit’s whole absurd route.
In other words, the Telegraph/East 14th route is completely redundant: an obscene waste of good technology and taxpayers’ money, both of which would be better spent on MacArthur/Foothill.
Second, your article acknowledged opposition in Southside Berkeley to removing lanes from Telegraph Avenue for this project. But it quoted only a flak from an Oakland-based lobby defending that notion.
A Berkeley opponent should have been easy to find, because our town’s opposition to narrowing Telegraph Ave. is overwhelming. Literally thousands of people have signed petitions at Cody’s and Caffe Strada opposing the bus project. The Berkeley leg’s nearly sole supporter is Commissioner-for-Life Rob Wrenn, who’s carefully wired it to stay on life support despite public opposition. Until the City Council kills it.
May that day come soon. Better to speed up buses on the BART-deprived MacArthur corridor, so that fewer commuters will feel compelled to drive into Berkeley.
Editors, Daily Planet:
In his Feb. 28 response to my earlier Feb. 17 letter, I was pleased that Mike Mitschang apparently supports the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Program’s rent level monitoring/database system rather than seeking its dismantlement and elimination. As I have advocated, it is critical that all Berkeley renters and property owners have unlimited access to the correct, legal rent amount for their respective rental units.
With respect to Mr. Mitschang’s concern that the Rent Stabilization Program undergo an audit, in point of fact, this has been the program’s continuous policy since 1981: The program’s most recent audit was conducted by the firm of C.G. Uhlenberg LLP. The program also maintains a balanced operational budget.
At another point in his letter, Mr. Mitschang claims that “market rents in Berkeley are dropping.” According to the rent program’s data, Berkeley rent levels have changed only very slightly over the last several years.
For example, for new tenancies during 2003, the median rent for a one bedroom apartment was $1,100. At the start of 2006, the median was about $1,095.
For new tenants moving in, Berkeley rent levels have essentially remained unchanged over the last three years. New Berkeley renters still pay some of the highest rent levels in the entire nation.
As to Mr. Mitschang’s concern about rent program expenditures, to reiterate, the program’s primary budget operations include the following components:
• A comprehensive, computerized rent level database system monitoring the city’s nearly 19,000 regulated units, and corresponding notices mailed to all renters and property owners.
• Staff servicing of more than 10,000 annual client inquiries/contacts.
•An agency mediation/hearing examiner process to resolve property owner/tenant issues or disagreements.
• An agency legal counseling service for tenant and owner clients.
Berkeley’s voter-approved Rent Stabilization Ordinance remains the city’s single most important affordable housing public policy program providing stable, predictable rent levels and housing security for the city’s majority renter community.
Editors, Daily Planet:
There was a time when I believed in transit villages and infill housing. Lately the luster has fallen off. They come with a price, they offer benefits. The balance is where it is all at. For a long time I have been supporting them as the only game in town. After all, bad tools are better than none. It is time we reconsider.
Transit villages are justified as a way to facilitate the use of mass transportation. It is taken as a given that people are going to commute and transit villages are an attempt to have the commute go by public transit rather than by auto. The costs associated with commuting are personal time and money, and degradation of the environment by the consumption of energy, much of which produce green house gases and result in global warming. Transit villages accept commuting as a given and just try to reduce the undesired consequences of it without looking at the bigger picture. Wouldn’t it be better to simply try to reduce the need for commuting? What good is a Transit Village in an area with more workers than jobs?
Commuting will probably always be necessary for some, but overall it can be managed and reduced—provided we make it a priority. It is not enough that the number of jobs offered in a community roughly matches the number of workers. The type of jobs have to be appropriate for the residents also. If a community tries to create retail to get sales tax revenue, it should also consider the community need for the retail and where the retail clerks will live. If the retail is at the expense of other kinds of jobs—like light industrial—then the community must ask itself if these are the kinds of jobs it can afford to lose or not let be created. Greed driven development, whether by a developer out to make the big bucks, or by a politician out to create revenue streams for a community, are not likely to create the balance we need to reduce commuting—to reduce greenhouse gas emissions—to reduce global warming.
Infill Housing was tooted as a method of stopping the spread of suburbia. Most agree that it has not worked simply because many people want their own home and yard instead of living in dense infill apartment complexes. Infill can be justified when a community has more jobs than housing and the housing created matches the needs of those who have to commute in. However, it might make much more sense to move the jobs to where the people are. Covering some grass in the suburbs to reduce commuting is probably much better for the environment than continuing to create ever increasing congestion.
Community modeling to better understand the effects of rezoning and large developments on commuting and the worker/job ratio is necessary for rational decisions about where we want to go as a community. The modeling should be a required part of many environmental impact reports. Since it will be relatively expensive, the city should oversee the development of the computer modeling and pay for it through development fees and/or grants. Too much is at stake to be running blind.