Public Comment

Commentary: Will Berkeley Become a Company Town?

By Merrilie Mitchell
Friday June 08, 2007

When we consider global warming, most of us know we must change our fuel-guzzling ways, not continue them with the UC-BP (British Petroleum) biofuels project. Here is a protest song about UC-BP recycled from the song “Simple Gifts”:  


If it’s good to live simply, 

And it’s good to be free, 

Then we all must just say “No!” to BP, 

And to the Department of Energy, 

So we won’t be a “Company Town” for UC. 


Question “Carbon Credits,” 

Folks can fudge the statistics, 

Now they’re saying nuclear’s “Green”! 

How ‘bout intercontinental ballistics? 

We know what’s Green, leaves and trees, 

They make the oxygen that we breathe! 


The Downtown Area Planning Advisory Committee (DAPAC) is facilitating UC expansion—outside the campus, across Oxford Street, all over downtown, and beyond! Parking for residents is being eliminated, while DAPAC plans 1000 new parking spaces for UC! If you bike or walk downtown, it can be so filthy and scary you may not return. Our mayor does not prioritize resources for keeping the sidewalks clean and safe for all.  

The DAPAC members are mostly well connected to implement the mayor’s number one priority—development! Dorothy Walker, for example, was former manager of Property for UC Berkeley, and chair of “Livable Berkeley,” our local developer advocacy group. Another DAPAC member formerly worked for the Association of Bay Area Governments. ABAG gave Patrick Kennedy $72 million in loans to develop seven high-density projects, which serve essentially as student housing for UC.  

Also on DAPAC is parking elimination strategist and Transportation Commissioner Rob Wrenn. Recently he set his sights on using the Berkeley Way parking lot for housing or a park. Mr. Wrenn also said he would like Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) to run on University Avenue. Many merchants believe this would hurt them by eliminating parking—and it would remove many trees. 

The DAPAC includes two associates of Berkeley Oakland Support Services (BOSS). The BOSS affiliates insure that “service-resistant panhandlers” are not required to improve their streetside manners. This strategy plus the mayor’s lack of priority for cleanliness and safety, keeps downtown scary, and filthy. And there is method in this madness! The cumulative effects of this and the parking loss cause businesses to fail. Empty storefronts proliferate—and the downward spiral to blight, which furthers Mayor Bates’ big plans for redevelopment. 

UC is already in the downtown, often renting, possibly awaiting deals. The Oxford parking lot, which the City Council majority sold for $1.00, was an acre of prime property, worth millions. It kept movie theaters and marvelous restaurants in business, and allowed citizens who could not walk there easy access to downtown. The “Brower” building on that site may end up serving the UC/BP biodiesel/ethanol project. Mayor Bates would not deny this possibility! 

While we are losing our city’s wealth, our mayor says he is designing a downtown like Paris. Like a Berkeley version of “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” the DAPAC spins the “The Mayor’s New City” week after week.  

What has this to do with BP and DOE? UC wants to develop Strawberry Canyon with 15 new labs, six acres of parking, hotels, and deforestation all around, for the BP and DOE projects. UC told DAPAC they might like to move Lawrence Hall of Science downtown. Would this free up more space for the BP and DOE biodiesel project? The DOE grant is competitive—UCB will need to have facilities lined up to receive it. 

The biodiesel ethanol deal has several parts. BP, like the Trojan horse entering the city, brings the early money, to ready wet labs, dry labs, offices, and housing all over Berkeley to compete for the DOE grant to be announced this summer. A consortium has agreed to match the DOE grant for immediate commercialization of the biofuels. 

With the potential for millions of dollars, UC seems unable to consider the needs of people, the canyon’s trees which absorb CO2 and make oxygen, the forests and fields worldwide that would be destroyed to grow biomass for ethanol to run our vehicles. Even the Hayward fault under the canyon gives UC no pause. Is this a manifest destiny dream? Or do they take direction from George or Tom, politicians who understand green capital, not green science, and are unable to consider what is critical for peace and for life on earth?  


Merrilie Mitchell is a Berkeley civic watchdog and former council candidate.