Public Comment

Commentary: Thoughts on Berkeley Living

By George Oram
Tuesday July 17, 2007

One of my favorite songs from long ago begins “Why, oh why, oh why oh why did I ever leave Ohio?” 

Now in my case it was New Jersey, but the thought is apt. 

I learned that California history is taught in Berkeley schools. Not so in NJ. We learned the Revolution and all the historic sites. In my town, George Washington’s headquarters are impeccably preserved. As far as I know no one has tried to tear them down to replace them with affordable housing. 

Fortunately our skating was on a local lake that was always frozen on Thanksgiv-ing. No urge to fill it in for affordable housing has been reported. 

Now in Berkeley we have wonderful history in many buildings and in our famous university town itself, but it seems to me someone is always trying to tear down or rip out. I refer of course to our lovely and friendly treasure—Iceland. 

First, the fire department found fault with the ice-making equipment, a complaint perhaps from the adjacent affordable housing that is built too close to the rink. 

Not surprisingly, the family that owns Iceland cannot afford new ice-making equipment or even roof repairs. Not surprisingly, the affordable housing community wants to buy it, level it, and build more housing. 

The question arises: Where will these folks go to have fun? Maybe to the new baseball field that is to be fenced in for only high school baseball? Oops. Guess not.  

Or perhaps folks can take a bus to the new fields down by the freeway in Albany? 

Oops, those fields will be reserved, and who knows if the bus goes there? (Don’t get me started on the Busosauers cruising the town.) 

The question is for the silly ... er, City Council to answer: Will they uphold our Landmarks Commission’s protection of the irreplaceable skating rink and social resource or build more—largely unwanted—economy housing? 

Tune in 6 p.m. Tuesday, channel 33 and see the inevitable result or pray for a miracle.  

We have nice city parks. Why doesn’t the city buy Iceland and make it a park? Six million bucks would be a bargain for such a prize. 

No dough? I’ve heard that nearly $90 million dollars has been contributed by the city toward the new affordable housing and ecology center that is being built by private parties on the Oxford parking lot that used to support downtown businesses. 

Who wanted this? Not our citizenry. Just someone at sullied, er ... City Hall. 

Oh, I forgot, a councilman wants a new youth center in his district. Maybe that’s where the money should go.  

Things are not going well in Berkeley where the government cannot even uphold the laws that its predecessors passed. We’ve learned that, because we are a charter city, the council does not have to follow the city plan. 

We’ve also learned that the Elmwood zoning ordinance, which does not permit too much liquor service, can be blithely ignored by pro-growth politicians with friends in the development business. 

I have heard that Houston has no zoning laws, and that one can find a car lot next to a house. This is called spot zoning: no plan, just build what you want where you want with no concern for your neighbors. 

Things are not going well in Berkeley where the excuse for overbuilding on the corner of MLK and University is providing a spot for a Trader Joe’s.  

Has no one noticed the empty retail space all up and down the downtown streets? 

The mayor wants to revitalize downtown. OK, good, what would bring people down there faster than a Trader Joe’s? This plan would infuse downtown with commerce instead of overwhelming a hitherto quiet neighborhood of homes. 

And not to wonder why this item was sneaked on to a consent agenda when citizens were waiting in the wings to speak their hearts out to the council. 

While I am at it: I noticed that the Pony Rides up in Tilden have closed, and I wonder if the carousel owners have managed to reopen after a state 

inspector closed them down by requiring a protective fence that hasn’t existed for the last 50 plus years. 

Things are not going well in Berkeley.  

Talk to your councilperson if you find them willing to listen. 

If not, I just dunno. I sure don’t want to go back to Ohio, or New Jersey or especially Houston. 


George Oram is an Elmwood resident.