Public Comment

Commentary: West Berkeley Improvements—Benefits for Everyone

By Steven Donaldson
Friday August 10, 2007

I have to thank Sarah Klise for including my name with some of the larger property owners in West Berkeley. I guess she sees me as a “big shot” now, controlling the fate of West Berkeley! I own two Victorian buildings and operate my branding design studio on Fifth and Addison. Oh, I also live in West Berkeley and my kids have gone through elementary school here. 

Secondly, thanks to the Daily Planet for running her “commentary” as a news piece, implying this was factually driven. Not that anyone believes half the stuff written in this publication but it is a bit much when you run such obvious opinion pieces as a lead article. [Editor’s Note: The July 31 piece by Sarah Klise to which Mr. Donaldson refers did in fact run on the commentary page, not in the news section.] 

I also would like to remind you that Ms. Klise vehemently opposed the building of the now approved West Berkeley Bowl, which is heavily supported by the local community and by everyone on the steering committee of our proposed new business improvement district. 

Yes, I’ve been meeting with these folks, who are all very dedicated to improving the quality of life in West Berkeley and making it a great place for the businesses and the residents here. The Community Improvement or Business Improvement District concept, which is governed by state law, is a structure that allows neighborhoods such a Telegraph Avenue, Downtown Berkeley, or Solano Avenue for example, to raise money for improvements in their defined neighborhood district. They raise money through an assessment process that adds an incremental amount to property tax payments. The money is then used to fund improvements such as landscaping, lighting, transportation, clean-ups and safety. 

The idea of this district, which is supported by councilperson Daryl Moore and Michael Caplan of the Economic Development department with the City of Berkeley, is to bring much needed ongoing improvements and services currently not provided by the City to the area that would benefit residents, business and industry, with the lion’s share of the costs carried by the business community. 

Some of the services in this district will include cleaning up trash which is dumped throughout West Berkeley, including the rail right of way and vacant lots, dealing with graffiti removal—there’s been an epidemic of graffiti in West Berkeley, adding to the free bus shuttle service and expanding the service—currently paid for by Wareham and Bayer and, lastly, a 24-hour security patrol that will help reduce crime, car break-ins and the occasional robberies. Eventually we’d like to see improved lighting, landscaping and visual enhancements throughout West Berkeley. 

These are just some of the improvements we want to see happen to this area. Are these the evil intentions of developers or the vital contributions of local committed businesses trying to help our community? 

Yes, the largest business and property owners in West Berkeley will have a weighted vote on this based on size and ownership of property but they also will pay for the bulk of the entire budget. Residences included in the mixed use areas will pay less than 2% of the entire budget ($140 a year flat amount) and yet will receive all the services available to the district equally. That seems pretty fair to me. 

Why does West Berkeley have to be us against them? We all live, work, own land or rent, share streets and suffer from the same issues is this area. We all need to work together to improve the West Berkeley area—why not get the larger property owners to share the greatest burden of cost for this? 

Yes, these big businesses and developers have influence in West Berkeley. Bayer helped pay for our entire science program at Rosa Parks Elementary School where my kids went to school. They also contribute to the Berkeley Symphony and many other community programs we all benefit from. Wareham Development also contributes to the local community and has continued to make improvements to the area including the undergrounding of utilities and improvements to the streets. 

These “big developers” who Ms. Klise says are taking over are contributing to the value of Berkeley by providing employment, paying property taxes and supporting innovative technology development and drug discovery we all will benefit from. 

I guess Ms. Klise would be happy to get rid of these “big businesses,” let the graffiti and trash proliferate and forget about the quality of life here-oh, and while we’re at it let’s stop the Berkeley Bowl from bringing a much needed grocery store to our neighborhood. 


Steven Donaldson is a Berkeley resident.