After recently reaching the advanced age of 60, I was surprised to find that I still harbored some naive schoolboy notions. For instance, I still have this silly idea that we elect fellow citizens to carry out various tasks for which we may not have the expertise or time. I further assume there is a tacit agreement that these public employees would represent and advance the interests of their employers. This simplistic notion still forms my working definition of government.
So whatever happened in Berkeley? The proposals conjured up by our putative representatives almost never address my concerns or desires and they are rarely things I want to spend my tax dollars on. Curiously, the citizens seem to have little control over what projects are funded or even the future of their community. Indeed it appears to me that our “representatives” are more interested in inflicting their own political/social agendas upon us than addressing the needs and interests of those who write their paychecks.
Almost every issue of the Daily Planet has at least one article about the latest misguided and ill-conceived exploits of the City of Berkeley that infuriates me. For instance: Why was Provo Park renamed and why was it recently remodeled? The old name and the expansive green lawn worked for me. Can it be that concrete is the city’s interpretation of the green solution? How much did this project cost? Who designed the skateboard park? Who built it and who screwed it up? That agency or contractor should pay for correcting the inadequacies, not the Berkeley taxpayers.
Who ordered installation of the cameras appearing at so many of our intersections? Do you know there are about 17 devices at the intersection of University Avenue and Sixth Street? I’m certain their presence is more about revenue than public safety. A $300-plus fine for what might possibly have been an innocent mistake says to me the city is becoming ever more desperate to relieve us of even more of our hard-earned money. Do you really want the city image that is created by Berkeley’s parking enforcement Gestapo? I can’t believe we actually pay for their abuse. The City of Berkeley seemed to get along just fine a few years ago when most of the meters had been stolen or were dysfunctional. Who initiates the increases in parking fines? I don’t have any say in those decisions and yet they affect me directly and negatively. Is it really essential to have so many signs and banners that increase visual pollution and sensory overload?
The Planet has frequent articles regarding Berkeley’s infamous Master Plan and various building projects going on about town. Did you ever notice the condition of our streets and sidewalks? How is it that nearby communities such as Walnut Creek and Concord, with similar tax rates and traffic loads, appear to keep their streets in good repair? Perhaps the city thinks eliminating street maintenance will eliminate automobile use!
My wife had a stroke about three years ago and gets around town by electric scooter. To drive along Milvia from our house to the downtown post office, for instance, there are several spots where she actually has to drive in the street or over people’s lawns because the sidewalk is impassable. Many of the ramps that transition from street to sidewalk have steps that could have serious consequences for wheelchairs with small diameter wheels. There is an upwelling of at least six inches in a sidewalk near our house that has existed for over 15 years! Several years ago an elderly neighbor tripped on a two-inch step in the sidewalk and struck her head. It took the city three years to repair that sidewalk!
Do you really believe an organization that cannot attend to basic needs such as maintaining safe streets and sidewalks is capable of formulating a workable master plan for our city?
There is another matter that I remain confused about. I think I would be correct in saying that nearly every person living within the Berkeley city limits lives in a house, apartment, dorm, loft, etc. According to my simple definition of government, it should be these residents whose interests the public employees are concerned with. So why do the city planners spend so much time and therefore money (ours) on new housing projects? More housing merely increases the already excessive congestion, adds to pollution and generally decreases the quality of life of the people they supposedly represent. And these new housing units are for occupants who don’t even live here yet! They neither vote in Berkeley elections nor pay city taxes, so why are our employees so concerned with them? Funds from the fed? Why not build a city that doesn’t depend upon federal money and therefore would be better able to chart its own course?
I believe it was one of the councilmembers who said last summer the Master Plan, “should have a green face.” Does she really believe that increasing Berkeley’s population, given all the attendant negative consequences, constitutes a “green” policy? Perhaps she was thinking of that other green—you know, the color of money.
Tom Cloutier is a Berkeley resident.