Public Comment

Hard Times Call for More Than Slick PR

By Sally Hindman
Thursday September 18, 2008 - 09:35:00 AM

This week our household received a slick and colorful PR brochure from Phil Kamlarz, our dear city manager, describing what Berkeley is doing to improve its infrastructure and how much the city cares about its residents (was that the upshot, I wasn’t quite sure). With all due respect (luv ya Phil, no offense) to the city manager’s office, and whoever conceptualized this mailing, a fancy brochure is not what our households need in these rough economic times. 

Instead, we should be using that money and staff time (and perhaps also the $18,000-plus the police spent paying rent on their empty building at 3192 Adeline St. last year, so to speak), with Phil and his people holding emergency weekend workshops to help neighborhood residents in South and West Berkeley figure out how to simply make it through this difficult period without having to face foreclosures and resulting potential relocation, or worse, homelessness. 

I’m not looking for Phil’s face on a slick brochure in these times. Instead, I want to see him on Sunday afternoons at St. Joseph the Worker or Progressive Baptist Church sitting at a table after the coffee hour with his sleeves rolled up and his calculator out! 

When the recession ends and we Berkeleyans come out from under our dining room tables to look around outside, this community will be aghast at the exodus of low-income African American and Latino families from South and West Berkeley as a result of this economic crisis. Even before the recession hit, a South Berkeley neighbor of ours speculated that African American’s were leaving South Berkeley’s Lorin neighborhood at a rate of 5 percent per year. Does anyone know the actual statistics, five years ago and now? 

Whatever the figures, our community cannot quantify the loss that the flight of long time residents is having and will have on our cultural fabric, our diversity, our richness, our spunk, the feeling of community here!  

When a truck pulls out and a Berkeley family or single adult here since the 1940s moves to Antioch or Brentwood, or in with relatives in Oakland because it’s too expensive to survive here, it’s not because they are “cashing out” as one developer I know put it in better economic times. It’s because they’re bleeding on their door steps and can’t find a way to pencil out staying and making ends meet. For all of us the loss is simply giant. 

In the same way that many in this community can now recite the achievement gap stats describing the dichotomy between African American test scores and those of Latinos and other groups and are coming together to tackle this challenge; or the way we now can name the 20-year difference between the life spans of African Americans from the flats and those of their white counterparts living in the Berkeley hills, and are working together to bridge that health disparity gap, we need to gather the true statistics and collectively face our denial of Berkeley’s “black and brown flight,” exacerbated by the recession before us, and work aggressively to stop it, both at a systemic level and locally as a community. 

Sally Hindman is a Berkeley resident.