Public Comment

New: Harold Way Project Reveals Deceptions in Berkeley's Planning

Rick Spaid
Monday April 06, 2015 - 03:37:00 PM

One of the political truisms of our times is that for every inconvenient truth, there always arises a plethora of convenient myths to confuse and mislead the public by obfuscating the real issues at stake, and nowhere is this more evident than in the recent debate over the future of development in Berkeley occasioned by the 2211 Harold Way Project. 

I will not dwell on the negative effects of ripping out such civic and cultural icons as the Habitot and Landmark Shattuck Cinemas and reducing the heart of the downtown to a monstrous construction site for at least 4 years as being so egregious as to be self evident, but will concentrate on the more devious and self-serving deceptions that are being propagated. 

First, there is the cynical use of the slogan "Affordable Housing" which of course begs the question: affordable for whom? Yes, there is a housing problem in Berkeley, but it is a crisis for the minority and working and middle-class residents who have made Berkeley the diverse and vibrant polity that it is, however, building the huge behemoths currently envisioned and slapping luxury lofts and condos on top for the Ayn Rands and Donald Trumps of the world to lord it over the few who could still afford to stay in Berkeley offers no real solution but merely exposes an exercise of Realpolitik worthy of a Putin. One has only to look across the Bay to see the deleterious effect such policies are having on such traditional neighborhoods as the Mission to realize that this is not a direction we in Berkeley should take. 

Then, there is the brazen attempt by some politicians and their developer cronies to interpret the results of the recent vote on Measure R (the fruit of their deceptive campaign during a sparse by-year election-which only passed because of the catch phrase about "saving the Post Office") as some kind of mandate for the profligate and unfettered development of the downtown area. No matter how one voted on the measure, it is clear that most people expected that such development would proceed according to Green principles, such as net-zero energy grids. etc. The despotic removal of Rose Marie Pietras from the Landmarks Commission and the attempt to remove the debate re: significant civic benefits from the appropriate boards and commissions, where it would at least be argued on the merits and kick it back to the City Council, where it will become a political football, shows quite clearly that the only "green" concerns of these self-proclaimed advocates of "growth" is that of the almighty greenback and the procurement of cushy deals for out-of-office politicians through the all too pervasive revolving door. 

And lastly, there is all this palaver about "millenials", though why this generation who just happened to come of age at the turn of the millenium should be attributed some special knowledge and given pride of place in the current debate is beyond me. Most of my generation were just as naive and unseasoned at that age, but we at least, were grounded in the realities of the Civil Rights Movement and the derailing of the Amerikan war machine and never evinced such smugness and callous unconcern for those less fortunate which seems to be the hallmark of this current crop, who seem more concerned with cyberspace than civic space. 

I certainly do not claim to have all the answers, but certainly the debate should not be rushed without exhaustive public input. As a good first step, I think we should demand the reinstatement of Rose Marie Pietras and the putting in place of some kind of tenure safeguards for appointees (after all,some of the best things that happened for our country in the recent history of my lifetime were due to appointees who voted counter to the wishes of their "masters", viz. Earl Warren and C. Everett Coop). In addition, we need to demand the passage of legislation to forbid former City staff, for the maximum time allowable by law, from involvement in any future development projects in Berkeley and the assignment of the debate to the proper forum of boards, commissions and town meetings.