Public Comment

A Housing Rant

Tom Lord
Friday March 25, 2016 - 05:23:00 PM

I don't what to say. The mind boggles. If [Berkeley Mayor Tom] Bates' latest proposal were presented as farce I'd find it refreshingly funny. But no, it's dead serious. It's Bates giving one last giant middle finger to the very residents who put him in office. 

It turns out that if the bottom 60 or 80 percent of the workers in a region experience flat or falling wages, while top earners get ever larger paychecks, that the housing market responds with evictions, displacement, and intensified economic segregation. 

Can you imagine that? Who could have seen that coming. Quick, everyone act surprised. 

Is it a shortage? Of course not. The region adds housing just about as fast as people migrate in. There's no shortage, there's just a new wave of segregation and forced displacement. 

I can't tell what goes through the mind of Mayor Tom Bates but my guess is that for one thing he sees Berkeley mainly, and the region generally, as a kind of toy train set and model village he gets to play with the way some people play video games like Sim City. Some jackass wants to erect a ridiculous high-rise here or there and Bates feels like one of the Great Men for making it happen. Some other jackass wants to put up crap housing for an imagined subservient "workforce" and Bates feels like he can stroke his chin and imagine himself the wise Prince setting in order the subjects upon his Province. 

For another thing, I'm pretty sure Bates enjoys the feeling and the personal perks of accumulating power and doling out favors. He's a consummate backslapper and gladhander. Good eye contact, too (if you're Somebody, at least). He's a silky, smooth, mover and shaker in the cocktail party of his mind - that's my guess. 

It is in both of those roles that, rather underhandedly, when sent to the Assembly, Bates undermined rent control by declining to honor his mandate to vigorously defend it. It's why in the Assembly he undermined the self-governance of the residents of Berkeley by trying to wrestle from them control over the development rights of transit corridors. Now that his elected office is back in Berkeley his noble disregard for the local will of the people is only stronger. 

I guess in his strange old self-regard Bates is some kind of American Aristocrat, not obliged to work for what everyone thinks is good so much as to say, on the basis of his standing in society, what exactly "good" shall be. 

Before and on April 5th the public will heavily participate in what is nominally the public process of guiding the actions of an insensate council majority who Knows Better Than Thou What Thou Needs. 

It will be a put on and the council will, for the most part, vote exactly as most of the attentive and engaged resident stakeholders fear. Their main concern about what the public has to say is that it not take too long to sit through it. 

Hey, it's not all bad. Now's an OK time to get your real estate license or find some consulting gig in the developer boondoggles industry. Bates couldn't do his work without the support of overseers, after all.